chapter  4
16 Pages

Primitive Art

ByBen Burt

By the end of the nineteenth century, ethnography curators and other scholars of anthropology were using collections of artefacts to speculate about the development of primitive culture, including primitive art. Working from the same basic assumptions about the nature of primitive man, others spent much time and energy in tracing the local evolution of forms and motifs and coming to contradictory conclusions. Douglas Fraser wrote a book, Primitive Art, illustrating some basic premises of the concept, which continued in popular culture long after they had lost academic credibility. Particular features of artefacts were compared in order to identify formal conventions presumed to be stable due to primitive conservatism and conformity. A gradual recognition that “primitive” is an insulting description of people who are increasingly asserting their rights as equals within the societies of their erstwhile colonizers has led to various euphemisms. “Primal art,” favored by the French, gives a positive sense of the primitive as original.