25 July 2011

In a Nutshell

Why is the false dichotomy between so-called "traditional" and "contemporary" art so insidious? "Contemporary art" is art from a certain time period, usually defined as being after World War II to the present day (1945–2011); it's a chronological term. "Traditional" refers to culture of one's tribe, whether religious, artistic, social, or material. Pairing these terms inaccurately places a chronological framework on tribal culture. The implication is "contemporary," usually exemplified by Western art media, materials, and messages, is "new." Therefore,  "traditional," as exemplified by tribally-specific indigenous art practices, must be "old." I've watched art forms specific to my cultural region, the Southeastern Woodlands, increase in practitioners and scope within my own lifetime. There are more Cherokee ceramic artists and shell carvers today than there were thirty years ago. Tribal arts are contemporary, and our traditions will continue well into the future.


whiteclay said...

Isn't/wasn't all Native art "contemporary" at one time?

America Meredith said...

Exactly! It's ironic how much ancient work seems fresher because it's not tinged with nostalgia. Artists today, no matter what materials or media we are working with, are influenced by and influencing the times we live in.