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The Art Of Influence

The Art Of Influence THE ART OF INFLUENCE; Africa And Its’ Influence On Western Art Between The Mid-Nineteenth Century and The First World War During the mid 19th century up until the Great War of 1914, European countries began to heavily colonize and come into contact with African nations. This was called “new imperialism”. During this contact, European culture was influenced by Africa. The influence of the African people can be seen in the European society of the time. In the 19th and 20th centuries, modern artists embraced African art for its lack of pretension or formal qualities.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the “scramble for Africa,” consolidated at the Berlin Conference, divided the terrain of the African continent among the numerous European contenders. Fourteen countries were represented by a plethora of ambassadors when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884. The countries represented at the time included Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey, and the United States of America. Of these fourteen nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time. At the point of the symposium, only the coastal parts of Africa had been colonized. The idea behind the conference was to also annex control over the resource rich interior.

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As a result of the scramble, the British received control over Egypt, Sudan Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, as well as, Nigeria and Ghana. The French acquired, much of western Africa, from Mauritania to Chad, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Italians established power in Ethiopia and Somalia, and the Dutch controlled the Congo and South Africa. Portugal took Mozambique in the east and Angola in the west. Germans claimed Namibia and Tanzania, and Spain was rationed Equatorial Guinea. South of the Sahara Desert, there were three distinct types of societies; nomadic tribes in the desert and steppe regions, sedentary farming cultures located in the savanna and “rain-forest fringe” areas, and the ancient sophisticated kingdoms of Nigeria and the Guinea coast.

All three sectors of the African society had different art traditions. However, all three were similar in certain aspects. These aspects being the similar attention to craftsmanship, a general use of non-permanent materials, use of geometric abstraction, and religious orientation. Religion was at most often marked in masks and sculpture. Masks were used in many ritual ceremonies to embody spiritual forces. Geometric and naturalistic shapes were combined to represent a recognizable human face.

As part of the daily ritualistic routine, families would often present offerings to cult figures, full-body images kept in homes as insurance of protection. The decorative arts, especially in textiles and in the ornamentation of everyday tools, were a vital art in nearly all African cultures. Wood was one of the most frequently used materials – often embellished by clay, shells, beads, ivory, metal, feathers, and shredded raffia. As the contact between Europeans and Africans grew, parts of African culture assimilated into that of the Europeans. Europeans would bring home treasures found in Africa on their many journeys.

These possessions were various forms of African art. Soon after the European colonization, African art began making its’ way into European culture. Some of the African artifacts brought back from Africa with Europeans during the colonization period, were displayed at Paris’ Ethnographic Museum. These tribal or primitive arts of Africa were virtually unknown to many artists until visiting the museum. Pablo Picasso made his first visit in 1907. The artifacts he saw greatly influenced Picasso and his coworkers, such as Georges Braque, who founded the European avant-garde artistic movement of Cubism in the latter part of that year. Cubism was and still is the most influential movement in the history of modern art.

The epoch came in three stages. The first stage, Analytic Cubism, was characterized by the simplification, distortion, and emphasis of the forms of objects. It consisted of facets, or cubes, arranged in superimposed, transparent planes with clearly defined edges that established mass, space, and the implication of movement. During this period, Picasso and Braque employed a palette of muted greens, greys, browns, and ochre. Many cubists were strongly influenced by the formal simplification and expressive power viewed in black African sculpture. The second phase of cubism was marked by the disappearance of the representation of objects and a slow phase-out of the separation of form and space.

Synthetic Cubism was the third and final stage of the movement. Synthetic cubists wanted to improve reality with the creation of new tasteful objects. It is in this phase, where African influence is most apparent in Picasso’s work. His characters began to obtain oddly shaped faces, resembling those of African masks and sculpture. The colors in his palette changed to earth tones that were emblematic of African sculpture. Wild animals, which were typically found in the African range such as bulls and other horned creatures, also began surfacing in his work.

His great curiosity with African sculpture was also directly seen in the representations of African characters conventionally made of wood and other materials. Picasso’s most famous painting, as well as the start of cubism, is considered by many to be Les Mademoiselles d’Avignon (The Women of Avignon). This extraordinary painting, fabricated by Picasso in 1907, includes many facets of African sculpture and art. The painting depicts five female prostitutes in a brothel. In the artwork, three central women obtain the “simplified structure of earlier creations” (McDonald, 12). These figures are composed of flat, splintered planes. Arms raised above their heads, these three forms strike seductive poses.

Though the two additional figures at the right edge of the work are still constructed having clearly defined planes, they are no longer modeled by light but violently twisted in a system of “internal torques” which is applied to the special framework and human form. The two somewhat distorted figures on the right are also adorned with masks that emerge directly out of African culture. Other works done by Picasso such as Negro Dancer, also demonstrate elements of African art. The Negro Dancer, also done in 1907, incorporates an African mask titivating the dancer. In addition …

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