Styles & Periods

Styles & Periods

Native American Art

Sometime between 30,000 B.C.E. and 10,000 B.C.E., people crossed over from Asia into America, spreading out over time to occupy two continents. Native American art refers to the work of these people made until colonialism reached America in the 15th century. As is the case with the artwork of other indigenous peoples, Native American art represents the work of peoples widely separated both chronologically and geographically, and it consists of artistic currencies integrated into the cultural, political and religious matrices of these societies. Art existed here, often not as ornament, but as part of the fabric of the multitudinous Native American societies. In Mesoamerica, an area roughly corresponding to what is now Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and parts of Mexico and El Salvador, civilization developed that rivaled those of ancient Greece and Egypt in grandeur, power, scope, cultural complexity and technological prowess. Around 1500 B.C.E., Olmec people rendered massive heads of their leaders in basalt, which they transported across sixty miles of swampland. In these monuments, as in their jade statues of jaguar-gods, the roots of Mayan and Aztec civilization are clearly evident. These Mesoamerican societies developed complex cities, written languages, pyramids, plazas and ceremonial ball-courts that fulfilled deeply serious spiritual roles, as well as satisfying aesthetic considerations. In South America, the Incas built cities as well; they also used the landscape itself as a canvas for enormous "aerial pictures" formed of carefully placed colored stones. While art was produced on a smaller scale in North America, art makers were highly accomplished as well. From the elegant formalism of the Pacific Northwest to the austere geometry of Southwestern sand painting to the energetic beadwork of the Great Plains, North American native peoples developed a rich creative tradition as well.

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