Native American Graphic Art
Graphic art. With the tribes N. of Mexico the arts that may be comprehended under the term graphic are practically identical with the pictorial arts; that is to say, such as represent persons and things in a manner so realistic that the semblance of the original is not entirely lost. Graphic delineations may be
- simply pictorial; that is, made to gratify the pictorial or esthetic impulse or fancy
- trivial, intended to excite mirth, as in caricature and the grotesque
- simply decorative, serving to embellish the person or object to which they are applied
- simply ideographic, standing for ideas to be expressed, recorded, or conveyed
- denotive, including personal names and marks of ownership, distinction, direction, enumeration, etc.
- symbolic, representing some religious, totemic, heraldic, or other occult concept. It is manifest, however, that in very many cases there must be uncertainty as to the motives prompting these graphic representations; and the significance attached to them, even where the tribes using them come directly under observation, is often difficult to determine.
The methods of expression in graphic art are extremely varied, but may be classified as follows:
- Application of color by means of brushes and hard or soft points or edges, and by developing the form in pulverized pigments (see Dry painting, Painting)
- engraving, which is accomplished by scratching and pecking with hard points (see Engraving)
- indenting and stamping where the surfaces are plastic (see Pottery)
- tattooing, the_ introduction of coloring matter into designs pricked or cut in the skin (see Tattooing)
- textile methods, as in weaving, basketry, bead work, feather work, and embroidery (see Textile arts)
- inlaying, as in mosaic, where small bits of colored material are so set as to form the figures (see mosaic).
The figures are drawn in outline simply, or are filled in with color or other distinctive surfacing. The elaboration or embellishment of sculptured or modeled figures or images of men and beasts by adding details of anatomy, markings, etc., in color or by engraving, thus increasing the realism of the representation, comes also within the realm of the graphic as here defined. In recent times, as the result of contact with the whites, much progress has been made by some of the native tribes in the pictorial art; but the purely aboriginal work, although displaying much rude vigor, shows little advance toward the higher phases of the art. Aboriginality, there was little attempt at effective grouping of the subject save as required in decoration, and light and shade and perspective were entirely unknown. Portraiture and landscape belong apparently to much more advanced stages of culture than have been reached by any of the northern tribes. When the delineations are devoted to the presentation of non-symbolic ideas merely, as in pictography and denotive devices, there is a tendency in frequently recurring use to progressive simplification; the picture as such has no reason to be perpetuated, and this simplification in time reaches a stage where a part takes the place of the whole, or where semblance to the original is entirely lost, the figure becoming the formal sign of an idea. The graphic art of the northern tribes, however, shows no very significant progress in this kind of specialization, unless modern alphabets, like those of the Micmac, or certain inscriptions of somewhat problematical origin, as the Grave Creek Mound tablet (see Grave Creek Mound) and the Davenport tablet (Farquharson), are considered.
Graphic delineations are most extensively employed by the tribes in pictography (q. v.), “examples of which, engraved or painted on rock surfaces, are found in nearly every section of the country. Similar work was executed by many of the tribes on dressed skins, on birch-bark, and on objects of wood, ivory, bone, horn, and shell. The delineation of life forms in decorative and symbolic art is hardly less universal than in simple pictography, and is especially exemplified in the work of the more advanced peoples, as the pottery of the mound builders and Pueblos, the utensils and the carvings of the tribes of the N. Pacific coast, and ceremonial costumes, and walls and floors of sacred chambers among various tribes. The graphic work of the Eskimo has a peculiar interest, since it seems to have been somewhat recently superposed upon an earlier system in which simple geometric figures predominated, and is much more prevalent where these people have been for a long time in contact with the whites, and more especially with the Athapascan and other Indian tribes skilled in graphic work (Hoffman). A special feature of the art of the Eskimo is the engraving of hunting scenes and exploits of various kinds on objects of ivory and bone works paralleled among the Indian tribes in the such examples as the Thruston tablet (Thruston, Holmes), the Davenport tablet (Farquharson), and the battle and hunting scenes of the Plains tribes (Mallery, Mooney).
Skill in graphic work was highly regarded among many of the tribes, and the artist took particular pride in his work, and when especially successful became in a sense professional. Usually decorative designs were executed without pattern or copy, and with much directness. The most intricate patterns, applied to earthenware vessels and other objects, were not sketched out but were drawn at once, and often with remarkable skill. Among the N. W. coast tribes, however, patterns were often cut out of cedar bark and the conventional life forms worked in their handsome blankets and capes were drawn out full size on a pattern board. The native artist did not draw directly from nature, but kept in view rather the presentation of the idea, delineating it in the conventional form common to his tribe. He might have been able to pro duce a portrait, for example, but the desirability of portraiture does not seem to have occurred to him. He might have delineated a species of animal with accuracy, but was apparently content to suggest the particular subject of his thought in a striking and forcible though conventional manner. See Art, Basketry, Ornament, Painting, Pottery.
Among the numerous authorities to be consulted on this topic are Boas, Gushing, Fewkes, Holmes, Mallery, Mooney, Murdoch, Nelson, J. and M. C. Stevenson, and Turner in Reps. B. A. E.; Boas, Hoff man, Mason, and Niblack in Reps. Nat. Mus.; Dixon, Kroeber, Matthews, Swanton, Wissler, and others in Memoirs and Bulletins Am. Mus. Nat. Hist.; Farquharson in Proc. Davenport Acad. Sci. , IT, 1877-1880; Grosse, Beginnings of Art, 1897; Haddon, Evolution in Art, 1895; Kroeber in Am. Anthrop., n. s., in, 1901; Moore, various memoirs in Jour. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phila., 1894-1 905; Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, i-vi, 1851-57; Thruston, Antiq. of Tenn., 1897; various authors in the ethnological and archeological journals. (W. H. H.)