As European countries extended
their imperial wings over the world, they came across
different culture which, after period of scorn and
refusel, they eventually integrated within their system
of knowledge and indeed their art. The eighteenth
century was thus the period of "Chinoiseries"
and Chinese garden. And Napoleon attack on Egypt in
1978 was followed by an "Orientalist" fashion
that reached its peak in the middle of the 19th century.
Yet, the most important influence at non-Western art
on the evolution of Western art was not that of the
great cultures of the East such as India, China and
Islam. It was that of the primitive societies mainly
of Afrika and the Pacific. But also, to a lesser extent,
of the Indonesian archipelago and Brasil. The first
European artist to show some influence of primitive
cultures was Gauguin at the end of the 19th century.
He had spent part of his youth in Peru.
Some of his paintings include the representation
of primitive statues. His system of representation
shows a simplification of form that is the basic feature
of primitive art. He grasped at once what teachings
Western artist could get from their so-called primitive
colleagues in far-way places. But primitive art became
a conscious source of inspiration later, following
Museum in Paris. The first to discover the treasures
of this exhibition were Vlamik and Derain, who then
took Matisse there. Matisse was so enthused that he
bought a primitive carving the same day at specialized
shop in Paris.
Picasso discovered it at Matisse's during
one of his visit there. The story has it that he was
so fascinated that he could no take his eyes off it.
The following day, the poet Andre Salmon saw him making
several drawing based on this primitive statue. The
process eventually led to the famous " Les Demoiselles
d' Avignon" , painting that was to change the
direction of Western art. The interesting thing with
icasso is the that he was not merely interested by
primitive art on account of the novelty of its formal
aspect, but because of the spirit that animated it.
Primitive artworks have, owing to their very simplicity,
a magical power of expression, and it is this magical
power that Picasso endeavored to capture and transfer
into his works.
The kind of primitive art that
influenced Picasso and, after him, the like of Braque,
Klee, Matisse, Modigliani, Giacometti, was not really
known by them. They considered African statues and
pacific masks as : idols " and were ignorant
of the symbolism they contained. It is only later
on that the function of this art and the complexity
of its history became known through anthropologist
and other specialist. What the Western artist looked
for in this art was what corresponded to their expectation:
freedom of color for the Fauvists, simplification
of form the German Expressionists and later the Cubists,
and expression of the subconscious for the Surrealist.
It was not so much an means of discovery of the world
than a means of discovery of the self. It was not
before a long time that the role of primitive art
was fully acknowledged.
This was done at an exhibition
held at the Moma in 1984. The exhibition, called "Primitivism
in Twentieth Century : Affinity of the Tribal and
the Modern ", displayed side by side, among others,
a portrait of Mr. Matisse and a mask from Gabon ;
the "Nose" of Giacometti and a mask from
New - Britain : a bronze of Max Ernst and a Ionake
mask from Burkina-Faso. This exhibition clearly showed
the debt of Modern artists to their anonymous predecessors
who have always, for thousand of years, known how
to go to the essence of expression through the implication
of form. Today, modern art are like two sides of the