Primitivism is a Western ideal that has existed for hundreds of years. It is founded on the idea of Otherness, and was born out of a need to see the unknown as something strange and new. Primitivism allowed for the unification of different cultures, but also led to other complications such as authenticity and cultural appropriation. Overall, the concept of primitivism has had many manifestations over time, from early colonialism to contemporary fine art movements. However, it remains a topic of debate among scholars today and will continue to be so in the future
How Did Primitivism Begin?
Primitivism is a complicated and often misunderstood concept. It has been used in many different ways and applied to many different groups of people, often with very different goals. However, it can be useful to think about primitivism as having two separate meanings: one that refers to the idea that human beings were once better off without civilization; and another that refers to an idealised way of life based on pre-modern societies.
The Idea of Otherness
The idea of otherness is a concept that has been used throughout history to describe people who are different from the dominant group. This concept can be used in order to justify oppression, colonisation and imperialism. It tells us that there are people who are not like us, but they need our help and guidance (or even just our presence).
Otherness is often used as an excuse for violence against others: if you’re different from me, then I have every right to take your land away from you or kill you if necessary. It also leads to stereotypes about groups of people; since they’re “different” from me, their customs must be strange or even wrong by definition. The idea of otherness allows you not only tell yourself stories about why someone else cannot make decisions for themselves without your input, but also allows those stories themselves become self-perpetuating—the more time we spend thinking about how other cultures should change for us rather than how we might change ourselves with regards to them (and vice versa), then the less likely it becomes that we will ever understand each other at all
Uniting Different Cultures
The idea is that, in the long run, these different cultures will unite to form a common humanity. We will all share a common artistic heritage and future, as well as a present and past. The fact that we can unite around certain ideas and values should be evidence enough that we must be sharing some of them already – if not consciously then subconsciously. The primitivist argument is that primitives are at once closer to nature than modern man yet also more advanced than us when it comes to their appreciation for art because they have no intellectuals standing between artists and audiences.
Primitivism began with this belief in human unity by way of an artistic heritage; however later developments added other elements like architecture or religion into the mix as well so there’s more than just one way you can define “primitive”.
The Negotiations of “Primitive Art”
But what exactly is “authentic”? What are we really looking at when we say that a work of art is “primitive”?
The idea that primitive art is pure, authentic and unsullied by Western influence has been seductive for artists and audiences alike. Art critic Herbert Read wrote about African art in the 1950s, inviting his readers to look at works from remote tribes “without prejudice or preconception.” This was an invitation to enter an exoticized space where one could be free from cultural baggage and see through the layers of history. It’s not just Read who imagined this possibility: in his book The Savage Eye: On Landscape Painting & Modern Life (1969), critic John Berger writes about how contemporary artists such as Picasso were influenced by images of indigenous people they saw in museums—and how this influenced their own practice. In her book Objects of Exchange: Material Culture and Colonialism (1992), Marina Vishmidt describes how colonial powers used objects acquired through trade as a way of asserting their dominance over other cultures; she argues that these objects still carry power today because they’re seen as authentic representations of those cultures. In many ways, these ideas have become ingrained into our understanding not only of primitive art but also modernist painting—and even into our understanding of ourselves as people living in a globalised world with constantly changing values.
The Question of Authenticity
The question of authenticity is often a question of power and authority. By definition, primitivism begins with the assumption that non-Western cultures are more authentic than Western ones. The question is then about who gets to define what is authentic; who has the authority to decide what’s “really” primitive?
If you’re reading this from North America or Europe, it’s easy to assume that your own culture is already defined as non-primitive. But sometimes our own cultures seem foreign and strange too—think about how much we’ve changed since the 1950s; how many of today’s assumptions were radical in their time!
In other words: there’s no such thing as an objective measure of authenticity. We can only ever judge things relative to each other—and since everything changes over time (including our ideas), one thing will always have more authority than another at any given moment in history.
Primitivism is a Western idea that has had many incarnations.
Primitivism is a Western idea, but it has been adopted by many non-Western artists. The idea of “otherness” that forms the basis of primitivism is something that artists have negotiated in different ways. It has been used to unite cultures and explore the authenticity of artworks.
The way we understand the world is in constant flux. In that sense, primitivism is not a static idea but one that shifts to fit the needs of its time. The term has been used by artists and thinkers alike to point out the shortcomings of Western society in contrast with other cultures—a “primitive” culture being one that lives in harmony with nature and thus exists outside of history. But it can also be seen as derogatory when applied pejoratively towards people from past or present societies who lacked modern technology like farming tools or electricity. If nothing else, we see how our conceptions about race and ethnicity have changed over time; this essay would be much different if it were written today!