Ritual Arts of the New Continent, Research Paper Example
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Understanding the Pre-American Columbian Culture and Religion through Arts
The untainted part of history that binds a nation characterizes so much of its rich culture. Any nation in the world at present tries to relieve if not recreate the sources of their culture so as to impose a unique identity that defines their excellence and separation from the oneness of both the western and the eastern world today that has been introduced through the induction of globalization. The American society is specifically one of the most powerful cultures that exist in the world today. Being a western country, it could be analyzed how strong their culture is in influencing the major regions of the world especially regarding commerce and media operations. Nevertheless, what makes the American culture rich is not its present state of influential effect on other nations; instead it is its past that has rooted upon the course of living that its ancient inhabitants have considered in history.
The pre-Columbian era in the American history specifically notes the years before the entrant of the Columbian discoverer Christopher Columbus in the territories of the American soil in 1492. Nevertheless, in line with historical data that has been included under this particular title, it could be noticed how it basically characterizes the ancient civilization that thrived in the country and imposed the creative and culturally rich characteristic that these individuals have. Relatively, researching upon this particular aspect of the American history gives a careful glimpse on how the people lived before based on their social relations and the art that defines their life and their being. In the discussion that follows, a focus on the artistic finds that have been unearthed that defines this particular era in the American history shall be given attention to. In connection to that, the relationship of those arts towards the religious beliefs of the people during the time shall also be given focus.
Understanding the Art of Prehistoric America
To collectively define the artistic culture of the ancient American society, it could be observed how historians preferred to point out particular finds from South America, Mesoamerica, North America and Greenland. To note the differentiation of each era in defining these stages of development in ancient America [in relation to visual art production] the sections that follow shall focus on each era and how their creations impact the realization of religious rituals recognized during their time of introduction.
The Archaic Stage
The Lithic or the Paleo-Indian period in the American history is noted to have existed between 18,000-8,000 B.C.E. From 8000-800 B.C.E. was further known as the archaic period (Crawford, et al, 2005). During this time the most noted art forms include bannerstones, projectile point, and lythic reduction styles that were mostly noted to have been made alongside the use of ancient tools such as the mammoth bone (Lentz, 2000). Carved images on the mammoths’ bones were noted to have been etched during times when they were still alive and are thriving along with the people. Relatively, the images found on such carvings described how mammoths were highly respected in the society but does not really say how much connection these images have to the possibility of these animals being treated as gods by the ancient American civilization.
When it comes to rock and cave arts, the south-western United States boast a full collection of several artistic makeup that are certain to define the ways by which the ancients lived and how their religious beliefs basically affect their everyday living and rituals which they consider important as part of their survival in the wild. Most of these arts are recognized as pictographs and petroglyphs (Levenson, 1991). Most of these artworks are presented with animal forms which the people were likely most acquainted to during the time. Using primitive tools to create the said forms of rock arts, it could be noticed that the ancient civilization was rather certain about their connection with nature and how they define it as part of their regular normal daily system of living.
The formative stage of the American Art
Alaska has been noted for its creation of masks by the Yupic (Levenson, 2000). These masks are most often than not related to the shamanic rituals that are every important in the lives of the ancient Alaskans. This was later on developed and was recognized as the beginning of the Innuit art (Mann, 2005). Nevertheless, even before the entrant of the European colonists in the country, the creation of masks had a strong impact in the identification of religious rituals performed in the region. Most often than not, the designs of these masks are direct, simple yet very remarkable for the people who used them to support their beliefs.
Greenland on the other hand was noted for their unique textile creation and designs which included the institution of furs and small pieces of brightly collared and processed mammal organs used as embellishments to the said garments they produce (Levenson, 1991). The mask-making art that Greenland possesses is rather considered as strong as that of the Alaskan culture as they also believe in the divine power of the masks to protect from evil. These masks they produce are often noted as the tupilaq (Mann, 2005) or also considered as the evil spirit object.
Utilizing these masks provides them the power to communicate and extradite evil spirits from their midst. This belief has accompanied the Greenland aboriginals for a long time.
The northwest coast of America included small tribes that lived under the hood of the larger influential aboriginals of the south. Nevertheless, their art could be considered as unique definitions of their own culture. It could be noted that among the most defined art forms that these tribes recognize is that of wood carving. Apart from rock art and cave imaging, Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian tribes were very much recognized for their wooden carved art (Philipps, 2002). Most of these arts include totem poles, canoes and masks that they believe have specific power to transform the being of the one who uses them.
From stones to woods, came the utilization of porcelain. Practically described as a more sophisticated and more advanced form of art of the ancient pre-Columbian era of the American history, most porcelain based are made for social elites as well as offering so the gods that they hope to adore and praise for the sake of being “blessed”. Among the areas from where this particular culture flourished is that of Mississippi.
Some other artifacts have been recorded to have been found in Florida most likely dominated by images of animals and the particular symbolisms that they represent as part of the ancient American religious beliefs.
Realizing the Connection between Art and Religion
Most of the artifacts that have been unearthed in relation to the artistic creations of the Ancient residents of the American region had something to do with culture and lifestyle. Some of the artistic finds even define how different one state is from another according to the tribes that once occupied the said territories. Nevertheless, it could not be denied that a large percentage of these arts have been dedicated to religious rituals which has been noted to be a huge part of the lives of the ancient American civilization. Observe how totem poles used to represent the being of the owner or the owners of such art. May it be an individual or a community, totem poles served more than just a symbolical design but as guiding spirits that would assure the paths of those who believe in them. This is the reason why most totem poles have been recognized to be discovered to be standing in the middle of what have been suspected to be olden time communities where aboriginals used to camp around. The totem poles specifically represent the power of the community to repel the possible matters that could compromise their social progress. Serving as protectors, these totem poles are built as big as possible so as to be noticed from nearby places as if bearing the identity and the protection of those who own it (Mann, 2005). For individualized totems, it is believed that the said pieces would serve as relative protection to the person as he grows into maturity. Failure to follow the totem’s meaning is believed to bring bad luck to its owner.
Canoes on the other end represent both transformation and transportation. Transportation is defined in relation to this art in the form of passing on from one aspect of life to another [most often than not the relative connection between life and death]. The canoes intend to represent a continuous existence that a person is able to embrace from his point of death towards the second life or the life that possibly awaits him “in the other end” of his journey on earth. This allowed the instance by which the ancient aboriginals tried to create specially designed canoes that are supposed to transport their dead to the “other world” or to the world beyond that of the living. This then remarked the high respect and practically a huge fear of the capabilities and powers of the dead individuals as they enter the new aspect of their new life.
Masks were on the other hand among the most well noted art forms that characterized the ancient American culture of the pre-Columbian era. Masks were believed in the past to represent different aspects of living that are considered to have intimate correlation to how humans lived and how they connected with the environment around them. One particular function of the masks is for protection. Covering one’s identity as a form of protection from evil spirits have been believed by ancient American civilizations as an effective way of retaining their identity even when dealing with the spirits that are most often than not “unfriendly” as they mark them. Other tribes utilize mask to represent their leaders especially when dealing with the dead (Levenson, 1991). These communities from the past specifically believe in the need to ask for help from the dead leaders of their tribes so as to make an extensive progress based on the decisions they make for their communities. In the aim of paying further respect to the dead, masks are used to show submission to the spirits hence allowing them to control the accountable actions of the living.
At this point, it could be realized how much the artistic finds provided a glimpse of how the ancient tribes of the past American civilization lived their lives alongside their religious beliefs. The rituals that they had to confer with to make sure that they are living their lives in practical path in accordance with the connection to the gods and the dead members of their communities and their families show how they allow the supposed “supreme powers” to guide them in their decisions as they go through life. Changes and transformations are expected to happen and are also rendered to have a great impact on the individual growth of each person. To make sure that such transformation into maturity becomes a smooth transition from youth to maturity, totems and other symbolical artifacts are again used for guidance.
True, as religious as the ancient American society has become the artistic relics that were found to prove this fact specifically creates a vivid picture on what function these art forms had for the past residents of the American nation. Refining the identity of a rich religious culture that enveloped the American society, it could also be realized how much of it has been lost in the present years of American influence. Very few members of the American community at present even tend to give attention to these facts anymore unless they are really into studying history [either as part of their academic requirements or is it simply part of their hobbies]. The strong implication that these artistic forms have in defining the origins of the American society bears a relative condition as to how it relates the real meaning of art in refining the understanding of a nation’s past that has become the foundation of whatever it has become at present and what it will become in the future.
Implications of Cultural Relativity
History says so much about the people living in a particular region. In this case, art, being part of history, also tells so much about the ancient American society that existed during the pre-Columbian era. The relics and the artifacts that were unearthed from the different regions of American institute the fact that this nation has had a great past and as strong religious culture at that. So much different from the liberal form of faith that the American society is noted for at present, their history and the art that it is presented along with indicates that the American people have been rooted so much into believing that there are more than one Supreme Being that tend to guide and protect them. Even though such diversion from between civilizations occur, it could be noted how history itself transforms and the past becomes an embedded mark that would always be revisited by the people living at present.
Art always has something to say more than the aesthetics it posses. In the case of the research on the ancient art that defined the pre-Columbian era of the American nation, it is certain that an agreeable condition of defining art as a form of visualization of the past could be realized. Notably, the capability of the said forms of art to define history creates a dependable indication on how humans who lived in the past had their own form of expression, a matter that remains specifically intact from one generation to another, a supposed source of identity that uniquely separates one race from the other. In this discussion, it has been relatively learned how art defined both life and religion and how both elements contrast and support each other to promote a communal agreement between members of a particular group or tribe in the ancient American society. The creation of such a bridging definition helps in identifying how the untainted culture of the American nation specifically shows the roots of its strong dependence on religion. In a way, it shows how much the present state of belief of most Americans has become differently rooted in other cultures separate from that of its own. While ancient Americans have been recognized for their strong dependence on divine faith, the current American society hails the existence of social faith on liberty and freedom.
Crawford, Suzanne J. and Dennis F. Kelley, eds. (2005). American Indian Religious Traditions: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Lentz, David L., ed. (2000). Imperfect balance: landscape transformations in the Precolumbian Americas. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 241–242.
Levenson, Jay A., ed. (1991) Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Mann, Charles C. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Knopf Publishing.
Phillips, Ruth B. (2002).“A Proper Place for Art or the Proper Arts of Place? Native North American Objects and the Hierarchies of Art, Craft and Souvenir.” Lynda Jessup with Shannon Bagg, eds. On Aboriginal Representation in the Gallery. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
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