Lesson 14: Native American Art in North America

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:

 

In North America, there are 562 Native American tribes. The population is ethnically homogeneous, perhaps with the exception of the Eskimos and the Aleuts, but each with their own culture and artistic tradition. The number 562 alone demonstrates the diversity of lifestyles and, in turn, the diversity of artistic expressions of the Native American tribes. Many of these artistic expressions have their origins in Native American traditions that were passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. In each tribal region, you can find artistic and craft traditions that are characteristic of a particular area, such as sculpture from the cold and icy North, wood carving from the coastal regions in the Northwest, needlework from porcupine quills in the Great Lakes area, centuries-old painting from the prairies, pottery from the Southwest pueblos, woven baskets from the desert regions, and handicrafts of textiles and sand paintings from the Navajo Indians. The Native Americans also have numerous dances, often to appease the spirits or induce trance visions.

Namgis (inheemse Amerikaan). Dondervogel-transformatiemasker, 19e eeuw. van cederhout, Brooklyn Museum,Image: A 19th-century mask of a thunderbird worn by a medicine man. The thunderbird was a mythical creature in the beliefs of the Native Americans. There was a separate mask for each ceremony and ritual, and no two masks were exactly the same. The use of color on the masks was not naturalistic from a Western perspective. However, the Native Americans often painted their faces, making it naturalistic from their point of view.
Location: This mask is displayed in the Brooklyn Museum, an art museum located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City, USA, at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue.

From this enumeration, it is clear that the geographical origin of the Native American tribes, and the associated climate, had a significant influence on the arts and crafts they produced. Based on their habitat, we can divide the Native American tribes into larger groups, each with their own artistic expressions. These are:

  1. Native American tribes in the Arctic regions.
  2. Native American tribes in the subarctic forests.
  3. Native American tribes on the prairies.
  4. Native American tribes in the dry, desert-like areas in the Southwest.
  5. Native American tribes in the eastern forests, including plateaus, highlands, and the Rocky Mountains.
  6. Native American tribes along the entire west coast.


The term “Indians” (indios) is common in the West. The term “Indios” was mistakenly given to the original inhabitants of North America by the explorer Columbus, as he believed, when he first set foot in North America as the first Westerner, that he had landed in the West Indies. In the United States, they are referred to as Native Americans. Their art is also called Native American Art. The Indians currently living in North America prefer to be referred to as American Indians. Therefore, this is now the most commonly used term.

De Witte Wolk, een opperhoofd van de Iowas indianen, een schilderij van George Catlin
Image: “The White Cloud,” a portrait of Chief White Cloud of the Iowa Native Americans from 1845. It was painted by the artist George Catlin (1796-1872). Remarkable in this artwork are the beautiful feathered headdress, the necklace adorned with animal teeth, the painted face of the chief, and the fur wrap.
Location: The portrait of Chief White Cloud by the artist George Catlin can be viewed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, USA. This neoclassical museum building is located on the National Mall.

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