Astoundingly, art history is more than just Greece

Art history is far richer than just Greece and other white counterparts. || Illustration by: Coleman Conley

General understanding of ancient history rejects non-white perceptions.

Humanity is unfortunately living in an increasingly Anglocentric world. From mass media to general education, the perception of ancient art, mythology, and the lessons taken from them are injected with European angled tales tracing their roots to Roman and Greek antiquity. All outside of this notion were deemed ‘peculiar’ by western history. 

In doing so Westerners unknowingly erase the diversity that existed in the ancient world and ignore culture that diverts from our Greco-Romantic expectations. Mythology and art are often perceived or described as ‘peculiar’ for diverting from typical path. “Initially the masks and figures may seem strange or even grotesque, but when viewed in terms of their own cultures the sculptures of Africa can be seen to be sophisticated, powerful and dynamic,” said William Siegman, who was a leading expert and curator of the Africana and National Museums in Liberia. “All of the arts were deeply woven into the very fabric of social life and played a central role in binding together all members of the community through corporate activity.” Unfortunately, many of the artists celebrated throughout history have swayed cultural trends with art movements based entirely around their own ignorance to the world outside of the West. 

For instance, many are unaware of the historical context of cubist and abstract art movements of the early 20th centuryIt must have come out of fauvism and the avant-garde to make wacky-looking paintings. Surely that’s all there is to it, right? It is not simply that, however. Abstract and Cubist art draws itself from Primitivism. History records that in 1920, Pablo Picasso drew inspiration from masks from the Dan region of Africa brought (stolen) and sold in a store in Paris that formed the basis for his vision of ‘abstract.’ He indicated a disregard for the culture altogether; “L’art nègre? Connais pas.” Meaning, “African art? Never heard of it!” In the words of Tatenda Gwaambuka, a Staff Writer at the African Exponent journal, “It was a bold denial, not only of African influence but of the very existence of African art. He implicitly denied that Africans had the capacity to create works worthy of the term “art”.” 

Incidentally, Nationalist Futurism as an art movement was built off of the back of Picasso’s Cubist movements while also fueled by the eugenic sentiments at the time, similar to Picasso’s fixation on African art as ‘primitive.’ Hitler himself drew inspirations for his ‘ideal race’ from sculptures like Discobolus, a Roman recasting of Myron’s Sculpture from ancient Greece.  Aristotle is praised even now despite his theory of ‘Greek Superiority.’ 

‘So what?!’ shouts the reader pointlessly at the newsprint or computer screen. The point of this discourse is that the foundations for a huge amount of our popular culture and art education is informed by a magnified and white-interpreted viewpoint, one that is entirely in favor of imperializing views. When history looks to cultures like Greece as the ‘golden standard’ for understanding the world, all others become hatefully labelled as ‘strange’ and ‘foreign’ in comparison.

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