The Remarks of the Rector of ISI Yogyakarta
Modern Art`s Debt to Primitive Artists
Indonesia Primitive Art

    Modern Art`s Debt to Primitive Artists

      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 currency.

Modern Arts's Debt to Primitive Artist
By : DR. Jean Couteu