Examples of African art have been found
dating back to 6000 B.C., the oldest found imprinted on the
inner wall of a cave. Ancient art has influenced modern
abstract artists such as Picasso, the irony being that many
people believe that Picasso influenced the contemporary artists
of Africa. While abstract art is meant to express the spiritual
and mystical side of the subject, African art has become one of
the most important contributions to the history of art.
People tend to generalize all African art in a catch-all
category of “traditional”. Most people don't know that Africa
is a rich and diverse continent with many cultural flavors.
Distinctive styles in art are found among the Baoule, Senoufo,
and Dan peoples.
Despite having distinct styles, African art works share
characteristics in common with the spirit and beliefs of the
people. There are three main elements of note: innovation,
practicality and a three dimensional emphasis.
Western countries traditionally stick to patterns and
techniques of creating art that have been held as the norm for
thousands of years. African art, on the other hand, is
innovative in that it encourages the breaking down of old
forms, and the creation of new forms. Because these art works
usually depict surrounding nature, animals, spirits, and
magical events, it often needs to create new symbols for these
In African art, depictions of religious traditions and ideas
can be expressed in just about every object of practical use.
The utilitarian nature of it can be seen in bowls, combs,
clothing, knives, and even as murals on the exterior of the
home. Some houses have art work covering the entire outside
surface, depicting a story of the owners or religious ideas.
These paintings wrap around a hut, forcing the observer to walk
all the way around to see the entire work. Carvings are also
sometimes displayed in this way.
African art favors three dimensional work over one
dimensional, flat paintings. Even garments and other textiles
are meant to be viewed in a three dimensional perspective.
African art is meant to express abstract ideas of the spirit of
the intended subject. So it follows that the art work should be
experienced in a form that's closest to reality, while still
retaining the abstract concepts and emotions.
All of these elements can be seen in the abstract modern
artist's works that borrowed from the African idea of spiritual
representation, rather than purely accurate realism. Oddly, the
modern African artists often go unrecognized in contemporary
art circles. Contemporary African artists in the modern
cultures have a difficult time finding a venue for their art
works, which are visually stunning to a Western viewer with
education and understanding of the roots and culture of African