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African Painting

( Originally Published 1955 )

Sometimes referred to as Bushman painting because its best-known examples were done by the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert region south of the African Congo. It is an art of peoples who still live on a historically primitivistic level, nomad hunters of a type comparable with our paleolithic ancestors . Their constant preoccupation with snaring and killing animals gave them a heightened sense of the reality of these creatures. On the rocks of this poor land have been found both animal and human paintings which although generalized in form show a remarkable sense of realism with regard to pose, movement, etc. These immediately bring to mind the works of earliest man in the Paleolithic age; and like those prehistoric works the Bushman paintings distinguish between man and beast, the former made more abstract than the latter. This may result from an understandable caution against a too recognizable human portrayal that, falling into enemy hands, might, through defacement, cause injury or death to the subject. Conversely a naturalistic portrayal of animals could only help in the attainment of the hunter's chief purpose in life, the successful hunt on which life itself depends. Thus this kind of painting, whether practiced by the African Bushman or other primitive peoples on a comparable cultural level, has a basically religious and functional purpose. It may be compared in that sense with any other kind of painting in which the artist is the agent who pictorializes or makes concrete an important tribal wish or urge.

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