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Assignment Questions

Aesthetics and African Art

Assignment Two

Please write a five-page essay on one of the following questions. All written assignments should be double-spaced, with a 1″ margin on all sides, and a 12 pt. font. Any images and/or bibliographies are not included in the five page length requirement. Note: five pages of text is roughly 1,250 words. In each essay, you will be discussing works of art. In all examples that you discuss, your images should be fully identified by title, artist (if known), date, and location of object. Then, give a brief formal description and analysis of the work, and explain in a very specific and detailed way a response to the essay question. Your paper should be written entirely in your own words, although you may use a limited number of quotations from your textbook, with page references given in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. This essay format will be the same for all essays you write in all units of this class.
Essay Questions (Please select one to answer):

This assignment addresses whether or not there is a Pan-African aesthetic. Think about how important rituals are in understanding the context of African art. Be sure to pay special attention to the section on Yoruba aesthetics. Then, select three examples of works of art, one from each area: the Southeast, Central, and West Africa to argue yes or no to this question.
Discuss the importance of the masquerade in three different African cultures. What cultural significance do these masks have, and how were/are they used in society? Provide a geographical and cultural overview first, then describe and analyze three examples that span the assigned reading in your textbook.

The Great Zimbabwe is the largest complex of stone ruins in South Africa. Please use the discussion on your reading and find at least three more online sources to describe the trade center/royal residence, its function and its historical importance. Include a bibliography and at least five images you found. You might look at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, and PBS has an excellent website “Mystery of Great Zimbabwe.” The UNESCO World Heritage Center counts the Great Zimbabwe National Monument as a World Heritage Site.

Unit Overview

More often than not, people tend to think of history as the record and interpretation of past human actions, particularly social and political actions. Art, on the other hand, is often thought of as a part of the present because it is something that people can see and touch. However, artwork is also a kind of history because it is a type of persisting event. Although created in the past, an art work continues to exist into the present, often surviving many centuries.

Throughout history, most artists created the paintings, sculptures, and other objects exhibited in museums today for specific patrons and settings, and to fulfill a particular purpose. However, in many cases, the original contexts of those artworks are unknown. Although people may appreciate the artwork, they cannot understand why they were made, or why they look or feel the way they do without knowing the circumstances behind their creation. Art appreciation does not require knowledge of the historical context of an artwork, but art history does. Thus, one of the main goals of art history is to determine the original context of artworks.

Art that lies outside the framework of western tradition is called non-western art. Traditionally, western art is thought of as beginning with the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt that lead into classical Greek and Roman art, from which we trace the development of medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and modern art from Europe across colonial empires such as the United States. This characterization is not entirely accurate, however, but nonetheless it allows us a long-needed emphasis on the cultures in Africa, Asia, the Americas prior to European intervention, aboriginal Australia and the Pacific Islands (Oceania). This unit will focus on how to write a formal analysis of a work of art, what aesthetics is in art, and how aesthetics applies to African art and culture.

Required Readings

An Introduction to Non-Western Art History

In order to familiarize yourself with the discipline of Art History and how the area of non-western art has been shaped, please read the online introduction entitled, “What is Art History?” from Gardner’s Art through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives 12th ed., ed., Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya, Belmont, CA.

In the Gardner’s textbook, please read Chapters 10 and 11 on African art.
Unit Objectives

In this unit, learners will be introduced to:

The discipline of art history, and how the area of non-western art has been shaped
Some of the questions that art historians ask when they study a piece of artwork
“How old is it?”
“What is its subject?”
“What is its style?”
“Who made it?”
“Who paid for it?”
Different ways of “seeing” art, including perspective and foreshortening.
By the end of this unit, students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the following vocabulary words commonly used by art historians:

Form and Composition
Material and Technique
Space, Mass, and Volume
Carving and Casts
Relief Sculpture
Architectural Drawings
Aesthetics in African Art

Once you have completed the first assignment, you are ready to tackle the topic of aesthetics, which we will study in conjunction with African Art. Please read the chapter on African Art and think about the function of art in Africa and African concepts of beauty as expressed in art and literature. See also Yoruba Aesthetics

Key Terms

Comparing Yoruba and Western Aesthetics: A Philosophical View Of African American Art, Culture and Aesthetics
Art in the Pan-African World
Yoruba Art and Culture
The Art of the African Mask
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Enrichment Links
Contemporary South African Artists

Museum for African Art

National Museum of African Art

Nouveau Art from Ethiopia

Exhibition of Congo Art

The British Museum: Sudan-Past and Present

Contemporary Art in Sudan

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