Aboriginal Art: Traditional to Contemporary

Essay by ashley279High School, 12th gradeA+, June 2006

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The resurgence of Australian Indigenous art has become one of the 'most brilliant and exciting new eras of modern art.' (cited in Contemporary Aboriginal Art) It has grown with such amazing diversity and enthusiasm that art critic, Robert Hughes, has described it as 'the last great art movement.' For indigenous Australians art has been a part of their culture and tradition for thousands of years and is recognised as one of the oldest living art traditions. Though, over the past 30 years it has progressed from being confined primarily to the tourist industry, to become a richly, evolving international art movement.

Since the Renaissance of Aboriginal art during the early 1970's, Aboriginal artists have been encouraged to find new, innovative ways of incorporating cultural traditions into their imagery. This encouragement first began through an art teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, who became the catalyst for contemporary Aboriginal art. Fascinated by the traditional sand designs created by Indigenous children in Papunya, Bardon encouraged the Aboriginal community to re-create their Dreamtime stories through paintings.

He introduced them to acrylic paint and from there Aboriginal art gained a more permanent form and the style, popularly know as 'dot art', emerged as the most recognisable form of Aboriginal art. It was a new form of art which also allowed Aborigines to, for the first time, express to the rest of Australia and the world, the ancient traditions of their culture.

Many Aboriginal artists have chosen to continue practicing traditional art as a means of conserving the conventional method of creating, inherited from their tribal ancestors. Their content, which is explicitly aboriginal, is usually derived from their history and culture, as a continuation of the spiritual link they possess with their country. "When we paint...we are not just painting for fun and profit. We are painting...