Australian Aboriginal Art: Understanding The History and Styles

Aboriginal art is something to marvel and be amazed about. It is considered as one of the oldest art forms in human history. It has a deeper meaning than just beautiful abstraction. Aboriginal art carries with it a rich set of stories and knowledge being passed down through generations. The Australian Aborigines do not have a fully formed written language that can be established and understood across all tribes, which is why the artworks played an important role in communicating within their and between different tribes. Now, what was once an artwork shared among Aboriginal tribes is now an artwork for the world to understand and appreciate.

Subjects of Aboriginal Art

Historical Aboriginal art features daily life and important scenes as their subject. Landscape is a popular subject matter in contemporary Aboriginal art, but there are many other motifs and subjects that are also frequently depicted in contemporary artworks. Even with varying subject matters, the artworks have one thing in common – they convey a story. The story of Aboriginal art itself is teeming with history, ideas, dreamtime and sacredness. When an Aboriginal artist makes traditional, historical or sacred stories through their artwork, they seek permission from Elders within the community, or have had the story passed down through their family’s ancestors. The tradition has lived on for thousands of years, and most of the Aboriginal art we see today reflects countless generations of interlinked stories and spiritual beliefs from ancient times.

Traditional Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal tribes use ocher to make colors like yellow, brown and red and charcoal to make black. The ancient practice is to paint on rock walls and on skin. This practice continues until today. The introduction of canvas and boards didn’t happen until the 50 years ago. Symbols were also commonly drawn in the sand and dirt together with songs to convey ideas and pass down stories. The Aboriginal rock paintings date back as early as 20,000 years, which make them one of the oldest art forms in the world.

Modern Aboriginal Art

This art movement began in 1971 through the efforts of a teacher named Geoffrey Bardon. He worked with Aboriginal children around Alice Springs and noticed the men drawing symbols in the sand. He encouraged them to use watercolor to paint these symbols and legends on canvas and boards. Thus, the genre of modern Aboriginal art was born. The styles and choices of color vary with different regions and tribes. Some communities have adopted the modern colors while some choose to preserve traditional earth colors.

Dot Painting

Dot painting became a commonly known style of Aboriginal art that carries historical significance aside from its complex and arduous nature. It began after the European settlement, as Aboriginal people were concerned that foreigners would understand their sacred teachings and knowledge. Thus, they invented the unique style of dot painting to obscure secret symbols or iconography from foreigners viewing the art, but can still be understood by those from the Aboriginal community.

Aboriginal art is a testament to the enduring traditions of the Aborigines, the ancient tribe that inhabited Australia long before the European settlers. This art has long fascinated people across the world, and through the adoption of modern art mediums, it is becoming more known to many countries. The purpose of showing Aboriginal art to the world is not just to marvel at the delicate and complex workmanship by the artists, but to understand and appreciate the rich history, story and spirituality that the artworks bring with them. They reflect the heart and soul of a beautiful and resilient tribe.

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