[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 52 / Humanities


Precolumbian Art, Folk Art, and Popular Art

FLORA S. CLANCY, Associate Professor of Art History, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS I have observed intriguing shifts in the focus and in the intention of publications on Spanish American art, changes which may be the subtle result of the contemplation of meanings and histories engendered by the Quincentennial. In Spanish America, especially in the publications on folk and popular art, there is a shifting from the structural concerns with production and marketing towards a more historical (post-historical?) view that looks to the craft objects themselves as sources of information (item bi 91022017). This does not mean that the descriptive, the nostalgic, and the lyrical tracts are disappearing. They are not (items bi 90002503, bi 91022007, bi 90002466, and bi 90002461). Still, greater methodological and even political risks are being taken in what is being published (items bi 90002485, bi 90002494, bi 90002497, and bi 91022004), not the least of which are the few attempts to achieve a descriptive overview of certain histories by combining archaeological information with art objects (items bi 90002463, bi 91022015, and bi 90002468).

There is also a shift to be observed in English-language publications, especially in the area of attempted overviews. Here the effort is to attempt a narrative history (items bi 92012588, bi 92012564, and bi 92012579) rather than a descriptive one, and seems brought about by greater confidence in abilities to render meaningful what was once thought to remain forever obscure, such as reading original texts, especially in the Maya area (item bi 92012579), and eliciting "deep structures" from ethnographic sources (items bi 91022008 and bi 92012570). The narrative history allows for an experimentation with point of view and subjective interpretation and that, I think, ultimately leads to more explicit statements of position on the part of the author(s).

The descriptive history (items bi 92012562, bi 92012581, bi 90002461, bi 90002468, and bi 91022013) usually relies on and illustrates more works of art than narrative history, but then it is more bound to the obvious and the material aspects of art as artifact. Narrative history can explore those things not manifest or obvious, the essence or "marrow" that Ortega y Gasset considered the substance of history.

One of the most common forms of publication is the edited volume that ranges from a tightly organized point of view or theme (items bi 92012570 and bi 92012571) to a loose, disjointed compendium of various authors (items bi 91022009, bi 92012566, and bi 92012568). Many publishing houses are no longer as interested in this form of publication, and it is likely these will become fewer in number in the future. Still, such a format serves to make available information (item bi 92012566, bi 92012568, and bi 91022013) and differing points of view (items bi 91022009 and bi 90002494) in a timely fashion. Although I think carefully envisioned overviews are badly needed, such efforts take long periods of time to research, think through, and write.

Catalogs of exhibitions and of collections have been numerous in the last few years, and although they sometimes, but not always, inspire essays of importance (items bi 90002463, bi 91022004, and bi 90002473), they do serve to make available works of art not often published (items bi 92016591, bi 90002490, bi 90002468, and bi 91022013). In this they offset the descriptive and the narrative histories discussed above, whose authors for some reason rely heavily on well-known and often-published works of art.

Oddly enough, few publications clearly take as a focus the many and various issues of the forthcoming Quincentennial. There certainly have been catalogs of exhibitions mounted with the Quincentennial in mind, but not as issue (items bi 92016591 and bi 91022013). The most ambitious and controversial, perphaps, being the exhibition Mexico: splendors of thirty centuries (item bi 92012584) that brought together in one show, and catalog, exemplary works of art from the early Mexican high culture of the Olmecs to the muralists of the 20th century. Implicit in the organization of the show is the idea that some kind of continuity or affinity runs uninterrupted from the deep past into the present, a topic that, hopefully, will continue to receive much needed scholarly attention (items bi 91022017 and bi 91022008).

It is hoped as well that through the impetus of the Quincentennial, scholarly attention will be focused on the ways (beyond foodstuffs) that Amerindian cultures influenced 16th-century Europe, its economies, its philosophies, and even its folkways.

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (01/03/05)