April 22 to May 24, 1992
Culture is a pattern of behaviours, ideas, and values shared by a group. The visual arts are a means of communicating, teaching and transmitting these cultural ideas and values, thus maintain the behaviour, ideas and values.
The traditional study of art has been to identify the characteristics of art within each period of social and political history. Classification of art by periods and by peoples, such as Ancient Greek Art, Colonial Mexican Art, Contemporary Black Art, gives us only a part of the knowledge we need. We must learn to think of art and people in processes of change.
Art is a principle means of communicating ideas and emotional meanings from one person to another, from one group to another, from one generation to another. Ideas are communicated through art as well as through words. Poets often ‘paint pictures’ with words to stimulate our visual imagery. But visual artists can provide us with both images and ideas. Some artists are concerned with the communication of ideas, some with communicating feelings and emotions, some with the aesthetics or beauty of form, some with the effects of manipulating materials, and others are concerned with some synthesis of all these communications.
The degree the message comes from artist, through the work, to the viewer, depends upon the nature of the message, how well the design carries the content and effect of the message, and how receptive the viewer is to the message. Some people may only respond to some parts of the message and not to others’ many people only to the subject matter some mainly to the emotional impact; and others to the beauty of the organization. Some people get all these messages, a few almost none of them.
Some societies have art forms whose main purpose is to communicate – paintings and sculpture in Western and Oriental Art. Other societies mainly use art in relation to some useful object masks, ceremonial body coverings, tools, vessels. But these all communicate qualities, ideas, and emotions as well. Every human-made object that we can see, touch or smell communicates; it tells us something about its use, its function, and its social meaning.
We often hear the statement that art is a universal language. It may be true in that the ordering process of human beings, used as a basis for design, appears to be found in art forms everywhere in the world. Some kind of ordering of the art elements of shape or form, line, colour, texture, and space requires some concerned, caring effort to produce it. There are common human experiences in the processes of living that are expressed, but the interpretation of the meaning of time, space, human relations, the structure of social life depend on the cultural group. To some degree we can respond to any people’s art even though their language may be incomprehensible to use. But we can only understand their art in the degree we can learn their culture. When we remember that a culture is learned through the values and beliefs expressed through the day to day actions of people, their language, the symbols in their visual environment, their art, myths, and music, we should not be surprised that a latecomer can rarely learn it as a child learned it growing up in it. But each child learns his or her own culture somewhat uniquely learning some aspects and ignoring others. For these reasons art is not wholly a universal language. In observing a given work of art, we are limited by our understandings of the culture and the degree to which the artist is central or peripheral to the culture.
The work included in this show was created by a cultural; group familiar to us all, yet to many viewers this work is in some ways as foreign as that from China. The work in Changers is accessible to those who will take time to study the images. As these women are people who have been a part of both native and non-native cultures. Their work is a mixture of symbols and expressions familiar to both groups. For some of them the work is a rediscovery of their identity, for others a new way of expressing that cultural identity. It is their understanding of the interaction of these cultures that makes their work so powerful and expressive. If one comes away with no sense of the emotion in this work, it can only be due to the lack of knowledge of the situations these artists are commenting on.
This exhibition featured artwork by:
Rebecca Baird, Rebecca Belmore, Ruth Cuthand, Freda Diesing, Faye HeavyShield, Glenna Matoush, Shelley Niro, Alanis Obomsawin, Jane Ash Pintras and Joane Cardinal Schubert.
Click here to see what's currently going on!