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Art of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia

The art of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia constitutes one of the most consistent, and longest, art traditions in the world. Despite an enormous diversity of artistic practices throughout the continent, all Aboriginal art has been inherently religious in nature and most has worked from the seemingly abstract, extremely complex iconographic system that is still employed today. Though art may be designed for a variety of social, didactic, or utilitarian purposes, the Aboriginal belief in the pervasiveness of meaning throughout creation has meant that no person, place, animal or thing is without religious significance. Thus the representation of any aspect of the world, in any medium, at any level of abstraction, for any purpose is guided by the artists' understanding of what is represented. Art can have both private and public meanings. But whether it is intended for a select group of initiates, for the world at large or, as often happens, for both, Aboriginal art refers to the Dreamings--the basic constructs of Aboriginal mythology by which the world is ordered. By reviewing different media from different times and regions it can be shown how the art is made and how it means.

In Aboriginal thought "the world is made of signs," and though an individual can know only a small percentage of their meanings, "the presumptive principle is that there is no alien world of mere things beyond the signing activity of sentient, intelligent beings" (Sutton, 1988, p. 13). These meanings derive from the Dreaming, an English term that is used "to describe the spiritual, natural and moral order of the cosmos" (Caruana, 1993, p. 10). In the Dreamtime, which commenced at the beginning of the world and ended long before human beings can remember, Ancestral Beings formed the land, created living things, and "founded the religious ceremonies, marriage rules, food taboos, and other laws of human society" (Sutton, 1988, p. 15). These Beings tr...

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Art of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:06, May 29, 2020, from