ÍÎÂÎÑÒÈ ÝÍÖÈÊËÎÏÅÄÈß ÁÈÁËÈÎÒÅÊÀ
Diachronic research into African art is fraught with serious difficulties. Leaving the rock pictures and turning to other forms of art, we find that the further we go into the past from the wide (but chronically very narrow) stratum of traditional art, the less material we have that throws light on the early stages of artistic development.
However, it is not only sparseness, discontinuity and fragmentariness of material, that make diachronic analysis in conformity with the existing stratigraphy not very fruitful; this type of analysis is worthless principally owing to the lack of correlation between the stage and chronological strata. Indeed, by arranging the material in chronological order, we obtain disconnected series interrupted by lacunae. The evident stage displacements alternate with gaps of several centuries; the archaic strata are often overlaid with more advanced ones (for example, the strata of the developed art cultures of the Ife and Bakuba are overlaid with local, less developed traditional cultures). The lack of correlation between the chronological änd stage levels is brought to light by formal analysis and confirmed by historical data. In the majority of cases, it is too obvious and does not demand special explanation. It is easy to see that the specific forms of the professional handicrafts, corresponding to the developed forms of statehood, prove in the majority of instances to be considerably older than most monuments of clan and tribal art, although there is no doubt whatever that in stage terms even here the traditional folk art precedes that of the court craftsmen.
Everywhere and in all epochs, the element of folk art is a general substratum on the basis of which the professional craft forms of art emerged. We have sufficient material at our disposal to enable us to trace this process-the transformation of the local schools of art, the emergence from them of a court art, the transformation of the traditional craftsmen into palace artists and their subsequent integration into specialised workshops (compare withthe art of the Fon, Ashanti, Baoule and Bamileke.
There is every reason to suppose that traditional art in Tropical Africa existed as long as the clan and tribal society with the characteristic social institutions that gave birth to it. The material collected so far gives a fairly comprehensive idea of the various stages in the development of traditional art, including its archaic forms (the leather masks of the Shilouk, the funeral sculptures of the Gala and Agni, and the wooden sculptures of the Lobi, Ekoi etc). The study of this material confirms the thesis of a general lag in development during the early stages. The signs of evolution are available (gradual, very slow transformation of subjects, gradual geometrisation of forms, emergence of tribal styles and substyles, degeneration of the sacred ideographic elements into decorative, etc.); but while there exists a clan and tribal ideological and social-economic structure, these changes do not affect the form-creating basis of artistic activity. At all levels of traditional art and wherever it existed, we find more or less abstract stylised anthropomorphic and zoomor-phic idealistic representations. In order to understand the nature of this art and its degree of homogeneity, it is essential to break away from local characteristics of style and undertake a systematic analysis, which becomes possible only thanks to the presence of a single substratum overlaying the special characteristics and disclosing their secondary character.
Systematic research into traditional art makes it possible to draw the following conclusions: the traditional art preserved up to the present time among the majority of the Tropical African peoples comprised at all times the material canvas of clan and tribal culture; in other words, the lower chronological boundary (17-18th centuries) indicates only the term of preservation of the material: the substratum of traditional art is notable for its extreme homogeneity and does not undergo substantial changes during the evolution of the secondary signs; the stylistic evolution of traditional art is dilatory and uneven, and so the archaic forms that have come down to us enable us to assess the early stages of its development.
Unevenness of cultural-historical development accounts for the lack of correlation between the chronological and stage strata-the sporadic rise, in the past, of the early class states and, accordingly, of centres of professional palace art.
These centres, which represent the next (relative to the traditional) stage in the development of artistic culture, are periodically destroyed and die out, absorbed by the element of traditional culture that engendered them. (Inasmuch as the degree of entropy of traditional culture under local conditions apparantly guaranteed it a higher level of stability). To sum up the chronological aspect, we note the sporadic inversions of the stage strata which correspond to the clan and tribal, and also to the early class societies.
A more complete and consistant picture is furnished by the material of rock art. The many complexes of rock art in North Africa and the Sahara were created by various peoples, negroid included, over eight to ten millennia. With the advance of the last drought period, part of the Sahara population, moving south, had a profound influence on ethnogenetic processes in Tropical Africa.
If we look back into the remote past of the Sahara and sum up the conclusions of the archaeologists, climatologists, anthropologists and ethnographers, it is impossible not to agree that it should be considered the original home of most Tropical African peoples and that the priceless ancient monuments of rock art are their common artistic heritage.
The monuments of rock art provide the most ancient strata for research into the genesis and study of of the archaic African art forms. As distinct from all the other material, that of rock art is of immense chronological duration and also can be given a relative, and sometimes absolute, dating according to stratum. The stage-by-stage development of the rock paintings and petroglyphs can be traced over a. period of about ten millennia to reveal certain laws of artistic evolution which help us to understand how the traditional ideoplastic art came into being. The rock pictures of the Sahara of approximately the last two millennia, according to the most substantial evidence, are also related to the art of the preceding pastoral period, as the traditional art of Tropical Africa is related to the latter. The rock art of the Camel Era is the last phase in the development of art in the Sahara and is, at the same time, a separate and independent branch of it, representing the Libyan-Arab-Berber artistic tradition. The schematism, symbols and ideographs of this art make it possible to attribute it to the stage stratum as traditional, and, accordingly, to study it from that aspect. This is also confirmed by the parallel existence of both traditions, the available material enables us to trace it over the last few centuries. It is natural to assume that the same period of local artistic traditions in Africa south of the Sahara corresponds to the two-thousand-year Libyan-Arab-Berber period of rock art.
Apart from what we know about the corresponding period in the history of the Tropical African peoples and about the exodus to the south of the cattle-farming tribes who created the big ensembles of Saharan rock art, we have rare but direct evidence in the form of the artistic monuments of the cultures now being excavated (Nok, Kisale, stone sculptures of the (Uele etc.) pointing to the existence in various regions of Tropical Africa during the first millennium b.c. and even earlier (the Nok culture), of highly developed artistic traditions. That such finds are rare tells us nothing about the actual position since, first. Tropical Africa has been very inadequately studied in archaeological terms, and secondly, the material used everywhere in traditional art is wood, whose durability, as we know, is extremely limited.
By making a comparative stylistic analysis of the available traditional art material and comparing it with what is known about the development of analogous art forms among other peoples, we can claim that the complex ideoplastics, the conventional geometricised forms acquiring the universal character of symbol or sign, and the set styles typical of the art of the Bambara, Senufo, Baga, Dan, Bamum, Bakota, Baluba, Balunda, Makonde and many others, can all be the result of a prolonged development process lasting many centuries.
Although the chronological limitations of the material make it impossible to trace the consecutive stages in the evolution of this art as exemplified by different schools of art, the gap, as we have already mentioned, can be partly filled in thanks to the uneven regional development of the traditional art. The general laws governing the evolution of the graphic forms of this second period in relation to the hunting and cattle-farming period are brought out by the stylistic analysis of the successive phases of Lybian-Arab-Berber rock art. On the basis of extensive and consecutively dated material, we can trace the gradual transition from pictures whose style corresponds the final phase of the cattle-farming period up to the late ideographic symbolic images and signs which give, as it were, a graphic projection of the sculptural form of traditional art. Hence, the specific traditional creative art forms are not preceded by "the rock art era" but by its early and more or less naturalistic phases (the "hunting" and "cattle-farming" periods) - i.e., in this case, the transition from one form of representational activity to the other, from rock pictures to sculpture, is not directly associated with the transition from one stage level to the other. Rock pictures are still practised as an art form by certain contemporary Tropical African peoples, while neolithic sculptures, although in a very limited quantity, are found in the Sahara. If there is some kind of dividing line here, it is evidently connected with the settled and nomadic mode of life. The sculptures correspond most to the former and the rock pictures to the latter.
For the nomads of the Sahara in the first and second millennia b.c., who were at a higher level of development than their predecessors, rock art remains the basic form of representational activity, But its character undergoes radical changes. With the development of abstract thinking and in accordance with the logic of the development of representational forms, the rock art of the Lybian-Arab-Berber period evolves in the same direction as the traditional sculpture - via stylisation and schematisation to ideogram. The elements of stylisation and schematisation periodically appeared in the art of the hunting and the cattle-farming period, but only in the final phase did they acquire a new capacity - that of the ideogram, from which, as we know, the signs of writing emerged in a number of cases.
To elucidate the main trends in the development of African art and set up a few markers for the retrospective reconstruction of the artistic process, it is essential in certain cases to break free of absolute chronology and concentrate on the stratigraphy of certain layers. The precisely localised and relatively dated series which are given to us by, say, the Sao culture or the art of Benin and certain periods of rock art are of particular value for diachronic analysis. Here we have the opportunity to ascertain from specific material certain laws of stylistic evolution and at the same time we obtain definite markers which help to clarify the general picture. Of particular importance is the displacement of the chronological and phasic strata-the consequence of regional unevenness of development during the period of class formation and the early class states. The lack of correlation in this case enables us to overcome the discontinuity.
Stage I. Primitive Communal Era
1st period: art of hunters
2nd period: art of cattle-farmers
Stage II. Era of Class Formation
1st period: art of nomads, semi-nomadic farmers and cattle-farmes
2nd period: art of semi-nomads, hunters, cattle-farmers
Stage III. Early Class Societies
1. Art of court craftsmen
2. Art products of specialised workshops
Stage IV. Contemporary Era (End of XIX-XX cent.)
Separate chapters (II-V) are devoted to the analysis of each stage mentioned.
The second chapter traces the genesis and evolution of rock art in its early forms.
The most ancient monuments of rock art (the Atlas mountains, Fezzan, Tassili-Agger, Tibesti) are represented mainly by single figures in which are found certain characteristics typical of cave pictures during the Aurignac period. Later, the style of portrayal changes and various series of figures of the same type and pictures of animals in pairs make their appearance.
At the end of the hunting and beginning of the pastoral period, attention is paid to texture, to the technique of portrayal which, in the end, leads to the development of new qualities - material and to form a more complete picture of the stage-by-stage development of art. As, a result of this displacement, we have at our disposal material of all the indicated phase levels and we can minimise the element of conjecture unavoidable in any form of reconstruction.
Proceeding from the morphological analysis of monuments of rock, traditional and handicraft art, the diachronic analysis of separate stage strata and systematised research into the material as a whole, we come to the conclusion that the division of African art into periods should proceed from stage stratification and should accordingly be built up according to the following scheme:
Rock paintings and petroglyphs. (VIII-II millennia b.c.)
Rock paintings, petroglyphs, sculpture. (I millennium b.c. -II millennium a.d.)
Rock pictures, traditional sculpture, applied art. (XVII-XX cent, a.d.)
Sculpture, painting, applied art. (II millennium b.c.)
Folk craftsmen art industry, professional artists.
Desacralised folk art, mass-produced objects of art, all forms of contemporary professional art.) polychromy and perspective. In painting, complex compositions, and narrative subjects make their appearance and attention shifts from individual objects to the connections between them-to action as such (hunting, fighting, dancing etc.). Rock painting attained its peak in the cattle-farming period, approximately in the middle of the 4th millennium b.c.
By the middle of the 3rd millennium obvious signs of stereotyping make their appearance. From that time, which coincides with the beginning of the last drought period in the Sahara, the tendency towards stylisation and then towards schematisation gradually intensifies in rock art. Art is gradually shorn of expressive imagery and, at the same time, is liberated from the variability of individual creative art. Towards the end of this period (the middle of the 2nd millennium b.c.) pictures with the subject only (man, various species of animal, dwellings etc.) finally acquire a standardised character and become ideograms.
The third chapter contains an examination of the concluding phase in the development of rock art (1st and 2nd millennia b.c.) and the main tendencies in the development of traditional sculpture.
The culture of the class formation epoch is transitional. It is the culture of the period before the existence of a state or a written language. The latter is particularly important for elucidating the special characteristics of the creative process and its leading tendencies, equally evident in rock art (1st and 2nd millennia b.c.) and in traditional sculpture.
The material of rock art allows us to trace the consecutive stages in the evolution of graphic forms from image to sign; as a result of analysing the sculpture, we obtain an idea of the ways in which the plastic ideogram developed.
The last stage of rock art in the Sahara, Nile Valley, Ethiopia, East Africa, Cameroun, Zaire, Angola and other regions on the continent is represented by the schematic drawings, non-figurative pictures and signs of a script. The only exception is Southern Africa, where naturalistic tendencies are preserved in rock art paintings to the end (cf. other aspects of the culture of the Southern African aborigenes).
In the last stage, schematisation achieves a level at which pictures with a single subject hardly differ from one another in the qualitative sense (in stylistic terms two types of outline drawing are discernible: curvilinear-geometric and rectilinear-geometric). These picture signs can only be called drawings with reservations; their creation is like the performance of a ritual.
A typical example of the later schematic forms is given by the contemporary rock pictures of the Dogons which played an important part in their initiation rites. The relationship and sometimes the direct link between rock pictures and sculpture is demonstrated by the countless stylistic and subject parallels (certain forms of mask-the Kanaga, for instance; means of depicting the human figure etc.).
As far as can be judged from the ancient monuments preserved, and also from the prehistoric strata of traditional art, the evolution of sculpture, in its general outlines, follows the same tenedency as rock art. The forms of the late traditional sculpture achieve a level of plastic ideogram comparable to that of the late ideographic rock pictures. On the other hand, the moderate stylisation of ancient African sculpture (Nok) corresponds with striking accuracy to the level of stylisation in the rock pictures of the same period (beginning of 1st millenium b.c).
Examining the early stage strata represented by the sculpture of the Nok, Mahan Jafe, Sherbro-Nomoli, Pomdo and, finally, Tellem-Dogons, we have tried, as far as the material allows, to reconstruct the evolution of the plastic forms. Recreating the consecutive stages in the development of the sculpture, we come to the conclusion that the sculpture representing the early phase is notable for its relative naturalism, its lack of zoomorphic and fantastic elements, and its tendency to preserve proportions close to the natural. At the same time, we noticed the unification of individual graphic elements (it should not be forgotten that the most ancient monuments of sculpture at our disposal are not "most ancient" in the absolute sense). The further analysis of the fundamental typological series represented by the sculpture of the Mahan Jafe, Nomoli, Pomdo, Tellem-Dogons etc. shows that the laws for the development of the graphic forms, as revealed by the evolution of rock art, also determine the basic parameters of the development of sculpture.
Bearing in mind the high degree of homogeneity in the primitive culture, we examine the non-specific elements discernible in the artistic structure of monuments of the Nomoli-Pomdo circle as invariable for the relevant stage stratum (cf. the Mali ceramic statuettes, the burial figurines of the Agni, the Ashanti terracotta heads, the ancient statuette from Djimon (Cameroun), the anthropomorphic reliefs of the Kisale culture, the Ore stone statues, the Ezie scupltures etc.). All these monuments, considerably more ancient than the oldest examples of the traditional art object in wood, are wholly anthropomorphic and relatively naturalistic, i.e. they display the same features that distinguish the sculptures of the Mahan Jafe, Nomoli, and early Pomdo from the more advanced forms represented, in particular, by the sculpture of the Dogons. We examine the art of the Dogons as a model giving us an idea of the special structural characteristics of traditional art which represent the artistic process in the latest phase of the primitive cycle. This is valid both for the broadest and for the narrowest perspective, since the art of the Dogons (like every other), reflects features typical of a given phase of artistic development in general, in the oecumenical sense, and those which to some extent distinguish the art of the Black African peoples from the art of other peoples at the same stage of development. In the narrower perspective, this art reflects the special characteristics uniting the artistic schools of the given region and, finally, it has its own specific features.
As we noted, the evolution of traditional sculpture has two aspects: diachronic and synchronic. We associate the first with the concept of quantitative deformation and the second with that of qualitative deformation. The diachronic evolution of graphic forms is characterised by the disruption or erosion of form, by the denudation of the morphological structure, by growing abstraction. The laws of diachronic evolution are universal by nature and correspond to the substratum elements common to each distinct artistic tradition.
In contrast to this, synchronic evolution concerns the special local artistic features; it develops in space (monotemporally) and is expressed in the particular qualitative changes which emerge during the transition from one artistic school to the other, from one ensemble to the other. In other words, the local artistic centres of Tropical Africa are not exclusively connected at the level of a natural substratum canvas (unity of technique and material, kinds of artistic product, subjects and so on) and in certain constant stylistic indicators that distinguish Black African art as a whole. In spite of the vividly expressed originality of the local schools, they are all mutually connected with one another, and, moreover, this connection comes to light as a result of the analysis of the more specific characteristics of each distinct style. Under close scrutiny, it transpires that it is these specific features that tend to be borrowed. This direct mutual influence, the interpenetration of separate schools of art and centres, their complex interweaving and, in the final analysis, interaction on the scale of the whole region, all go to convince us that the traditional art of Tropical Africa must be explored not only at the level of the local artistic schools, but as an entire systemor, to be more precise, supersystem. This supersystem is, first, polycentric, since it consists of many hierarchically organised mutually interacting systems (art centres); secondly, it is multilevel, since it combines unequally developed systems and subsystems (schools of art, styles, substyles). Its integrating tendencies are determined, in the final analysis, by factors of stage and ecology, by a complex pattern of intertribal contacts.
Synchronic evolution, disclosing a general picture of the artistic spectrumthe growth of one style into another, of one artistic tradition into anotherdemonstrates the means of mutual interaction between parts of the system, and also the forms and means of transmitting information between them.
With traditional art, the systematic approach, envisaging the preservation of the totality of the object in the course of studying it, is the only one possible. Any attempts at the local retrospective reconstruction of an artistic process from ethnic or territorial indications would be ineffective owing the inconstancy of those very indications (the intensity of social and ethnogenetic processes).
Court art, whose emergence and evolution are examined in Chapter IV, is formed entirely on the basis of the developed forms of the traditional artistic culture. This is directly indicated by such transitional forms as reliefs depicting scenes from history (Baule), galleries of chieftains statues (Bamileke), humanised and partially desacralised aspects of the traditional culture of the Yoruba, Baluba and Bakuba, with the special characteristics of traditional and court art alike. The court art of the professional artisans (in particular, the art of Ife and Benin) is the most advanced stage reached in the pre-colonial era by creative art among the Tropical African peoples.
Under the conditions of the early class society, the making of art objects becomes a job for specialised artisans. It is not yet individual, but it is already professional creative art. Court art is already entirely oriented on the viewer. Apart from its religious, ideological and political functions, this art clearly expresses an aesthetic function (true, still closely associated here with the prestige of supreme power). The appearance of various individual pictures right up to the realistic portrait and the development of narrative, and especially of historical subjects, also point to the fact that in the most general, conceptual terms, this art does not differ fundamentally from contemporary art.
At the new stage, the direction of the artistic process is determined by a number of factors. Among them, a special part is played by the phase of social-economic development and by its corresponding institutions. It becomes evident that at this stage, artistic evolution, representing a definite aspect of the cultural-historical process, is associated with changes in the social-political structure and especially with the centralisation and decentralisation of power, its sacred or profane character, and with the ideology or system of collective ideas corresponding to it. In addition, alongside the variables, constant inner laws continue to operate, immanent guiding processes influencing the development of artistic forms, although, as a whole, the complexes of court art (Ife, Benin) develop along the lines of intensifying decorativeness, and there is a marked tendency in purely plastic structure towards the crystallisation, geometricisation, disruption and stereotyping of artistic form.
Court art played a definite historic role, deepening the processes of artistic development, and widening the sphere of art's humanitarian functions. As is shown by the examples of Benin, Dahomey and others, this art, closely linked with the superstructure, ceased to exist with it. Proceeding to the contemporary period (Chapter V), we note a profound line dividing the recent past of Africa from its present. Graphic art in the independent countries of Africa is represented by three trends: modernised aspects of traditional art; the art industry; and individual professional art characteristic of the modern urban society.
It is natural that at the contemporary stage, the main role in the process of artistic development should be played by professional creative art. At the present time, the most important problem in this field is that of continuity, engendering, on the one hand, attempts to restore the dying elements of a culture, and, on the other hand, a total rejection of the local cultural heritage and the uncritical acceptance of the contemporary "Western" culture complex. In its extreme manifestations, this tendency expresses, on the one hand, the idea of African artistic culture's superiority and exclusiveness (which, in the end, is expressed in searchings for a "typical African style"; and, on the other hand, total retreat from the tasks of building a culture in the country concerned.
Analysis shows that the modernisation of economics and social patterns inevitably leads to corresponding changes in the culture; that the gulf between the old and the new is too great and excludes direct continuity.
Indirectly, however, continuity between the traditional artistic culture and individual professional art is preserved, thanks to the interconnections between a number of contemporary artistic forms (modernised aspects of the traditional art-professional craftsmen - the arts industryart schools based on the art industry-professional artists trained in such schools).
Generalising from the results of research, we will note certain important characteristics in the evolution and typology of primitive traditional and professional art.
Ten millennia in the development of rock art show that the initial, primitive naturalism has an enormous potential for evolution in terms of deepening the development of the naturalistic tendency - the disruption, concretisation and individualisation of form. However, these possibilities are realised at each stage only partially according to the given level of the development of artistic awareness. At a certain stage, the picture ceases to be corrected by nature, the forms gradually become stylised and canonised; and than follows the disruption, the crystallisation of the artistic structure, and this, in the end, leads to some degree of schematisation. Then comes a return to nature and the process is repeated of the more adequate, precise and allround representation of nature; but in the second half of this cycle there is a deepening tendency towards generalisation and the means of stylisation are refined. It may also be noticed that the slide towards abstraction takes place, as a rule, slowly, whereas the transition to naturalism may seem analogous to a mutation.
Investigating the various complexes of traditional art, we come to the conclusion that the basis of the artistic process consists of repetition, regularity and rhythm, which ensure continuity, structure and order. However, as we have seen, even the most stable elements of this conservative system, whose basic function is stabilization, are themselves subject to transformation. The evolution of certain of the system's elements is inevitably bound up with the transformation of others. Moreover, it is hard to decide which comes first: the crystallisation of the mythological ideas, their development from the specific (the monarch, the leader of the tribe and so on) to the abstract and archetypal (cultural hero, first ancestor and the like), or the gradual stylisation of that same ancestor's picture, the description of the artistic form and its evolution from the concrete to the abstract. Whatever this relationship might be, it is evident that in the art of the primitive traditional cycle, the stable, abstract ideographic forms are invariably the product of evolution. On the other hand, the naturalistic tendency and the existence in the artistic structure of concrete and particular signs are most frequently associated with the inital stage of the artistic tradition.
In the process of analysing the corresponding material, we have established that the more homogeneous artistic structure corresponds to the early stage. In rock art of the hunting period, the regional, ethnic and individual characteristics are blurred; however, an identical stage of evolution can be traced everywhere.
In traditional clan and tribal art, the stage and ethnic principles are already both clearly expressed. It is the latter which determines the social characteristics of local schools of art and the idiosyncrasies of the regional styles. As distinct from oecumenical primitive graphic art, traditional art fulfills, alongside the other forms, an ethno-differentiating function and embodies the mythological ideas of a distinct ethnic group. At the last stage in the development of traditional art, in its mature and by now partly transitional forms, there is clearly discernible a tendency to the humanisation of creative art, and this marks a new stage in the development of self-awareness. As analysis shows, this tendency, expressing the process of mental development, of broadening and differentiating the sphere of awareness, is predominant throughout the entire history of artistic development.
Ten millennia in the evolution of African art clearly reflect the consecutive stages of this process. At the beginning, the separation of the animal world from the surrounding world of objects (Primitive Communal Epoch, Period) I; then the growing consciousness of the relation between man and beast (Period II); later, the emergence of ethnic groups, the individualisa-tion of one ethnos in relation to another (Class Formation Epoch) and, finally, with the rise of the early class states, the relationship between man and the social body is explored; the first personified pictures: cult heroes, deified monarchs. This last period already signifies the transition from the collective, from non-psqfessional to workshop, to the work of professional artisans. Its modernised forms later converge with the handicraft industries, the transformed aspects of traditional folk art, and in this new capacity they are preserved to the present day (contemporary arts industry).
The growth of individual professional creative art in the independent African countries is conditioned by the injection everywhere of all kinds of contemporary machined, monumental and decorative art, corresponding to the new social-economic system the present stages of cultural-historical development.
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