Native American Civilization Artwork

“Civilized” society’s approach to paintings and art are to hang it on a wall, admire it, critique it, and even replicate it so that others can have, admire, and critique. The Native American approach that things work together to create a balance means that they create what we would call a piece of art (in the case of their sandpaintings) in order to restore balance and order to the life of one person. The medicine man will spend an inordinate amount of time creating a large (six feet or more in diameter) painting for the sole benefit of the person who is ill.

In the process of utilizing this sandpainting to restore the balance in this person’s life the painting itself is mutilated. The ailing person sits in the center of the creation and sand is taken from the various parts of the painting and applied to the same parts on this person’s body in order to restore the balance of life and nature. This utilitarian use of a “beautiful piece of art” is considered uncivilized by European and modern societies. We would want to enclose it in a piece of glass and show it off to everyone.

Clowns are another aspect of Native American society that we, as a “civilized” nation, cannot comprehend. They had people who act in a totally absurd manner during religious ceremonies and at other sacred times. We would consider defecation inside of a church sanctuary a punishable offense yet they tolerated similar acts by clowns and just brushed them aside. While we would have these people institutionalized they used them as an example of bad behavior and a resource for knowledge (how a decent member of the tribe should not act).

The explanation of masks was quite interesting. As a matter of fact, it was made clear that in some tribes and civilizations the person wearing the mask would take on the persona of the (sometimes hideous looking) being revealed in a dream to its maker. There was an interesting story where the author was allowed to represent the spirit of the “punisher of wayward children” (for lack of a better paraphrased description). The distressed face of the child left haunting memories. He decided that if he were to do that again he would be kinder and gentler in his approach.

These concepts of balance between human and nature are foreign to our society. We have a hard time comprehending so much time being put into a sandpainting that is later mutilated. We have a hard time seeing a beautiful creation being stored in a bag or hung facing the wall where they cannot be seen.

I believe one of the biggest areas of separation between our society and that of Native Americans is the tradition of animism. This was mentioned in reference to the masks. Although they are carved by a man, they are considered alive and possessing the nature and soul of the spirit revealed to its creator in a dream.

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