Native North America

Topic 3: Native North America

  • The arts of Native North America represent a wide range of cultures occupying different areas at different times. The Ancestral Puebloans built massive stone complexes incorporating Mesoamerican influences in what is now the southwestern United States in the years 450-1300 C.E. At roughly the same time, the mound builders of what are now the Midwestern states were creating their vast earthworks.

  • Today, though disease and genocide in the years following European contact has reduced their numbers by perhaps 90%, Native Americans from many groups continue to produce art rooted in tradition, while others produce contemporary works reflecting contact with the international art world. Furthermore, many traditional arts actually incorporate materials acquired via contact with outsiders - glass beads and machine-made cloth especially. Nor are "traditions" necessarily static; famous twentieth-century Puebloan potters in the Southwest often drew inspiration from ancient wares found by archaeologists. Artists of the plains adapted their style of hide painting and drawing to imported paper ledger books.

  • Some native peoples in particular regions of North America share reasonably similar styles of art. These regional styles are defined in terms of the shared environment, as well as any shared heritage. Significant regional styles include those of the Northwest Coast, the Southwest, the Plains and the Eastern Woodlands. Characteristic art forms often reflect the materials accessible in a particular region; examples include the elaborate wood carving traditions of the forested Northwest, the pottery of the Southwest, and the painted buffalo hides of the Plains.

  • Though the arts of Native North America are produced by a diverse range of peoples, some commonalities can be observed. Images of both animals and humans are common, often carrying mythic or spiritual overtones. The creation of art is often closely intertwined with communal life and participation in group rituals, though it may also reflect or foster individual spiritual or visionary experiences.

Related Links:
Indigenous Americas Quiz
Ancient America - Mesoamerica
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes