Sunday, May 1, 2011

On artistic 'approximations'

Posted By on Sun, May 1, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Portraying the "Other" in art and history is a quirky and sometimes controversial study. "Other art" happens when the artist completes a work of a subject which is unfamiliar to him. It's a documented culture clash of sorts, most often seen in early depictions of Native Americans by European settlers.

In Japan, the storied Namban Jin is a screen depicting Portuguese traders. When it was created, the Japanese had never seen men with large eyes and pantaloons, yet the artist still executed an observant portrait of the "southern barbarians."

660px-Namban-08.jpg

Two hundred years later, when Commodore Matthew Perry landed in Japan, this portrait was created. This time there is even less of an attempt at verisimilitude, but not as much out of ignorance, but style.

404px-Matthewperry.jpg

Perry, for the record, looked like this:

CommodoreMatthewPerry.jpg

To compare, take a look at George Catlin's portraits of Native Americans, or even Paul Gauguin's paintings of Tahitian women. Here, you have a curious artist, but one sensitive enough to capture both what is foreign and what is familiar.

All of this is to say, I have no fancy summation of this "Other" study, but rather I've found two fascinating websites featuring prime examples of the warped perspective that comes out of recording that which is very different.

The first, is this blog post featuring the first British depiction of Native Americans, executed by watercolorist and Roanoke governor John White in the 1580s.

Notice how the Native Americans are depicted ostensibly as darker, naked Europeans, down to their Anglo features.
  • Notice how the Native Americans are depicted ostensibly as darker, naked Europeans, down to their Anglo features.

Other images are more fanciful, taking a warriors body paint to the extreme.
  • Other images are more fanciful, taking a warrior's body paint to the extreme.

Lastly, and likely of less controversy, is this curiosity, which is a stuffed lion built for the king of Sweden in the 1700s by someone with only lion skin and a vague idea of what a lion looked like to go on.

Creepy...
  • Creepy...

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