Art vs. Artifact

The discussion of the differences between art and artifact is one of the questions that can not be answered due to the fact that everyone has his/her subjective understanding of the issue. The widely spread aesthetics is the reflection of colonialism in art, because it considers everything that was made against the ideals of the classical Western European tradition to be unworthy of the high art (Kleiner, 2009).

The modern pluralistic approach in aesthetics gives an opportunity to think about the artifacts of the indigenous cultures as the art, that is important in analyzing the culture of the society that developed near their community. In the current essay, an attempt to understand the way in which the classical Western aesthetics has influenced the art of the Australian aboriginals will be made.

It is necessary to mention that the culture of the native people was traditionally considered to be worse than the one of the white European males for many centuries. Such approach to the perception and evaluation of the art can be referred to the ideas about the nature of good taste and pure aesthetics contemplation, proposed by Immanuel Kant (Seppa, 2010). According to those ideas, primitive societies are not able to create something that is worth of the pure art, because the level of their development is significantly lower than the one of the Europeans, they are not able to see the beauty and their brain can not learn to create something aesthetically valuable.

When the first European colonizers came to Australia, they considered the new continent to be inhabited only by the creatures of lower intellectual capacities, the aboriginals. They thought that Australia was some sort of terra nullis for them, that knew no people before them except the savages, who were more proximate to the animals, that to the humans, as the Europeans thought. It is possible to imagine their shock when they finally understood that the paintings on Wandana rock were made by the indigenous Aboriginals. The colonists refused to believe for nearly two centuries that those undeveloped native people were able to have their own culture (Seppa, 2010).

The attitude of the colonizers in Australia had a great influence on the development of the art among the native people. As it was mentioned earlier, it was considered to be the drawings that have the aesthetic value equal to the child’s attempts to draw Mickey Mouse. Their craft might have been present in the historical museums and was interested for the colonizers only from the anthropological point of view. In fact, the Australian aboriginals understood the attitude of the white people to their culture and made nothing to prove them the value of their art. Everything they done and that was worth of taking to the gallery, was taken there by the white colonizers and the aboriginal artist had to be proud that his/her work was evaluated by the “better people”.

It is problematic to prove the quality of art using logical arguments. Though, the colonialism in aesthetics does not suppose that the logical arguments will be necessary. It is based on stereotypes, generalizations and the assumption that white Europeans are more intellectually developed, have a good taste, believe in the right god and create in the only possible way (Kleiner, 2009).

Though, the art is the representation of the culture, of the history of the community and their traditional world view. It is evident that the perspective from which the Australian aboriginals perceived the world around them was completely different from the one of people who came to the new continent from Europe. Though, the total faith in the idea of superiority of the white people over the others led to several centuries of despise and feeling of being better than stupid savages.

Such attitude towards the art of those who are obviously different from the ones that people are used to see, shows much about the human nature in general. It is the result of the human desire to dominate over someone who is weaker, the absolutely human desire to kill someone who is different from them. It is difficult to assume that the colonizers of Australia were treating the aboriginals and their culture in such unfair way because they were afraid of the unknown community. They were really thinking that their traditional Western point of view on the aesthetics is better than the primitive drawings of the native people.

The revolution in the minds of the Western European apologists of high art started in the beginning of the 20th century, when the classical hight art with professional technique was changed by the modernist scribble. Perhaps, the majority of people who saw the modernist paintings for the first time thought that they can do it better, even though the last time they drew something was in the primary school.

The revolution in the Western aesthetics of the 20th century gave people a push to understand that the difficult technique is not the only thing that is valuable in the piece of art. It became the revival for the art of the native people in Australia, because it showed that their way to reflect the world around them is not not primitive, it is just different from the way the Europeans of the classical time did it. The culture of the aboriginals stopped being perceived as the artifacts with no aesthetic value and started to be the art, which was impossible in the colonial discourse.


Kleiner, F. S. (2009). Gardner’s Art through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives. Cengage Learning.

Seppa, A. (2010). Globalisation and the Arts: the Rise of New Democracy, or Just Another Pretty Suit For the Old Emperor? Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 2.

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