SAM and Ancient Art


So, my wife and I went to the Seattle Art Museum yesterday. I never realized that in art it is so clear how messed up civilization is and how meaningless and insane most modern art is. I’ll give some more context. When we got to the museum we quickly realized that they were having a special exhibit on Impressionism. Neither of us is particularly big on Impressionism. The exhibit was thoroughly unimpressive, but at least the topics were real humans, nature, and real life objects.

We quickly left the “special exhibit” to head to what we thought we’d most be interested in: Ancient North American Art, Aboriginal, and Asian. To get to this section we had to pass through a modern art section and an early American art (meaning white people art from when we invaded this country, i.e. Puritanical). Both of which made us feel sick.

Then we hit the Asian section and were both amazed by the intricacy and level of detail. In particular, there was a box that was mother-of-pearl in laid that was so elaborate that it literally must have taken hundreds of hours to make. It was beautiful, but more than that there was actually meaning in it as well. The scene depicted was a mountain landscape with very, very small people fishing and hanging out.

Next, we walked into the Australian Aboriginal section, and I was literally blown away. I have never really encountered AA art before. Most of the art appeared to be very hypnotic sequences of dots or lines and sometimes there was a discernible figure or two such as a serpent. Very quickly after reading about the pieces, we realized that these “abstract” lines and dots were actually maps of actual landscapes and places, as well as stories from the Dreamtime. The levels of meaning were so intricate and complex that it was hard to fathom, but it also instantly shifted one into a very deep and quite headspace. The room literally seemed to be glowing after looking at the works.

The centerpiece of this exhibit was a painting that had been simultaneously completed by 8 or 9 Aboriginal elders that depicted a powerful serpent figure literally creating the Outback landscape. Again, it was simultaneously map, art, and story.

The AA section lead directly into the NW Native Art section, and of all the sections we explored it was clear that the AA and NW sections were really, really similar. While the art looked nothing like each other, in both was the sense of the art telling a story and invoking the power of myth and spirit. In the NW coast, section again every thing had layers of meaning and story even utilitarian items such as knives, clubs, and baskets. Apparently, everything was art. The time, energy, and spirit that went into all of the items was mind-blowing. It was hard to believe that this was in the same museum as a series of ceramic tiles that made up a toliet bowl or a red stop-sign shaped piece that simply said “go” on it (though I did kind of like that was as being slightly subversive).

If anyone needs any proof of the fact that hunter-gatherer cultures had way more time than we do, just look at how rich and deep there art is.

In October, there will be an entire exhibit of Coast Salish art replacing the Impressionist section. We can’t wait.