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The Western separation of fine art from the lowlier craft (i.e., useful skill) came out of a sequence of social, economic, and intellectual changes in Europe that did not occur in Africa before the colonial period at the very earliest.This separation, therefore, cannot be applied without qualification to African traditions of precolonial origin.Philosophers of art in the West might agree that works of art are simply artifacts made with the intention of possessing aesthetic value, and in that sense art, which would include craftwork as well as works of fine art, would indeed be found in all parts of Africa (as indeed it is throughout human culture).

As to differences of style, regularities of form and tradition do occur such that it is possible to attribute particular African art objects to particular places, regions, or periods.

Four distinct variables make this kind of stylistic identification possible.

That being said, some general characteristics of African art may be identified.

Among these are innovation of form—i.e., the concern on the part of the African artist with innovation and creativity; visual abstraction and conventionalization; a visual combination of balanced composition and asymmetry; the primacy of sculpture; the transformation and adornment of the human body; and a general multiplicity of meaning.

The variety of forms and practices is so great that the attempt to do so results in a series of statements that turn out to be just as true of, for example, Western art.

Last modified 06-Jul-2017 11:47