African Art Overview

African Art goes back to the beginning of time.


What Is African Art?

In the most basic sense, African art is a type of art that originated and is influenced by the number of diverse cultures in Africa.Just as many historians believe that Africa was the birthplace of all mankind, some art experts believe that African art was the beginning of all art.  Whether this is true or not, like most other types of art, African art has roots in ancient times. Some rock carvings that have been found, for instance, are estimated to be thousands of years old.The earliest pieces of African art, however, were generally small and useful, unlike traditional art object that most people would think of when they hear the word art.  For instance, these early artists did not create traditional paintings on canvas, nor did they create such items as massive stone or metal sculptures.  Instead, African art was generally small and portable, as well as useful.  Paintings tended to be on everyday objects, like dishes or clothing, for instance, and carvings or sculptures were generally used to adorn everyday objects like furniture, utensils, and spiritual items.The nomadic characteristics of Africa’s – and possibly the earth’s – first people were believed play a part in shaping these types of art. Because these people were always on the move, it would have been difficult and cumbersome to transport several large works of art. Out of sheer necessity, this culture created portable and useful pieces of art instead in order to transport them easily.Throughout the years, the main characteristics and styles of most types of African art have evolved with the times only slightly. Today’s modern African art, for instance, may be created with more advanced materials and equipment. The main characteristics of this type of art, however, have remained the same.

Work Environment

The subjects in most African art forms are usually human figures, or human-like figures. In African art, these subjects typically take the form of real humans – living or dead – as well as deities, animals, and emotions.  For the most part, however, figures in African art are not usually perceived as realistic, nor are they meant to be. Instead, these figures take on a more abstract form. The majority of African art pieces are more about symbolism than realism. Masks, for example, are very common types of African art. These are usually used during religious ceremonies only, but some collectors also display them prominently as well.  Youthfulness and vitality are also common characteristics of African art. These two characteristics are often associated with strength and fertility, which were considered to be extremely important in ancient times.  Flat 2D art forms are far less common in African art than they are in other types of art. Instead, African artists generally tend to concentrate on 3D art forms, like sculptures. Most African artists and painters will also usually try to incorporate some 3D effects into their flat paintings as well.

Education Requirements

In order to make his passion a career, an artist should be very talented. To succeed in an African art career, an artist should also be able to mesh his own style with the predominant characteristics of African art.An artist technically doesn’t need any sort of formal training to pursue an African art career, but a degree in fine arts or art history can be helpful.  Degrees in fine art allow a student to fine tune their existing skills. It also allows students interested in this type of art to focus on incorporating African art into their own style of artwork. Art history degrees are also very helpful for those interested in pursuing an African art careers. Students who study art history will often have the opportunity to focus on or specialize in a certain type of art, including African art.