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African Influence on Modern Art

Africa, the first cradle of humanity and home to the earliest civilization, has contributed immensely to various aspects of human development including politics, agriculture and art.

Despite the fact that the most famous world artists were of European descent, their work was heavily influenced by African art.

According to the Met Museum, the 1900’s saw a lot of European artists incorporating African ideas in their art pieces. Some of these artists included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and their School of Paris friends. These forward thinking artists formed an avant-garde group whose creative work became clearly distinct from the art of the time.

After coming in contact with African sculptures, this new group of artists thought to incorporate the abstract treatment of human bodies in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-impressionist era which gave birth to what we know as modernism.

Though they may not have understood the meanings and spiritual undertones of the African art they had incorporated in their creations, they connected with the expression of emotions and spirituality and were able to move beyond naturalism into a new era of world art.

(Naturalism is a style of art  tied to realism and is focused on achieving the most credible representation of natural reality.)
Art progressed into a space of what must be, to what can be interpreted. German artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner after contact with African art created pieces with dissonant color tones and figural distortion to represent the anxieties of living in modern times.

This avant-garde group were among the first to collect African art for their aesthetic value. Prior to this they had been viewed as artifacts of colonized cultures and had so little value they could be found in pawnshops.

Presently, these sculptures are showcased in museums over the world, and are appreciated for the creative geniuses they are. The African continent has also continued to produce great art pieces influenced by culture and the experiences of their people.

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