AboriginalArt - The Eternal Dreamtime: Art and Worldview in...

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The Eternal Dreamtime: Art and Worldview in Aboriginal Australia One of the most worthwhile aspects of studying the art of another society is that through it one may glimpse something of the cultural mind, or worldview, of its people. Already, in exploring the art of the Lakota and other Plains tribes of the nineteenth century, you have gained some insights into how profoundly different their beliefs about the nature of reality can be. For the Lakota and many other Native American people, knowledge about the world and one's place within it derives from the experience of dreaming. Vision quest permits the dreamer to see beyond the outer, material appearance of things, and establish a relationship with spiritual benefactors. This is a very individualistic, personal pursuit; one accomplishes the vision quest alone, and through this revelation, devises a plan for living out his or her life. Although the content of these visions fits within an elaborate, and very coherent collective vision of the universe, and although there is a conventional vocabulary of symbols (the sacred hoop, the thunderbird, the rainbow, dragonflies, swallows, etc.), no two visions are alike. Similarly, the creation of designs that realize these visions is also unique and individual; no two shields, painted tipis, war shirts, or other items are identical. If we turn now to the art of another group, the native people of the continent of Australia, we encounter a very different, and equally elaborate, conception of the universe. Like the Plains Indians, the Aboriginal people of Australia use art and ritual as a way of learning about the sacred basis of their world. This knowledge also defines for them who they are, and the way they are destined to live their lives. With it comes not only identity but power, although these things are conceptualized very differently than among the Plains tribes. For one thing, the sacred basis of knowledge for the Aborigines comes not from the personal revelation of dreams, but from learning lore about the mythic past. The significance of this knowledge and the ritual means of its transmission is less a matter of personal, individual quest--instead, it centers around conceptions of social identity, of belonging to a group, that are extremely important in Aboriginal culture. For the Plains Indians, the means to knowledge is a direct, visionary encounter with a being that appears to the dreamer, revealing to him knowledge, songs, prayers, and designs that will allow him to use certain powers. This experience concerns one's relations with things that are dynamic phenomena of the present universe: storms, wind, stars, etc. The natives of Australia learn who they are from events that happened long ago, when the world was first formed. The Aborigines refer to this mythic past using a term that translates more or less as the "Eternal Dreamtime." Social Life Australia's aboriginal peoples have inhabited the continent for at least forty thousand years, having migrated
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This note was uploaded on 06/26/2008 for the course VIS 21a taught by Professor Kimberly during the Fall '07 term at UCSD.

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AboriginalArt - The Eternal Dreamtime: Art and Worldview in...

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