Designed to Last: Striving toward an Indigenous American Aesthetic

By Heather Ahtone.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Most documented Indigenous American art are objects that were either: made for trade/market, collected with little information about the cultural environment and context, or examined as decorative works. The existing Western discipline of art history and an inherently Western aesthetic perspective have guided scholarship on these materials. While the current dialogue about Indigenous American art is welcome in contrast to the vacuum that existed prior to the explosion since the 1980s, there is an aspect of the arts that continues to be omitted. Kay Walkingstick describes this void within the discourse as it affects contemporary Native artists, “Critics often avoid writing seriously about Native American art because what they consider ‘universal art values’ are actually twentieth-century Eurocentric art values.” This investigation will attempt to examine what would define an Indigenous aesthetic and whether through that perspective a new appreciation can be gained for Indigenous art. Through this aesthetic it is proposed that the role of Indigenous art objects will be broadened to include how they are: 1) used to express individual artist and Native viewer identity within a complex socio-cultural community; 2) affirmed to serve as didactic materials and mnemonic references to traditional cultural cosmology and values; and 3) instrumental in intergenerational transmission of cultural knowledge. Resulting from this will be the potential for scholars to address the artistic expressions of the Indigenous aesthetic in a dialogue that can include a richer understanding of these Indigenous American artworks.

Keywords: American, Indigenous, Tribal, Framework, Methodology, Aesthetic

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.373-386. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.168MB).

Heather Ahtone

Adjunct Instructor, School of Art and Art History, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA

The primary focus of Ahtone’s research and writing has been to place contemporary Indigenous art within the context of American art history. This has included curating contemporary art exhibits with historic didactic materials, documenting the evolution of tribal design usage and materials – pre-contact through removal and post-colonial production, and developing an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing Indigenous art, especially related to the history of tribes currently present in Oklahoma. Recent exhibits include “Art from Indian Territory 2007: the state of being American Indian” (American Indian Cultural Center & Museum) and “Looking Indian” (Untitled Artspace, Oklahoma City, OK). Based on research, she is currently developing a framework that incorporates an Indigenous perspective on the production and purposes of art to provide a more deeply-rooted inspection of how the arts serve a community whose history and literature are embedded in oral history and art. She draws from her own experience as a tribal person (Choctaw/Chickasaw Nations) and as a scholar.


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