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Aesthetics, African

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Z006-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

The study and analysis of African art and aesthetics have been dominated by Western culture. Initially the aesthetic sensitivities of African cultures were characterized as ‘primitive’ and of low intellectual calibre. Africans reacted to such negative stereotyping by articulating their own, deliberately non-Western aesthetic theories. The best known of these is négritude.

With its emphasis on learning about a culture by living in it for a period of time, anthropology encouraged scholars to relate African art directly to the aesthetic values of the cultures that produced it. This kind of contextual approach has also become the special concern of African art historians.

One can exemplify the exploration of the aesthetic conceptions of a particular culture in this way by considering the case of the Yoruba peoples of southwestern Nigeria. The Yoruba have a detailed and refined aesthetic vocabulary that has been subjected to extended description and analysis. Where human beings are concerned the highest form of beauty is attributed to a person’s good moral character. Where objects are concerned beauty is influenced by their utility or, in the case of figurative carvings, by the intelligence and ability of the artist.

Citing this article:
Hallen, Barry. Aesthetics, African, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Z006-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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