Accepted Paper:

The View from the Beach and the View from the Bluff: Alternate Approaches to an Indian Battle Scene  


Candace Greene (Smithsonian)

Paper short abstract:

This paper contrasts Western and Native perspectives on illustration through alternate interpretations of a Plains Indian hide painting of a battle. Apparent similarity of Plains representations to Western art practice invites the application of familiar ways of knowing, obscuring Native intention.

Paper long abstract:

While a growing body of scholarship has explored how Western images have influenced views of Native Americans, less consideration has been given to the ways that Western concepts of illustration have influenced how images produced by Native people are understood. Plains Indian pictorial art of the 19th century offers an excellent field to explore this topic. Works on hide and later trade materials provide representational scenes of action that superficially appear similar to Western art practice, inviting the application of familiar ways of knowing. Yet the two visual traditions differed in perspective and in purpose. Western images positioned the artist outside the event, looking at the Indian as "subject" or "sitter." In contrast, Plains pictorial art put the producer at the center of the scene, conceptually if not visually. It was an ego-centered art form, proclaiming "I did this."

This paper will explore alternate interpretations that have been offered for a remarkable Plains Indian shirt painted with a battle scene, details of which link it securely to American conflicts with the Arikara in 1823. The shirt has generated much discussion among scholars, producing narratives that illustrate the continuing power of Western perspectives in interpretation of Native images

Panel P002
Art as Ethnography/Ethnography as Art