Accepted Paper:

Was the expression of exceptional artistic talent possible in traditional Oceanic art  


Harry Beran

Paper short abstract:

The question I pose has not been posed before as far as I know. Publications on 'masterpieces' of Oceanic art do not help in answering it. I provide evidence that in the Massim region of PNG there are artworks which display exceptional artist talent.

Paper long abstract:

We can reasonably assume that traditional Oceanic artists producing physical works differed as much in artistic talent as those of other regions of the world. So one can consider the question whether the traditional art practices of some Oceanic regions permitted the expression of exceptional artistic talent. This is a question that needs to be answered for an adequate understanding of any art practice but one which has not previously been posed regarding Oceanic art as far as I know. The next question is whether Western students of this art can recognize works in which exceptional talent is expressed, with or without the help of local informants.

There are a number of publications which present 'masterpieces' of Oceanic art. I argue that they are of little help in identifying works by artists of exceptional talent.

In some parts of the Massim region a distinction is made between master carvers trained in an apprenticeship system and other carvers not so trained. However, I argue that fully-fledged master carvers are not necessarily artists of exceptional talent.

I will present evidence that the traditional woodcarving practice of the Massim region of Papua New Guinea did provide scope for the expression of exceptional artistic talent. However, I propose that the question I pose is more important than the evidence I can offer regarding it from Massim art.

Panel P089
The Anthropology of Creativity in Art