The History of Aboriginal Art for Kids
Aboriginal art can be understood as the carvings, paintings, and depictions of nature created by Aboriginal people. These are a group of Indigenous Australians who are native to Australia. They’re a vast community of Native peoples who have lived in Australia for the past 50,000 years – the oldest living culture in the world.
Aboriginal people have a solid relationship with the natural landscape, including deserts, coasts, valleys, and grasslands. They often use Australian animals as inspiration in their art and folklore. They also hold a substantial value in natural materials, including ochre: a soft rock that contains clay.
Ochre was one of the first pigments to be used by humankind. It was ground into a fine red-colored powder and mixed with water to create one of the world’s first paints. They also used charcoal and clay.
For centuries and still today, Aboriginal people have used ochre for several purposes. They painted it on their bodies and faces for medicine, trade, and art. Indigenous peoples in Australia have practiced rock carvings and body painting for at least 30,000 years.
Their art and paintings represent The Dreaming, Aboriginal people’s creation stories and spiritual beliefs. The earliest Aboriginal art was symbols and patterns, made only in natural colors, often with dots and swirls. Their culture had no written language, so the symbols were significant.
Why not study some Aboriginal art this World Art Day?
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Aboriginal Art Colors and Symbols
Here are a few meanings behind the natural desert colors found in traditional Aboriginal art:
- White is the spirit color.
- Black is the color of night and represents Aboriginal people.
- Red is the color of the land or blood.
- Yellow is the color of the sun and is sacred.
The Australian outback or bush is a hot landscape with red soil and rocks. This red color comes from iron oxide in the sand and mud – like rust on metal.
You can use a key to decipher the recurring symbols in Aboriginal artwork. They draw circles and lines to abstractly represent standard features like people or water. Aboriginal artists also use pictographic symbols to depictreal objects or living beings. Of course, the meanings can vary between different artists and tribes.
Studying these symbols gives you insight into Australia’s traditional way of life, with features like campsites and hunting boomerangs. Many Indigenous peoples’ culture is deeply connected to the landscape and natural world.
The main types of Aboriginal arts and crafts are:
- dot painting
- rock painting
- rock engraving
- tree bark painting
- aerial “country” landscapes
Patterns and Dots in Aboriginal Art
You’ll notice that almost all Indigenous Australian artwork has no space – it is always filled with dots or patterns. This can add to a sense of movement in a piece. The style could be called abstract because it is symbolic rather than realistic.
Using dots is a very ancient practice in Aboriginal culture through body paint. Dot paintings are often visual stories; sometimes, the dots symbolize stars or sparks. Today’s dot paintings come from artists working in the 1970s who wanted to obscure and protect sacred elements using dots. It has been associated with Aboriginal desert art since that period.