Native American arts
Literary, performing, and visual arts of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere.Folktales have long been a part of the social and cultural life of diverse groups of American Indian and Inuit peoples. These tales were passed on orally by storytellers whose presentation could shape the power of a story. One technique they frequently employed was the repetition of incidents. Elements of mythologywhich vary from region to regionare also central. Any definition of a Native American musical style is complicated by the variety between tribes and within tribal repertoires. An evident feature of much music is male dominance. Equally evident is its limitation to a single singer, who performs without harmonization and with percussion accompaniment. The singing voice is well supported from the diaphragm and has a pulsating quality caused by the rhythmic expulsion of breath. Melodies are generally sparse, sometimes even monotone; only rarely do songs expand beyond the notes of the pentatonic (five-tone) scale. Among the instruments used are drums, rattles, and sometimes wind instruments such as the panpipe. The dances of Native American peoples represent forms passed down over centuries and modified through interaction with foreign and other Indian cultures. Their origins lie in religious rites; in attempts to invoke magic and thus cure illness or assure success in food production, hunting, and warfare; and in such life-passage rites as birth, puberty, and death. Patterns within the dance reflect complex relations of rank and gender, and the dancers themselves often represent different religious symbols. Characteristic of Indian dancers is a slightly forward-tilted posture, forward raising of the knee, flat-footed stamp or toe-heeled action, and tendencies towards muscular restraint and relaxation in gesture. Native American visual arts also vary widely from tribe to tribe and region to region. The particular utilitarian form that Native American art took on often reflected the social organization of the cultures involved; for example, political and military societies found their major art forms in weaponry, pageantry of costume, and panoply. Working with the materials natural to their respective homelands, the various Indian cultures also produced art that reflected their environment; for example, those living in forested regions became gifted sculptors in wood. Some of the best Native American artwork was applied to those objects intended to please a deity, soothe the angry gods, and placate or frighten evil spirits. Among the many media explored by Native American cultures are weaving, pottery, basketry, wooden sculpture, clayware, quillwork, embroidery, beadwork, totem poles, murals, and masks. Architectural achievements are also varied and include the monumental stone cliff dwellings of the American Southwest and the enormous Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl at Cholula in Mexico. See also kachina; Navajo weaving; oral tradition; Pueblo pottery; trickster tale.
* * *also called American Indian artsarts of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas. Native American arts are treated in a number of articles. See Native American literature, which includes a discussion of the oral tradition; Native American art; Native American music; and Native American dance.
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