Although Franz Boas--one of the most influential anthropologists of the twentieth century--is best known for his voluminous writings on cultural, physical, and linguistic anthropology, he is also recognized for breaking new ground in the study of so-called primitive art. His writings on art have major historical value because they embody a profound change in art history.
Nineteenth-century scholars assumed that all art lay on a continuum from primitive to advanced: artworks of all nonliterate peoples were therefore examples of early stages of development. But Boas's case studies from his own fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest demonstrated different tenets: the variety of history, the influence of diffusion, the symbolic and stylistic variation in art styles found among groups and sometimes within one group, and the role of imagination and creativity on the part of the artist.
This volume presents Boas's most significant writings on art (dated 1889-1916), many originally published in obscure sources now difficult to locate. The original illustrations and an extensive, combined bibliography are included.
Aldona Jonaitis's careful compilation of articles and the thorough historical and theoretical framework in which she casts them in her introductory and concluding essays make this volume a valuable reference for students of art history and Northwest anthropology, and a special delight for admirers of Boas.