10 Facts About Aboriginal Art

1. Aboriginal art is based on important ancient stories: even contemporary Aboriginal art, is based on stories (Jukurrpa) and symbols centred on 'the Dreamtime' – the period in which Indigenous people believe the world was created. The Dreamtime stories are up to and possibly even exceeding 50,000 years old, and have been handed down through the generations virtually unchanged for all those years.
2. Aboriginal art also stands as a written language: Aboriginal art is a major part of the unwritten 'encyclopedia' of being an Aboriginal person and as such it may have many layers of meaning. Australian Aboriginal people have no written language of their own, and so the important stories central to the people's culture are based on the traditional icons (symbols) and information in the artwork, which go hand in hand with recounted stories, dance or song, helping to pass on vital information and preserve their culture.
3. Paintings are also used for teaching: A painting (in effect a visual story) is often used by the aboriginal people for different purposes, and the interpretations of the iconography (symbols) in the artwork can vary according to the audience. So the story may take one form when told to children, and a very different and higher level form when speaking to initiated elders. The stories behind many of the artworks when related to children have a strong educational and behavioural aspect – a bit like a combination of western encyclopedias and Aesops Fables where there can be information and/or a moral to the story where good or bad behaviour and consequences are highlighted.
4. Painting on Bark is the oldest form of Aboriginal art but many bark paintings have perished over time. Not only is the bark prone to decay and disintegration, but the ochre paints too need a stable substrade (base on which to paint) to lengthen their own relatively short life.
5. Artists need permission to paint a particular story: Where ancient and important stories are concerned, and particularly those containing secret or sacred information, an artist must have permission to paint the story she or he paints. Traditional Aboriginal artists cannot paint a story that does not belong to them through family lineage.
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