David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: (Discussion Board)August 15, 2010
Jackson Pollock’s Influence on American Art (Discussion Board)August 30, 2010
Do you think that Paul Gauguin was successful in his attempt to correct the misunderstanding of non-Western art as primitive in a regressive way?
Unfortunately, I do not believe that Paul Gauguin was successful at anything more than creating a unique style of art that was obviously influenced by his time spent living in Tahiti. His Idol with the Seashell, c1893 Wood in fig. 25.15 on page 460 in the textbook A HISTORY OF WESTERN ART (Revised Fourth Edition), shows an example of a primitive piece with certain elements of Western influence. While this piece may work to demonstrate the combined influence of both cultures, I feel it also demonstrates either an obvious ignorance of or a deliberate attempt to exploit the Polynesian culture. In this piece, Gauguin chose to use jagged bone inlaid teeth that seemingly hint at or imply cannibalism. By portraying the god Taaroa in this fashion, he was actually furthering a stereotype that he would have known to be unfounded if not entirely untrue. History has shown that despite the practice of human sacrifice, cannibalism apparently was never practiced on Tahiti although it was fairly widespread in the Marquesas Islands. Living in Tahiti, immersed in their culture, it is safe to assume that he would have known this firsthand. However, his portrayal of the god Taaroa in a cannibalistic manner would have coincided with the perception of the Polynesians by Western Europeans who saw them as savages. In this sense he is portraying their art in an even more primitive state then ever actually existed. It is for this reason that I’d suggest Gauguin was intentionally exploiting both the Polynesians and the Western European’s perception of the Polynesians in order to fulfill a desire to achieve a renowned status as an artist in a Western European society he claimed he so desperately wanted to escape.
The act of exploitation was nothing new to Gauguin. Historians have documented that he lusted after his own daughter and later during his years in Tahiti, regularly took the romantic company of young female Polynesian teenagers, some as young as thirteen. This objectification of women is further demonstrated in the way Gauguin seemingly painted native women as passive objects. I make mention of this because, I believe these facts further demonstrate a social behavioral pattern of exploiting others, even children and loved ones, for self-gratification.