Traditional vs. Contemporary

The Concepts of Traditional and Contemporary in RMG

Traditional— The work is made with relatively traditional materials and depicts traditional themes. It tries to honor and stay true to the culture. A Northwest Coast mask made of Red Cedar and decorated with acrylic paint that depicts a mask from 1855 would be traditional. This is like a 1968 Camero at a car show, with the original engine, but a few parts have been replaced through the years, so it is not ‘absolutely’ original.

Traditional Contemporary— The materials are mostly traditional but the subject matter is not based upon more strict traditional expressions of the culture’s art.   A Zuni carver using a traditional stone that came from Zuni lands but carving an image of an elephant is an example.   This car looks sleek and new on the outside but, within it, is the muscle car suspension, big engine, and power transmission from a 1968 Camero.

Contemporary Traditional— The theme/subject is traditional, it mostly looks traditional, but most of the materials used are not.   This is a Navajo Rug woven with alpaca instead of sheep wool. This car has a body and interior that makes a person think it’s a 1968 Camero while it actually runs on an electric engine.

Contemporary— Neither the materials nor the theme of the piece follow traditional guidelines, but it still identifies and demonstrates the Native American perspective. A well done painting or photograph, which might reflect current Native American cultural identity, or possibly issues, is in this category.   This is a 2015 Camero that has styling that honors the Camero cars of the late 60’s but is also quite distinct in both look and mechanics.

To represent the past and to inscribe one’s place in the flow of time
are integral aspects of modern art-making.
       —Janet Berlo & Ruth Phillips, Native North American Art (1998)