Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apollonian and Dionysian: A Visual Aid

     The two cultural patterns or cognitive narratives play out in many different ways.  Ruth Benedict identified the Puebloan cultures of North America as Apollonian while the rest of Native America was Dionysian [1]. 
     The basic Apollonian pattern is:  order, clarity, logic, moderation, and control.  The basic Dionysian pattern is:  spontaneity, passion, intuition, rebellion, and love of excess.  While a culture is a blend of both frames its artifacts often reveal which way the culture is leaning. In the yin and yang of sequences, the Dionysian often embellishes what the Apollonian has established as a standard.
      So let’s look at some classic Puebloan artifacts.  The Hopi are known for their beautiful polished silver items with simple geometric and angular patterns:

                                                               Hopi:  Man in Corn Maze

Hopi: Kachina Dancers

These are belt buckles, Man in Corn Maze and Kachina Dancers.  Symmetry is found in both but the Kachina buckle has five dancers instead of three pairs. The Corn Maize one is about as elaborate as the traditional Hopi wants to get. 
     The Navaho are neighbors to the Hopi. They are an Apachean group that did not live in pueblos and are part of the once semi sedentary tribes of the Southwest.  Here are two belt buckles:

Note that their patterns are much more embellished, have a little more passion, and the splash of turquoise and coral adds a touch of nature.  The second one gets a little closer to gaudy IMHO. 
     All the tribes of the Southwest have been forced into the American economy and many tribal members make a living by selling their arts and crafts to tourists.  So it is not a surprise that some artists have moved to making that which sells well.  Thus, today some Hopi are making gaudier items and some Navaho have mimicked the more moderate Puebloan themes. This blending of styles across the region has troubled some who rebel against it and try to maintain the patterns of their culture. 
     The Eye Dazzler is one style that started in the 1880s in Navaho textiles but is now common across the region in several media. The style has a base of Apollonian and is very embellished, or if you will, it is Apollonian on steroids—remembering the love of excess in the Dionysian. This stuff is sensory overload, hence Dionysian intoxication.  Here is a Zuni (Puebloan) belt buckle in the Eye Dazzler style.

      Here is a 2008 book cover with a nice eye dazzler on it.  It is about complexity theory and economics.

      And next we have contemporary Romanticism in the form of The Eye Dazzler Textile Design Studio in London and New York.  Here is one image full of sensory overload; note the far left bear with its Southwest motif.  Click here to see their slide show.
     Yes, we live in a Dionysian age, and it is bedazzling.

1. Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture, 1934. Benedict was basing most of her analysis on studies done in the 1920s and general observations from across the continent.  The archaeological record clearly demonstrates that many Apollonian patterns existed in the past; just identify artifacts with strong symmetry such as Folsom, Plano and Hopewell points.  Artifact types that seem sloppy, irregular or expedient are Dionysian. Guess I’ll have to do another essay on this.

1 comment:

  1. Wow this is very interesting, I have been watching things change in Taiwan adopting things I honestly think some aboriginal tribes borrowed from working in factories making "ethnic" looking things for markets all over the world. I read this and it makes me want to quit my job and follow in my Dad's footsteps, albeit thousands of miles west of his most western footsteps.