Primitivism (Naïve Art)

4,794 artworks, 374 artists
Primitivism, or naïve art (lat. primitivus – “the original”) is an art movement that consciously denies academicism, referring to a variety of archaic forms of folk art and children’s art. Artists working in this style deliberately simplify the technique of their work by imitating folk pictures, children’s drawings, popular prints or the art of tribes living far from civilization.

Primitivism played an important role in the radical change in the development of European and American painting at the turn of the 20th century. For artists, naive art became an occasion to learn the experience of the extinct cultures as a counterbalance to the growing urbanization of society, as well as the opportunity to criticize the “unshakable” traditions of European painting. Being a new art style, primitivism not only provided new aesthetic forms. It offered artists and spectators a more complex emotional model, in which people were more closely connected with nature and themselves through the new spiritual relationships.

Initially, primitivism in art was perceived as the antipode of the “civilized” artistic styles, continuing the reflections of the modern philosophers on the rational and irrational, natural and artificial. The desire for simplicity of life seemed fresh and organic against the background of universal modernization and the selfish thirst for money and power. The audience admired the everyday objects and culture of the peoples of Africa, Oceania, America, which were exhibited at the World Exhibitions. In 1878, the Trocadero Museum was opened – it was the first ethnological museum of Paris. Searching for ways other than classical, the artists were inspired by these artefacts and began to experiment with the aesthetics of primitivism, creating paintings featuring saturated colours and stylized forms.

One of the first artists to turn to the new style was Paul Gauguin, who tried to convey ideas and emotions through line and colour in his Tahitian cycle artworks. Primitive artefacts inspired Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, James Ensor, Pablo Picasso. Modigliani, Brancusi, KandinskyMarc gave their creative “tribute” to the art of indigenous peoples.

Discussions about whether it is worth combining the concepts of “primitivism” (implying the professionalism of the artist) and the “naïve” (lack of the classical art education) are still ongoing. Some art historians prefer to consider these concepts equal by introducing another concept of “neo-primitivism” to refer to the works by the recognized artists who use “children’s” stylization technique in their works.

The primitive artworks normally have the following features: absence of a linear perspective; thoroughly elaborated background and the foreground; colours do not lose their saturation in distant objects; there is no shadowing or glare of light; anatomical proportions of humans and animals are not taken into account. As a result, the picture has no volume and reminds a children’s drawing or a postcard. Another distinctive feature of the primitivist paintings is the absence of difference between reality and fantasy.

Naïve art formed the basis of some art movements, in particular, fauvism and cubism. For Russian artists of the early 20th century, suprematism became a trend where they used the methods of neo-primitivism.

Significant primitivist paintings:
Vision After the Sermon, Paul Gauguin, 1888
Fisherman Among the Rocks, Niko Pirosmani, 1906
Les Demoiselles d’Avinon, Pablo Picasso, 1907
The Dream, Henri Rousseau, 1910
Max Ernst, The Return of the Beautiful Gardener (Homage to Women), 1967

Primitivist artists:
Henri Rousseau, Niko Pirosmani, Katya Medvedeva, Grandma Moses, Kateryna Bilokur, Maria Prymachenko. Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall, Mikhail Larionov, Jean DubuffetJean-Michel Basquiat used image simplification techniques in their art.