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primitivism, in art, the style of works of self-trained artists who develop their talents in a fanciful and fresh manner, as in the paintings of Henri Rousseau and Grandma Moses. The term primitive has also been used to describe the style of early American naive painters such as Edward Hicks and has been applied to the art of the various Italian and Netherlandish schools produced prior to c.1450. More recently the term has included modern artists who research the past as well as cultures foreign to their own, such as Robert Smithson and Joseph Beuys.


See W. Rubin, ed., Primitivism in 20th-Century Art (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a tendency in late-19th-century and early-20th-century art toward the simplification of pictorial means and the use of elements from primitive art, that is, from prehistoric, medieval, folk, non-European ancient, and children’s art.

The spread of primitivism as a creative principle was conditioned by the elemental, anarchistic hostility of a number of artists to the existing bourgeois culture, which was marked by acute contradictions and a dominating spirit of positivism. The artists sought refuge from reality in a primitive, “unmuddied” life. Primitivism was based on the aesthetic integration of artistic cultures that had previously been considered “low,” “crude,” and “barbaric.” Through such cultures the artists sought wholeness, emotional clarity, and a “spontaneous” way of looking at the world. This was in contrast to analytical realism, naturalism, and impressionism. Such quests for simplicity and expressiveness were the bases of experiments by members of the leading artistic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The artists frequently abandoned all the traditions of European artistic culture that had been established since the 16th century.

Since primitivism was not a single movement, it manifested itself in different ways in the work of numerous masters. It characterizes the work of P. Gauguin and the nabis, the fauvists, the cubists, the Paris school, and the dadaists in France. The expressionist works of Die Brücke in Germany are also marked by primitivist elements. In Russia, works by members of the Blue Rose (after its decline and the overcoming of symbolistic tendencies by its masters), the Jack of Diamonds, and the Donkey’s Tail (whose theorist of primitivism was A. V. Shevchenko) reflect the influence of primitive art.

The term “primitivism” is frequently used interchangeably with naive art, that is, art produced by masters without professional training, but who nonetheless have been in the mainstream of artistic life. Works by such artists as H. Rousseau in France, N. Pirosmanashvili in Georgia, F. Muche in Germany, R. Viva in Italy, I. Generalić in Croatia, and H. Pippin and A. M. Robertson (Grandma Moses) in the United States reflect an inherently unique childlike interpretation of nature. They are marked by a combination, at times comic, of simplified forms and minute details.


Goldwater, R. J. Primitivism in Modern Painting. New York-London. 1938.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Building on the hopes of primitivism for collective self-realization, anarcho-primitivism aims at paving the way for people to live as amply as possible without imperiling the freedom of each other in ecologically-centered communities.
Fugitive Rousseau presents the emancipatory possibilities of Rousseau's thought and argues that a fresh, "fugitive" perspective on political freedom is bound up with Rousseau's treatments of primitivism and slavery.
Although Maguire includes biographical and historical information about the authors in order to reveal their adhesion to European esthetic movements, and to show how "race" and "primitivism" were differently combined in their writings, the answers do not seem to come from the texts.
Modal primitivism is the view that metaphysical modality cannot be reduced to something entirely nonmodal.
The curation of "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art displayed tribal art, without labels or explanatory wall text, alongside modernist pieces in order to show its influence upon modernism as a movement.
The editors wisely divide this core to arrange the eleven essays into three subsets: examples of Irish primitivism in response to the Celtic Revival; ethnography and cultural translation affecting primitivism, which neatly moves to considerations not only within Ireland but also abroad; and concentrations on gender and the body, whose essays highlight aspects of sexuality and the incarnation of the nation in relation to the configuration of Irish primitivism.
Partha Mitter's use of primitivism as a conceptual paradigm is useful in tying the narrative of modern Indian art into the larger strategies adopted by the European avant-garde.
Dagen breaks the artist's large body of work into four distinct artistic periods, including his early development as a painter through experimentation with historic artistic styles, his famous Blue Period and early forays into primitivism and Cubism.
The winner of this year's prize is Paul Stasi's "A 'Synchronous but More Subtle Migration': Passing and Primitivism in Toomer's Cane." The judge is Gary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The focus on a single author inevitably makes the study less wide-ranging than Sinead Garrigan Mattar's impressive Primitivism, Science and the Irish Revival (2004), but it is in the interdisciplinary spirit of such work.
The work itself reads more as Primitivism than any subtle reading of geometric discourse.