Arthur Lubow on “Painted Dreams”

Andrew Lawler
Andrew Lawler is currently a freelancer living in the woods of Maine. Andrew Lawler

Arthur Lubow writes about art and culture for Smithsonian, Inc. and the New York Times Magazine, where he is a contributing writer.

What drew you to this story on Aboriginal art?
When I heard that there was going to be an exhibition of early aboriginal boards in New York, I thought that this was something I wanted to write about, because I was aware of the paintings but knew very little about them.

What do you find captivating about the art?
The beauty of the patterning attracted me, and I was additionally intrigued by my vague awareness that there was a symbolic meaning attached to the geometries. But what was the meaning of the symbols?

What surprised you the most about the art form?
One of the surprising things I learned in the course of researching the piece is that, even to experts, some of these meanings remain opaque. The artists will not divulge the secrets. Further, even when the Western critics do know, they often prefer not to reveal the significance, at least not for publication, in deference to the belief of the Aboriginal people that this information is privileged. But for me, the most unexpected fact was learning that aboriginal acrylic painting began in one place at one time. It's true; you can pinpoint the start of Analytical Cubism to Picasso and Braque in Paris, but not with such time specificity. I don't know of any other art movement that spouted like a geyser in such a short period of time.

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