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Australian Aboriginal Art

Australian Aboriginal art is the oldest living art tradition in the world, with paintings in rock shelters dating back 20,000 years.The art includes naturalistic paintings of human, plant and animal figures, as well as non-naturalistic, or "abstract" designs with concentric circles, "u" shapes, and lines.

The concept of art in traditional Aboriginal society is very different to the concept of art in European society. In traditional Aboriginal societies, activities like dancing, singing, body decorations, sand drawings, making implements or weaving baskets were not considered to be separate activities called art and design. All of these activities were a part of the Dreaming and a part of normal daily life. There was no concept of a special type of person, artists, because, in a sense, everyone was an artist. This is changing as tradition-oriented communities adapt to aspects of western culture although the number of 'artists' in any Aboriginal group would generally be far greater than in non-Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal people traditionally used the materials available to them to symbolise the Dreaming and their world. As a result, art forms varied in different areas of Australia. In the central desert, ground drawing was a very important style of art and throughout Australia rock art as well as body painting and decoration were common although varying in styles, method, materials and meaning. There is and was a wide range of traditional Aboriginal art forms.The naturalistic style, predominant in Arnhem Land in northern Australia, is often characterised by "X-ray" art, where the internal organs of animals are depicted. The abstract style, predominant in central Australia, originates from sacred designs used in ceremonies. These designs, originally for body painting, ground paintings, and carved on sacred stones and boards, are now painted on canvas.

Communities today throughout central and northern Australia still produce traditional art, which has traditional content and meaning. However, some methods of producing the art may be contemporary, for example, the use of acrylic paint on canvas or commercial fixatives on bark.