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Art and Architecture

Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture

Mesoamerica, pulley system, European exploration, Pre-Columbian Art, wagon wheel

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Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture, the art and architecture of the indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes and of neighboring cultures before the 16th century ad.

For 3000 years before the European exploration and colonization of the western hemisphere, the Native Americans of Latin America developed civilizations that rivaled the artistic and intellectual accomplishments of ancient China, India, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean world. The quality of these accomplishments is even more impressive because much of the essential technology of eastern hemisphere civilizations was unknown to the Native American. The wheel, for instance, was used in Mesoamerica only for toys and was never developed into the potter's wheel, wagon wheel, or pulley system. Metal tools were rarely used, and then only in the last stages of pre-Columbian history. The elaborate sculptures and intricate jade ornaments of the Maya, therefore, were accomplished by carving stone with stone.

Pre-Columbian and post-Columbian Native American art and architecture evince a concern with the relation both of the structure to its environment and of the object to its material. This regard for nature resulted in an aesthetic rooted in an awareness of natural dualitiesóday and night, sun and moon, land and water, life and death. The tension in most Native American art, therefore, is derived from the contrast of opposing design elements such as light and dark, open and closed compositions, the static form and the mobile form, the realistic and the abstract, and the plain and the ornate.


Loescher, Robert J., Ph.D.

Professor and Chair, Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art institute of Chicago.

Article key phrases:

Mesoamerica, pulley system, European exploration, Pre-Columbian Art, wagon wheel, Mesopotamia, colonization, Pre-Columbian, western hemisphere, Metal tools, Andes, Maya, sun, India, moon, water, toys, architecture, light, environment, century, life, death, concern, potter, stone, relation, structure, instance, open, night, object, land, quality, day, years

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