The apparent paradoxes arise because Western art history creates pigeonholes. It tends to allocate individual works to single art-historical spaces, failing to recognise the fuzzy nature of the boundaries between stylistic categories and the multiplicity of influences on a particular artist’s work. The solution forced by the nature of contemporary Aboriginal art was the recognition both of its plural nature and of the consequences of this plurality for Western art-historical theory.

The current moment provides a good opportunity for a rapprochement between art historical and anthropological approaches to art. The challenge to the old presuppositions of the Western art world, including the anthropological critique of the concept of primitive art, has created art worlds that are far more complex and heterogeneous than their predecessors, less subordinate to the developmental sequences of European-American art…An anthropologically informed art history is needed to provide the historical, art historical, social and cultural information, not only for those artistic traditions where background cannot be taken for granted but, it could be argued, for the Western art tradition as well.

Howard Morphy