Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1983


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 1983, pp. 237-38.


Copyright 1983 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


One of the attractions of American Indian art is that it offers something of interest to practically everyone. For the romantic there are paintings that depict past tribal life-ways. For the realist there are contemporary paintings that present current social issues and depict Indians as citizens of a complex society. For collectors there are avant-garde pieces of individual vision that will influence the direction of American Indian art. For scholars, there is the opportunity to study, evaluate, and debate the origins and relative merits of styles and techniques. Magic Images: Contemporary Native American Art reflects this diversity of interest in its text and photographs.

The introduction defines four categories of contemporary Indian art: historic expressionism, traditionalism, modernism, and individualism, and relates Indian art to the broader issues of Indian identity and aesthetic criticism. The definition of styles and the inclusion of specific artists within each style are sure to be debated by artists and historians, but by identifying schools of Indian art that transcend ethnic boundaries and the issue of "Indian" art, the authors have taken a step toward developing an art history of Native American art.

In the second chapter the history of modern painting and other forms of Indian art is presented as a discussion of the relationship between artist and consumer. White patrons of the arts have long had control over the works produced by Indian artists, since the act of choosing to purchase or to exhibit one style instead of another may force an artist to work in a style that is commercially successful rather than representative of the artist's real talents or interests. Contemporary Indian artists are struggling against this kind of stereotyping and the reader is challenged to become more open to the great variety of Indian art and to be more supportive of innovation and change.

The major portion of the book is given to the presentation of the works of thirty-seven artists. Color plates and black-and-white photographs amply demonstrate the variety of talents and styles of modern Native American artists, although scholars will find the artists represented to be well known to them. The works show romantic imagery, historical events, social commentary, satire, and humor that help to dispel the old myths and stereotypes that surround Indian identity. All too often these myths are the subject of the work. A brief discussion of the artist accompanies the photographs. Sometimes the artist's own words describe the work and provide a brief glimpse into the artist's way of seeing his or her work.