The European Perception of the Native American, 1750 - 1850
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The thesis on which I have based my research proposes that while the European perception of the Native American from 1750 to 1850 came to be mediated via all the visual arts, it was specifically via the graphic media that the proliferation of imagery concerning the Native American developed certain iconic and representational conventions and that these consistently overwhelmed other sources of information, from experience to written interpretation. The ubiquity of certain modes of presentation, of figure-types, and of synecdoches which stood for the Native American (e.g. feather decoration or the tomahawk) resulted almost entirely from graphic methods of visual elucidation. The tyranny of such visual types lies not only in their effective re-constitution of known, familiar imagery but also in the qualitative characterization of the Native American figure. In their reduction of the figure to symbolic and emblematic patterns of content, these few visual tokens belied the greater, complex reality of Native American existence, and left the European perception of it in a static position. It is only through the collation and analysis of all the various modes of visual expression, both graphic and ‘high’ art instances, that these tokens of the visual representation of the Native American can be discerned and their proliferation be analysed as a determinant in the ‘construction’ of the Native American.
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