My unique views on Aztec Art

( see pictures below as references )

Recently I’ve become quite interested in the history of Aztec Art. Yes, I know this is a bit weird because I should be paying attention to the history of the various indigenous societies and cultures of, well, if not my own country then at least my own continent : Africa. Well, I’ve never been one to conform 100% to prevailing trends, but at least I am being postmodern by crossing the culture border. Still I have respect and admiration for the South African art historians who write about beads, tribes like the Ndebele, post-Apartheid gay culture or fascinating outsider artists. But hey, everyone loves a taste of the exotic. Anyway, when I was younger I paid no attention to Aztec art since I paid no attention to the history of the Aztecs. This was mainly because I didn’t approve of their history of violence and human sacrifice.

Anyway, I’ve decided now that I’m trying to understand their art and culture a bit more, as well as their motivations and outlook. Cruelty may have been rife in these ancient societies, but ultimately there must have been many people there who did not approve of it, for example a certain ruler of a city state named Nezahualcoyotl ( although some believe his cruelty may have been downplayed for pro-Aztec propaganda in front of the Spaniards ).

I’m more interested in how these people, the ones who shunned violence, were influenced by or brainwashed to follow some of the more cruel traditions. I’m of course then especially interested in people like Aztec artisans who were probably by nature not particularly military-inclined individuals. What I’m saying is that they must have dealt more difficultly with the circumstances they found themselves in. Could they express their own societal and personal views by means of art like other generations of artists have over the ages? The obvious answer would be no. Their art had to have religious and military functions, it had to educate the citizens about the gods and the wars that were fought for humans to be captured and sacrificed ( such as the Flower Wars ). I’ve actually read a really negative article about an exhibition of Aztec art that was held in London some years ago. Some derogatory words were used such as references to their works as being “alien” instead of “highly original”, which they definitely have to be given credit for, at least. Even as a child I thought wow, thumbs up to them for reaching these levels of creativity! Their art symbolises in part to me a direct confrontation with death and destruction, of course, that need not necessarily be seen as an expression of their cruelty but rather as an expression of how they dealt with it or understood it. Instead of merely fearing death, these people confronted it defiantly. The lady who wrote about and attended the London exhibition of Aztec art described it as following:

“So the old forms were renewed with a modern audience in mind, in this case, a society that lived in (or was forced into) a state of constant terror. As far as I can see, pretty much the entire purpose of Aztec art was to scare the living daylights out of everyone who saw it.”

Again, this is quite a negative view of their art. To me it represents not so much works that try to instill one with fear as it does a type of acceptance of death etc as a part of life. This is especially understandable if one thinks back to a time when slavery, disease and wars were at the order of the day and human sacrifices had already been practiced in the rest of Mesoamerica for a very long time, and not merely by Aztecs. They of course also claim to have seen their human sacrifices as their contribution to their gods.

I’m actually particularly interested in the evolution of Aztec art over the centuries…in how it changed as the society’s needs and features did. But I haven’t found an exact source on the internet for this question quite yet, though I will be sure to keep on searching. Understanding the slow evolution of the art works will shed more light on exactly how these people dealt with and understood their own circumstances.

Then one must also see the paradoxical use of beauty within the Aztec art. There is a certain type of beauty in the works that has also, of course, been overlooked by the lady who reported on the London exhibition. Some beautifying features of the works, even the more provocative and frightening ones, can be listed as following: extreme creativity ( including interesting use of the illusion of mobility in artworks ), fascinating use of symmetry and balance, bold, matching colors, and of course intricate and carefully-designed patterns. These features make many Aztec artworks truly precious and graceful despite their more gruesome and bizarre features. Now these features depart a bit from the purely ideological or religious purpose and physical appearances of the works. This blend of beauty and terror creates an interesting paradox. On the one hand, it serves to make the horror of the artworks as well as the horrors of Aztec life and beliefs seem even more “accepted”. It sort of creates a type of bond between beauty/pleasure and death/discomfort. It thus can be seen to sort of promote it. On the other hand, this beauty may also be seen to defy it. It can also be seen as an attempt to reach out to beauty and pleasure despite the morbid reality of the cruel lives of many Aztecs. There is thus defiance but also an acceptance within Aztec artworks of the more provocative and primitive elements of Aztec culture.

awesome links with pictures too: famsi.org/research/aguilar/A … _Part1.pdf
guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/ … tsfeatures
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cool stuff. didnt the aztecs use heiroglifics (however its spelled) like the egyptians?

Why do you assume so many abhorred the violence?