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From Dull to Brilliant: The Aesthetics of Spiritual Power Among the Yolngu

H. Morphy
Man
New Series, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 21-40
DOI: 10.2307/2802545
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2802545
Page Count: 24
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From Dull to Brilliant: The Aesthetics of Spiritual Power Among the Yolngu
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Abstract

The article is concerned with the aesthetics of the art of the Yolngu of northern Australia. These aesthetic affets of Yolngu painting are analysed in relation to Yolngu exegesis about the qualities of their art, the expression of similar qualities in song and the criteria used for selection of materials for ritual. A key concept applied is that of bir'yun, 'brillance', which is the effect produced by the fine cross-hatched lines that cover the surface of Yolngu paintings. The article examines the way in which the aesthetic effects of paintings as manifestations of spiritual power work together with other elements of ritual performance to create a feeling of Ancestral presence. The article argues for a modified form of aesthetic relativism in which the interpretation of aesthetic effects varies between cultures even though the stimulus may be effective cross-culturally.

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