Humans have an organic need to mimic activities. Every art form (real or abstract) is curated to magnify and represent aspects of life that have already been performed or enacted. Aboriginal people in Australia were a hunting community, and the creatures they dealt with and confronted regularly found their way into their paintings. Life and personal expressions inform each other in myriad ways, and animal art serves as a vantage point to remind everyone of that.
Archetypical anecdotes furnished in these paintings give the viewer a window into the lives of a community that has historically been present for the past 50,000 years. Often acknowledged as symbolic of totemic power, these animal paintings are absorbed and reabsorbed into the community culture linking the land, people, and animals.
1 An Insight Into the History
Animal art imprinted on cave walls show creatures that have been extinct for a long time. For instance, thylacine was a common marsupial that found its visual appearance in several rock arts of Northern Australia.
2 Informational Insights Concerning the Anatomy of Animals
Aboriginal art from Northern Australia is more figurative than abstract. Some of these paintings have great illustrative features and serve informational purposes, meaning their X-ray imaging styles were descriptive of the anatomy of internal organs and structures of animals. These informational references were more relevant to a community whose primary food source was gathered through hunting rituals.
3 Animal Representation in Songlines
Artists traditionally used songlines to map out safe routes with abundant food to make safe expeditions and explorations. These routes also served to link strategic locations outside their own. To give a more realistic lay of the land, these paintings had information concerning kinds of food, fruits or places to avoid, and the like. In other words, these paintings were reflections based on a tracker/hunter point of view. Some of the significant animal species mapped out based on their population and abundance were the emu, dingo, goanna, and budgerigar, to name a few.
4 Specific Tracks Designated for Specific Animals
The footprints on the desert sands were carefully memorised to inscribe them on paintings. Here are three examples.
A careful investigation of animal art pieces from desert aboriginal artworks will have 3-point V-shaped symbols that are commonly referred to as that of an Emu.
A pair of tick-shaped footprints mirror images of one another with a diffracting line in between that results from the dragging tail is symbolic of a kangaroo.
Possums and other marsupials leave a trail of E-shaped footprints (representative of four claws dragging through the sand) with a line in-between that are aligned with the vertical axis of the animal’s body.
These practices are generationally passed on as knowledge better to acquaint themselves with the natural challenges of living. Dreamtime legends and stories were developed in the form of sand painting. These artists are commonly referred to as Creation Ancestors and were entrusted with travelling expeditions and marking the landscape that will be beneficial for the survival and sustainability of the community.
Animal art has evolved from serving functional and educational purposes to a form of art. While most symbols have been decoded for better engagement from the viewers, several others were not made public by indigenous community members, and rightly so. Because this is vastly unexplored terrain, you must find a way to interact with the artist and locate its legitimate source. Having an aboriginal piece of art is a proud possession as it links one to the actual realities of human beings and the natural world.