The artistic expression and materials used in African art has some of the most variety and creative originality than any other artistic groups in the world. According to art critics and historians there seem to be 5 main unifying characteristics of African art.
1) Formal innovation: African societies of the past and present encourage diversity and creativity. Unlike some of the Western art societies that follow art guidelines, African art varies from artist to artist, and village to village. Innovation is noticeable all over Africa as well as over time.
2) Visual abstraction: African artwork leans towards the abstract rather than realistic representation. Perhaps this is because African art usually conveys ideas, the supernatural, or spirits – therefore the artwork is creating an idea or portraying a message rather than representing a physical object; hence the abstraction.
3) Sculpture is emphasized: African artists seem to be drawn mostly to 3D art objects / creations rather than 2 dimensional pieces. African paintings and drawings do exist but they are displayed in such a way that the viewer has a more three dimensional experience (ie the painting will be wrapped around a house, rather than simply placed on one flat wall). Additionally, African art includes bright decorative clothing worn during rituals and ceremonies – making the wearer a sculpture or art piece themselves.
4) The performing arts are favored: African art is readily used in theatrical performances, for example, African masks. The mask, the dance, and the message become the art form, and the meaning comes out in the context rather than the actual object. 5) Many meanings: African artists love to convey many meanings and messages in their artwork. One piece of African art can have a multitude of meanings, uses, and contexts, which may often confuse Western art critics and scholars.