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Examples of African art have been found dating back to 6000 B.C., the oldest found imprinted on the inner wall of a cave. Ancient art has influenced modern abstract artists such as Picasso, the irony being that many people believe that Picasso influenced the contemporary artists of Africa. While abstract art is meant to express the spiritual and mystical side of the subject, African art has become one of the most important contributions to the history of art.

People tend to generalize all African art in a catch-all category of “traditional”. Most people don't know that Africa is a rich and diverse continent with many cultural flavors. Distinctive styles in art are found among the Baoule, Senoufo, and Dan peoples.

Despite having distinct styles, African art works share characteristics in common with the spirit and beliefs of the people. There are three main elements of note: innovation, practicality and a three dimensional emphasis.

Western countries traditionally stick to patterns and techniques of creating art that have been held as the norm for thousands of years. African art, on the other hand, is innovative in that it encourages the breaking down of old forms, and the creation of new forms. Because these art works usually depict surrounding nature, animals, spirits, and magical events, it often needs to create new symbols for these subjects.

In African art, depictions of religious traditions and ideas can be expressed in just about every object of practical use. The utilitarian nature of it can be seen in bowls, combs, clothing, knives, and even as murals on the exterior of the home. Some houses have art work covering the entire outside surface, depicting a story of the owners or religious ideas. These paintings wrap around a hut, forcing the observer to walk all the way around to see the entire work. Carvings are also sometimes displayed in this way.

African art favors three dimensional work over one dimensional, flat paintings. Even garments and other textiles are meant to be viewed in a three dimensional perspective. African art is meant to express abstract ideas of the spirit of the intended subject. So it follows that the art work should be experienced in a form that's closest to reality, while still retaining the abstract concepts and emotions.

All of these elements can be seen in the abstract modern artist's works that borrowed from the African idea of spiritual representation, rather than purely accurate realism. Oddly, the modern African artists often go unrecognized in contemporary art circles. Contemporary African artists in the modern cultures have a difficult time finding a venue for their art works, which are visually stunning to a Western viewer with education and understanding of the roots and culture of African art.

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