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Exotic figures in Jules Migonney's Venus mauresque

Exoticism (from 'exotic') is a trend in art and design, influenced by some ethnic groups or civilizations from the late 19th-century. First stimulated by Eastern trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, interest in non-western art became more and more popular following European colonialism. So-called "oriental" art emanated from a type of primitive fantasy for Western society, reflecting the increasingly exotic tastes of Europe.[1]

The influences of Exoticism can be seen through numerous genres of this period, notably in music, painting, and decorative art. In music, exoticism is a genre in which the rhythms, melodies, or instrumentation are designed to evoke the atmosphere of far-off lands or ancient times (e.g. Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé and Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra, Debussy's Syrinx for Flute Solo or Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol). Like orientalist subjects in 19th century painting, exoticism in the decorative arts and interior decoration was associated with fantasies of opulence.

Exoticism, by one definition, is "the charm of the unfamiliar." Scholar Alden Jones defines exoticism in art and literature as the representation of one culture for consumption by another.[2] Victor Segalen's important "Essay on Exoticism" reveals a more complex and further-reaching definition. Segalen reveals Exoticism as born of the age of imperialism, possessing both aesthetic and ontological value, while using it to uncover a significant cultural "otherness."[3] An important and archetypical exoticist is the artist and writer Paul Gauguin, whose visual representations of Tahitian people and landscapes were targeted at a French audience. While exoticism is closely linked to Orientalism, it is not a movement necessarily associated with a particular time period or culture. Exoticism may take the form of primitivism, ethnocentrism, or humanism.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oshinsky, Sara J. "Exoticism in the Decorative Arts". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
  2. ^ http://www.thesmartset.com/article/article08060708.aspx
  3. ^ Segalen, Victor (2002). Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetics of Diversity. Durham: Duke University Press. 


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