style occurred elsewhere in indigenous American Indian art—on
buffalo robes and tipis of Plains Indians and on bark containers,
shell ornaments, and hide paintings found throughout North America.
Though the paintings lack perspective and shading, they depict
great emotive movement and rely on an accurate rendition of subject
matter to communicate.This is what Dunn termed a naturalistic
style and, as far as she was concerned, the only authentic one.
She felt the naturalistic style did not derive from tricks of
naturalism, such as light and shade or perspective; instead,
she believed that Indian art could be deceptively simple, creating
illusions of depth, light, and mood through color and composition.
Today, this Indian painting style is widely
recognized for its two-dimensional look without use of background
or definition that might give temporal or spatial context. The
Studio works depict a timeless aesthetic which guides Indian
lives, an aesthetic in which religious and domestic life is understood
as a process of constant renewal—a continuum of the world's
creation. Depictions of dances, therefore, need no background,
no context: they are eternal actions performed against a shifting
present. Ultimately, the paintings present an aesthetic viewpoint,
standing on their own to develop compassion, attitude, and understanding.
Criticism of The Studio and Dunn's method surfaced
in 1960 as ideas for a new, invigorated art program and the Santa
Fe Indian School emerged. The controversy grew directly from
Dunn's once-accepted definition of authenticity in Indian art.
During the formation of the Institute of American Indian Art
(IAIA), Dunn's view of what was genuine came to be considered
a hindrance to teaching the arts. In contrast, those promoting
a new direction were determined that the IAIA would be a place
allowing exceptional freedom of expression, encouraging its students
to view and learn about all art styles and movements.
Each approach was correct for its time. It was
with a clear vision of Indian art and its intrinsic worth that
Dorothy Dunn began her work at the Santa Fe Indian School, encountering
resistance from administrators, teachers and the traditional
crafts instructors. She defended her students' rights to self-expression
and their love of painting, and her students' work came to represent
a new Indian art--one associated with Santa Fe. From The Studio
came an extraordinary group who went on to successful art careers.
Among them were Allan Houser, Ben Quintana, Harrison Begay, Joe
H. Herrara, Quincy Tahoma, Andy Tsihnajinnie, Pablita Velarde,
Eva Mirabel, Tonita Lujan, Pop-Chalee, Oscar Howe, and Geronima
Dunn began her instruction in the 1930s. Many
of her students and others continued to paint in this style,
but in the early 1960s, these stylized watercolors and gouaches
with a stencil-like quality no longer adequately expressed the
breadth of Native American artistic aspirations. The naturalistic
style seemed to have become a limitation, but neither the direction
taken by the IAIA—or any other developments in American
Indian arts in the late twentieth century—could have taken
place without the foundation of the works from The Studio at
the Santa Fe Indian School. Geronima Cruz Montoya, who later
taught students just as Dunn has taught her, said: "She did a
lot for us. She made us realize how important our own Indian
ways were, because we had been made to feel ashamed of them.
She gave us something we could be proud of. "