Art originally in earlier cultures had a different purpose. Currently people create art for an aesthetic purpose for others to view in galleries, theaters, or museums creating distance for the audience. Initially art was created for purposes other than aesthetics, and people participated and interacted with the art and artist. This intertwined relationship between humans and art is especially seen in the Dineh and Wilbiri cultures. These two groups created drypaintings. People in both these groups directly interacted with the paintings instead of viewing them from a distance. Currently, there is a sense of distance instead of interaction. In these groups, humans participated directly with the artist and the art itself. In both these cultures, the people touched the drypaintings to evoke a response from the holy spirits. This physical interaction and participation with the dry paintings is termed contagion. The Dineh and the Walbiri both practiced contagion in different ways in order to evoke holy spirits because of similar religious beliefs, but their purpose for eliciting assistance from the Gods was different. Through contagion, both these cultures come into contact with the holy spirits.
The Dineh or Navajo culture, presently living in Arizona, are the largest group of Native Americans who practice dry painting. The Navajo culture focuses on different Gods or Holy spirits representing animate or inanimate objects. Therefore, evil spirits exist as well. Every unfortunate situation can be linked to the Gods causing rituals to be performed for various ailments. A crucial element in the rituals is the creation of dry paintings.
In most Dineh drypaintings, there are guardians and holy spirits such as the Yei twins. The emphasis in the drypaintings varies with the purpose of the drypaintings. For example, in order to cure ailments dealing with crooked matters such as snakes or lighting, the drypaintings will have snakes as guardians. The guardians can be Gods as seen in _____ Figure 1. The guardian holy spirit in white at the opening of the painting in the east is the male Talking God. In the west, there is a male holy spirit named Calling God. This emphasis on deities within the drypaintings furthermore accentuates on contagion. As the patient sits on the dry paintings, not only is the patient coming in contact with the drypainting that has power flowing from holy spirits making it a deity, but the holy spirits within the painting itself.
The Navajo believe in hózhó, a Navajo term for balance. When hocho or imbalance occurs, there is a need for a chanter or a sand painter to perform a ritualistic prayer, which is known as a chant, an example being a Night Chant. Highwater, in the article The Navajo Night Chant, outlines the procedure for this ritualistic prayer. The first four days are devoted to purification, and the last four days are for healing. “At the midnight on the fourth day the divinities are...