How Songlines Inspire What An Aboriginal Artist Will Paint

Maisie Campbell Napaltjarri - Jap 008412

March 4, 2015 by David Wroth


If you love Aboriginal art, you've probably heard the term "songlines" before.

It's a fascinating aspect of Aboriginal art - songlines inform an artist's cultural knowledge as well as inspiring what they paint.

To understand what a songline is you first need to know that they come from the belief in a creation era and creation ancestors.

These ancestors travelled across the country. Their journeys form a songline.

The knowledge preserved in these songlines is retold from one generation to the next in long song cycles that contain the creation story for a particular tract of land.

During initiation processes within Aboriginal culture this knowledge is passed on in a series of stages.

So the songlines define a group of people, the elements of land they live on and the traditional law they live under. The songlines define the ceremonies and obligations for people from that land.

Many of the works that we exhibit here at Japingka Gallery reference the songline of the artist's homeland.

It is moving to come to understand the sacred nature of these references.  They are ancient messages with profound meaning for the artist and the people from their homelands.

Visitors to our gallery will often feel moved by the power of the paintings on show. I think this is because they are passionate expressions of a spiritual connection to the land.

I think that is one of the important elements that separates Aboriginal art from other contemporary art. This art represents a sharing of the rich and complex connection between the artist and their subject.

I have often heard artists talk about the responsibility they feel when representing parts of a songline.

Mostly we see that artists can only paint stories and places within the songline that has been passed on to them. This is a very important value within the Aboriginal arts community.

We've written an article to help you understand more about songlines. You can read it here: