The Indonesian arts are clearly reflective of the overlaying of different religious influences, as well as intermingling of many different ethnic cultures from across the archipelago. Animist traditions are evident in the tribal art found in carving, pottery and weaving crafts. Javanese and Balinese art is strongly influenced by their Hindu-Buddhist roots. With the restrictions against human or animal representations, Islam has caused artists to become more stylized in their approach.
Woodcarving is the most widespread medium of artistic expression across the Indonesian islands. There are as many styles as there are cultures. Many carvings are deeply steeped in religious and spiritistic practices, but they can also serves a decorative function. All manner of objects are heavily carved from wood, including temple doors, furniture, totem poles, statutes and masks. With the influx of the tourism industry, artist are rising to the demand and forming new styles purely for ornamental purposes. This has been clearly seen in Bali where years ago woodcarvers began making beautifully smooth, simple, elongated designs with a natural finish.
There is a great variety in the techniques, colors, materials and design of Indonesian textiles. The three main groups are ikat, which is made with tie-dyed patterns on threads before they are woven; songket, which produces a showy fabric using silver and gold threads woven into silk; and batik, which alternates waxed designs with the dyeing process. Within each of these textile groups there is distinctive regional variety of technique and pattern.
The well-known shadow puppets of Java and Bali, the wayang kulit, are made of leather. They are cut from buffalo hide and carved into lace-like figures using a sharp stylus, and then painted. Other puppet styles include the three-dimensional Sundanese wayang golek made of wood, and the lesser known and seldom seen flat wooden klitik puppets of East Java.
Beautiful silver jewelry is produced both in Bali and Central Java. The Balinese designs are usually handmade of both traditional designs and those adapted by copying western styles. The Javanese silver designs are known for their intricate filigree work both with jewelry and decorative models.
Balinese painting styles flourished after World War I with the influence of western artists Walter Spies and Rudolph Bonnet. Before that time, traditional paintings were used to decorate temple walls and were quite limited in style and theme, usually similar to the wayang kulit two-dimensional view. With the westerners' influence, subject matters embraced single scenes from everyday life and the expanded use of color and varying styles. Painting emerged as a stand-alone art form, and not just a way to decorate temple spaces, which was a new concept to the Balinese at the time.