Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art

By Evelyn Payne Hatcher | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
"What. . . ?" Art as Communication

If art has all the functions attributed to it, it must do so by some kind of communication from artist to viewer. And, if art is a form of communication, why should it not communicate whatever there is to say? Why should it be limited to what is taboo, or to values, or even to feelings?

There are two related dichotomies that have been widely accepted; one is the distinction between the visual and the verbal in terms of the intellectual quality of the latter, and the other a distinction between "feeling" and "thought". These are of course, useful distinctions on some levels, but such a dichotomy leads to considering our brains simply as rather inferior computers, and in reaction to this, anti-intellectualism. On the one hand a loss of a sense of the significance of life, of purpose and motivation; and on the other a loss of the common sense necessary to maintain it. If we conceive of visual forms as having at the same time both cognitive and emotional qualities, we are on our way not only to being better able to understand the works of other peoples, but in conceptually putting human beings together again. In exploring the nature of communications aspects of visual forms, however, it seems necessary to put aside judgments about esthetic quality. In other words, to pay attention to what is being said, without reference to how beautifully it is said. What is said can be both intellectual and emotional.

When we talk about art as communication we are especially concerned with how the visual (or otherwise perceptible) form that is presented to the senses conveys some kind of import by means of the form itself. While the context in which the art appears is important to full understanding, art does not communicate unless the form of the work has some meaning by itself.


Verbal, visual and other communication "codes"

We can conceive the event, the situation in which the viewer comes in contact with art, as one kind of communicative transaction involving a number of channels ("media"). Thus in a conversation, communication is by words, tone, etc., in the

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Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Theoretical Note xi
  • About the Illustrations xiii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • Introduction to the Second Edition xvii
  • Chapter 1 - Contexts and Comparisons: The Anthropological Approach 1
  • Further Reading 20
  • Chapter 2 - Where? The Geographical Dimension 21
  • Further Reading 54
  • Chapter 3 - How? The Technological Means 55
  • Further Reading 84
  • Chapter 4 - Who? The Psychological Perspective 85
  • Further Reading 112
  • Chapter 5 - Why? Social Contexts and Social Functions 113
  • Further Reading 134
  • Chapter 6 - "What. . . ?" Art as Communication 135
  • Further Reading 166
  • Chapter 7 - When and Whence? The Time Dimension 167
  • Further Reading 196
  • Chapter 8 - The Esthetic Mystery 197
  • Further Reading 207
  • Chapter 9 - The Global Context: The 15th Century 209
  • Chapter 10 - Globalization: The 20th Century 229
  • Ethnographic Notes and Index 255
  • Glossary with notes on various usages 287
  • Bibliography 303
  • Bibliography for Second Edition 327
  • Subject and Author Index 331
  • A NOTE ON THE TYPE IN THIS BOOK 337
  • About the Author *
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