Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art

By Evelyn Payne Hatcher | Go to book overview
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Chapter 7
When and Whence? The Time Dimension

In the previous chapters we have considered various factors that affect art, that affect style, and, of course, each of these is related to the way styles change. Environmental changes alter the problems of living, the visual surroundings, and the available materials. Changes in technology, from whatever source, mean new tools, new materials, new processes. The effects of particular personalities, geniuses, may be debated, but it seems clear that all kinds of change may make for psychological stresses that often result in new symbolic and artistic solutions. Social change can be considered evolutionary as new levels of socio-cultural complexity emerge, and historical as changes in society come about through contacts between different peoples. Any of these types of change may be related to changes in symbolic systems, with different icons or with new meanings for old icons and in the structures of verbal, visual and musical communication systems.

All the approaches and theories in anthropology concerning the nature and causes of cultural change and cultural persistence are applicable to the study of change and tradition in art styles. There are three basic approaches to changes through time, which to some extent derive their difference in viewpoint from their differences in the time scale considered: 1) The evolutionary approach involves a concern with long term trends and with the regularities or laws of change; 2) The historical approach involves primarily an investigation into the changes that have occured at a particular time (or at least within centuries rather than millenia); and 3) the acculturation approach, concerned with what can be observed among living peoples, with the main focus on the effect of complex, industrial societies on more traditional ones. Simplistically put, the evolutionist emphasizes the similarities in cultural dynamics, and the historicist stresses what is unique, but of course they both seek specific facts and broad regularities. In method, the evolutionist deduces change from the evidence of


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Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art


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