Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art

By Evelyn Payne Hatcher | Go to book overview

high esthetic quality, is often called "true" or "authentic," and that poor quality often called "false" serves to confuse the issue.

What is lost in works made for sale is not always craftsmanship. One can get Navajo tapestries more perfectly woven than anything in the past, if one is willing to pay for them. What is often lost is the quality of intensity found when the meanings are profound and believed in by artists and patrons. But this quality never existed in each and every work, so quality is not assured because something was used within the social context of the maker. There have always been plenty of routine productions in any tradition. Use can be faked, quality cannot. Recognition of quality comes with developing familiarity with a particular medium, such as weaving, or a particular cultural style.

Souvenir art is a form of folk art, in the sense that neither the makers nor the patrons are the elite of the societies. When we consider art only in terms of the decay of the traditional forms and assume that the only alternative is the acceptance of the international styles taught in art schools, we are overlooking the esthetic needs of ordinary people, and this means undervaluing not only the ordinary people, but the importance of the mysterious domain of the esthetic in human affairs.

It is challenging to everyone's eye for quality to find good work regardless of categories or labels. For example, there are carvings made in "bush factories" in Africa. These are made, usually as copies of a model, by anyone with sufficient skill in handling tools, and sold in quantity to exporters for the novelty trade. They are authentic African carvings. Most of them are neither good representations or artistically interesting. Yet every once in a while one sees one that stands out among its fellows, an "affecting presence" that somehow, for all that it is classified with the lowest form of tourist art, has that mysterious appeal we call esthetic quality.

Why should this quality be felt by a person so far, in space and culture, from the makers? Or, for that matter, why should a useless statuette appeal to anyone?


Further Reading

Ben-Amos 1975, 1980; Biebuyek 1973; Boas 1927; Carpenter 1973b; Dick-Read 1964; Eyo 1977; Feest 1980; Grayburn 1976; Kroeber 1957, 1984; Kubler 1962; Mount 1973; Munro 1963; Wallace 1978 (Appendix).

-196-

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