This book is not "really" about objects of art, or at least not only about objects of art. It is about the ideas people have had about art and the human condition in all its diversity. It is assumed that the reader is interested in such ideas, and would prefer not to have to memorize quantities of information before being considered ready to deal with them.
The purpose of the work is primarily to help provide a way for formulating questions concerning whatever aspect of the subject is of interest, at whatever level the reader wishes to pursue it. But, like the art that is the subject matter, it can be approached in a number of ways.
This book can be read rapidly as an overview addressed to the general reader who wants an idea of what the field is all about. It can be studied to get information on the arts and the people used as examples. For this purpose it is suggested that the main examples (boldface in Chapter 2 and the Ethnographic Index) are the ones on which to concentrate, a few at a time. If the reader wants to find out more about some particular society and style, the bibliography should provide leads.
The art objects and ethnographic examples used are just that: examples. They represent well known styles and cultures, so that further information about them is easily available. Samples of each style can be found in the nearest large museum, and full color portraits of them have been published in coffee table books and the like.
As a starting place for the further study of cultures, styles or ideas I have tried to provide good questions and leads to other works, and also a glossary that not only defines words as used in the text, but has notes on other usages. I have been told that this is very helpful for research in a field that overlaps several disciplines.
While the importance of process, of change, and of history is frequently stressed, accounts of the fascinating histories of each of the cultures used as examples are missing from these pages. A great many interesting art styles and life styles are not even mentioned. No one could possibly be more frustrated over these omissions than the author. Also it is distressing to ignore the perceptive subtleties of various disciplines and theories.