Contexts and Comparisons: The Anthropological Approach
People sometimes are content to look at an unfamiliar work of art simply to respond to its statement directly, but usually they are not content to stop there; they also want to know some thing about the work, and what the work is about. They ask "where did it come from?" "how was it made?" "who made it?" and "what does it mean?" And it is just these kinds of questions that interest anthropologists and art historians. Such questions involve not only specific information about the particular object, but broader questions about the relation of art to all other aspects of human life. Art is something that human beings do in a great many ways, for a great many reasons, and if one is curious about art or about people it is natural to ask questions about the whole process and the whole background or context of an art style. One question leads to another, and the more one learns about the background of any work of art, the more it seems related to the whole way of life of the people who made and used it. This in turn makes a work of art more interesting, more alive, and often more pleasing.
This means that the study of the visual arts as an anthropological study calls for considering art as an aspect of culture, and using the methods and theories that anthropologists have used to study other aspects of culture, taking into consideration it great many things instead of, or in addition to, one's own personal responses to particular art forms. It means that one needs to know where the art was made, who made it, what its use was, what its functions were, and what it meant to the people who made use of it. This is the study of art in its cultural context.*
Culture in the anthropological sense means much more than the arts; it is conceived as the sum of all the learned, shared behavior of human beings: how they make a living, produce things, organize their societies, and use language and other____________________