Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art

By Evelyn Payne Hatcher | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
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

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*
Words that embody concepts important to the discussion are italicized when they are defined, usually when first used. The Glossary contains further definitions.

-1-

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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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