MICHELANGELO: The Creation of Adam
Fresco: Detail from The Sistine Chapel ceiling
What is art?
`Those things are considered art which are made by
human beings in any material medium where production
requires a relatively high level of skill on the part of their
maker, skill being measured where possible according to
the standards traditionally used in the maker's society',
(Anderson 1979: Art in Primitive Societies)
Is this
things are
art which
are made
by human
ANGER by Michael
Michael is a gorilla
made by
Is this
“production requires a relatively high level of skill on
the part of their maker, skill being measured where
possible according to the standards traditionally used
in the maker's society'
The word art comes from the Old French - meaning skill
Anderson’s definition also includes pottery, fish traps,
boats, computers and so on, i.e. things that are not
generally considered art.
 meaning is not required
 no sense of aesthetics
 context is required only in
sense of skilfulness
Vladimir Madonna
12th century
“Art is the process and the products of applying certain skills
to any activity that transforms matter, sound, or motion into
a form that is deemed aesthetically meaningful to a people in
a society” Ferraro 2005
Transformation of
matter? i.e. a
Greyed Rainbow, 1953 Oil on canvas
Jackson Pollock American Abstract
Expressionist Painter, 1912-1956
The Definition of Art as Non-functional
Human made things are usually categorized according to function.
 chairs are things that function as a seat,
 boats are things that float
Classifying according to function
allows us to exclude other things
 sieves are neither seats nor
boats because we can't sit on
them or sail in them
 they have a different
There is no functional criterion
however, that allows us to exclude
objects from the category of art
 art is an accepting category
it can be extended to include
sieves and boats.
 In some sense you can
consider boats and sieves as
works of art
 some things fit more easily
into the category than others
 paintings are easy, boats less
so and sieves even harder.
Pottery Sieve from Headington,
Oxford: 3rd/4th century. It would
have been used for draining boiled
vegetables or shellfish;
We need to consider the attributes associated with works of art
 the conditions under which objects gain acceptance into the
category are always changing.
Art of the 20th/21st century would not have been considered art in
18th century
Nigerian Moyo Okediji 1956 - The
Dutchman, 1995 acrylic on canvas
Joseph Wright of Derby 1734 –
1797 The Experiment with the
Air Pump
1. Institutional definition
 what is art is where it is displayed
 works of art are what are
exhibited in art galleries (not
 fine art sold at art auctions (not
craft fairs, folk art, or ethnographic
 a cross-section of a cow is art if it
is displayed in an Art gallery
 but not if it is seen in an abattoir.
Damien Hirst: Mother
and Child Divided
Hirst won the Turner
prize in 1995
where displayed is linked to the market process
primary function that links the items
displayed --- $$$$
• a repository of value on the
international art market
• supply and demand.
 definition often relevant to the
production of objects by indigenous
peoples who may intend to produce
work that will be accepted by Western
art market.
 Much of what indigenous peoples
produce is now considered art by the
provides a means for integration
within a wider world economic system
sale of art to outsiders
Prowling Bear by Ashevak Tunnillie
$7,000.00 CAD
 This has consequences for the use of art in indigenous cultures
 i.e. it is produced for a different meaning, for money, not so much
for religious or symbolic (e.g. kinship) purpose, but to be sold to
tourists, collectors, dealers.
Western art buyers are not interested in
works on canvas directly comparable to
those produced in the West.
 This is one reason why African art
contains very little that is pictorial, and is
mostly cultural artefacts.
2. Intentional definition
 art objects are objects intended to be works of art by their
 most other objects intention is subordinate to their function.
 eg. intention to build a boat is insufficient if it sinks
 but if it is intended as a work of art it doesn’t really matter
if it floats
 designation as an artist,
his or her creations are art
 i.e. art is what artists
 a cross-section of a calf
is art if artist so intends i
The Prodigal Son (1994)
A Damien Hirst sculpture of a dead calf cut
in half and suspended in formaldehyde
Hommage à Damien Hirst
par Adrian Darmon, 2000
Death, 2003. By
Jake & Dinos
Shortlisted for
Turner Prize 2003
But then there are objects whose
primary intention is not to be a
work of art but which are
generally considered to be art
Thunderbird and
Orca totem pole
Royal B.C.
First and second
Museum in
definitions are of
little utility for
buffalo mask
3. Defined in terms of attributes
usually associated with visual or interpretative
properties rather than function
 function may be
relevant to their
interpretation but is
not reason they are
considered art
 eg. much early
European art was
produced for religious
reasons, had a
religious function
 religious context is secondary
to their definition as art.
Chalice 12th
 when originally
produced their
function in religious
performance was
central to the kind
of objects they were.
i.e. religious objects
not art objects
Virgin and child
12th century
What are the attributes of art objects?
 skill in manufacture
Emotional features
 aesthetic features
 semantic or interpretative features
 interrelation
Salish Ancestor Spirit Comb
 for example, early period artworks, skill, function
and religious meaning integral to work of art, now
expression of aesthetic factors.
Fine Art
college course subject
made for the market
artist is named
John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex 1816
product’s uniqueness valued
produced by artists in
Western classical tradition
not utilitarian - art for art’s sake
Is this Fine
Baga (Guinea)
Maternity figure
Baga Guinea)
fertility goddess
Mali mask
“Primitive” Art
 Artist has no formal training
 not produced for the market
but primarily for some religious
or functional purpose
connected with ritual and myth
- not art for arts sake i.e. they are
not seen to have any aesthetic
artist is anonymous
Ashanti Shrine object
 creativity of natural man
 psychologically deep, instinctive, emotional
 in harmony with nature
 childlike
 allied with basic drives - sex and fertility
Fertility Doll
Name comes from the legend of a woman
named Akua who was distraught about being
barren, for Akan women desire above all to
have children. A priest instructed her to carry
a small wooden child on her back and care for
it as if it were real. The other villagers teased
her, and the wooden figure came to be known
as Akua-ba (Akua's Child). Eventually she
gave birth to a beautiful daughter, and her
detractors began adopting the same measures
to cure barrenness.
 word ‘primitive’ tells us
something about the Western
concept of art and the role it
plays in the positioning of
other cultures.
 Art is something that made
its appearance on the higher
rungs of the evolutionary
ladder especially fine art.
 fine art is regarded as
quintessentially civilized.
Leonardo Da vinci :
Mona Lisa C. 1503-06
 fine art serves as
standard of comparison
 Or is this a Western
classification of art.
 The masks, chairs,
figurines etc. may not be
considered art by the
people who made them. Dogon mask (Mali)
Baulé (Côte
d'Ivoire) comb
 they were made for a
Who actually decides
what is art: them or us?
Yemeni Ceremonial Dagger
“Primitive” or “African”
or “New Guinea” art is
used to categorize, to
distance non-Western
peoples. I.e. primitive art is
made by primitive people
 “Primitive” art is
Tami Mask Papua
New Guinea
the name of the ethnic
group substitutes for the
'When I first went to
the old Trocadero, it
was disgusting…. The
masks weren't just
like any other pieces
of sculpture. Not at
all. They were magic
things…. I too
believe that
everything is
unknown…. I
understood what the
Negroes use their
sculptures for…. Les
d'Avignon must have
come to me that very
day Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - Picasso
Anthropology of art
 studies the role art objects
play in people’s lives; for
instance in their beliefs and
 The things studied include
sculpture, masks, paintings,
textiles, baskets, pots, weapons,
and the human body itself.
 the symbolic meanings
encoded in such objects, as well
as in the materials and
techniques used to produce them.
The decorative scars are used
to confer beauty, status,
protection, and identity to the
Photograph copyright Bojan
Anthropology of art
the social processes involved
in making objects.
 the role and status of
the artist in the wider
community rather than
the individual biography
 the form and function
of objects and their
relation to aspects of the
wider society.
 the aesthetic value in
different societies.
the ways in which material objects made by indigenous people
have come to have value in the tourist and art markets as well as of
the role of museums
 The Navajo create
intricate sand
paintings as part of a
ritual act,
 destroyed once
ritual over.
 the `doing' of the art
is often of greater
importance than the
final product itself.
sand paintings created on plywood or
particleboard intended for sale are
Many languages have no
word for art or artist. E.g
Tewa, Balinese
 Balinese have no word for
art, the beauty that they
produce is considered part
of everyday life, nothing
 does art exist in their
 How do we talk about
someone else’s artefacts that
we see as "art?”
Kertha Gosa (temple) batik
Objects from Tutankhamen's
tomb were intended to guarantee
the eternal life of the king and to
protect him from evil forces that
might enter his body and gain
control over it.
They were not meant to be seen
by anyone.
Is it Art?
when objects that have
particular religious/ protective/
ethnic/ meaning for one group can
we consider them as "art“ from
our perspective?
Tutankhamen's death mask
Anthropological Analysis of Art
The anthropology of art is not the study of objects
of other cultures that Westerners have accepted
as art. We look through sets of cultural filters that
prepare us for an "aesthetic" experience.
 An anthropology of art is not limited by the
objects that are included in the Western
category of art
 The concept ‘art’ needs to be open to allow
the analysis of objects from other cultures on
their own terms
 How do they define what is art - who
defines art?
values of objects in many different contexts
are relevant to their meaning and to how they
are understood.
 but do they consider them art?
Art communicates significant
meanings and feelings at different
times, in different spaces, for
different people.
In every society art provides much
more than an expression of beauty;
it also creates and maintains social
Until recently in Western culture, only sailors, criminals and
prostitutes got tattoos.
The Romans considered decorative tattooing barbaric, and used
tattoos to mark slaves and criminals.
The negative connotations are still evident in the Latin word for
tattoo: stigma.
Today, the tattoo is undergoing a renaissance reflecting a change in
attitudes towards the body: seen as a canvas.
Art objects can be analysed from 3 perspectives
1. functional
 use of the object in ritual and religion
 in the making of value.
2. iconographic
 objects that encode meaning or
represent something or that
create a particular meaning
3. aesthetic
 from their aesthetic affect or
expressive quality
 Any aesthetic or interpretative
considerations must be those
relevant to producers
Mosque lamp for
Sultan Hasan, Egypt
1347 and 1361,
Form and Function
 One approach to understanding art is by looking at the form and
function of objects.
what the art aspect (semantic or
aesthetic dimension) (eg
decoration) does can be separated
from other aspects of the object
 eg. Hopi potters typically
spend a great deal of time and
energy decorating their pottery
 designs are aesthetically
 But there is no need to
decorate them
 function well without the
The function can be separated from the form.
 The art aspect may either compliment or
exist independently of other functional
attributes and embellish the objects
aesthetically and semantically.
 eg. a club has many attributes of art
 fine craftsmanship, aesthetic appeal,
signs of status and religious symbolism
 but it is also used as a weapon.
 Its functional attributes as a weapon
have no necessary connection with its
attributes as art.
 the design on a club or its aesthetic power
may interact with its destructive capacity to
make it more effective as a weapon.
 its design or form may supply it with
power and ritual significance
 A mask may function to
obscure a person's face
 that is its function
 a paper bag would
function in the same way
 but a mask also serves to
create a new identity, or
even transformed -spirit
 in this case the design is
integral to the function of
the mask
Tlingit mask
Representational or iconic Systems
representational assumes
that it can be interpreted to
mean something that is, or
becomes, external to itself
 For example a picture of a
raven may simply be a
picture of a raven to us
 to a Kwakiutl it may be a
totem representing a social
 focus is on art as a system
of meaning and
 how does art encode
The pole is carved with crest
figures that relate to family
lineages, status and rights,
Visual and aesthetic means of declaring status
symbolic halo, (or crown) on the king's head.
scarlet hunting jacket of English gentlemen
eagle feathers of the Indian chief’s bonnet
golden embroidered jacket of the Indian rajah.
 jewellery in the shape of the star of David, or the
cross is used to indicate religious preferences.
In addition to satisfying
aesthetic needs, body decoration
may be used as a visual means to
show social position, rank, sex,
occupation, local or ethnic
identity or religion within a
Maori tattoos or moko told
about the bearer's rank, lineage,
special skills and
marriage status.
A revival in moko is
linked to Maori
no referential meaning
Glastonbury Abbey
Ceramic jar with a style of
decoration identified with the
Funnelbeaker Culture (34002850 B.C.) (bog people)
Functions of Art
 psychological - helping people cope with tensions and
aggressive feelings and understanding certain emotions
(emotional gratification);
political by expressing political values and attitudes, showing
allegiance to political leaders, and controlling behavior (social
religious by various methods of communicating with
supernatural forces and explaining what that communication
means (social control, social integration)
social by articulating and reinforcing relationships between
members of the society (social integration);
educational by passing on the cultural traditions, values, and
beliefs from one generation to the next.
Lenin created the first truly modern
propaganda machine from postage
stamps and Mayday parades to
monumental sculptures.
Perhaps its most colorful, dramatic
and original form was the poster.
Liberation of the Eastern Peoples
assures peace in the world, 1920s
Mikhail Dlugach
Wings of the Serf,
Although posters were
produced in Russia
before the Revolution,
they were overshadowed
by the remarkable
propaganda posters of
the Soviets.
Through it, the
greatest artists of the
time proclaimed
government policies,
asked for support, and
demanded greater
efforts -- all with the
goal of building Soviet
Aleksandrs Apsit
The International,
Never buy in a Private
Shop - when you can
buy in a cooperative,
Australian Aboriginal Art
The ancestral beings gave the rights to
occupy the land
the paintings help to establish the right to
occupy the land and maintain connections
with the ancestral forces in the landscape.
 For this reason knowledge of paintings
and the right to produce paintings is closely
 paintings can only be produced by those
acknowledged to have the right to do so.
the way in which art is produced is
related to group identity and gender
land and paintings are the property of
 For the Yolingu aborigines in Australia, art is
associated with creating images of ancestral power
 and is itself sacred.
 referential meaning is integral to the system
 art is a part of encoding myth
 paintings are interpreted consistently by the
initiated and can be associated with places, social
groups and ancestral tracks.
 i.e their symbols have a particular meaning and
can be interpreted by anyone if they know the key.
objects appeal to the senses
 important properties include an
object's form, texture, feel, smell and
impact the nervous system
irrespective of one's cultural
 many of the properties are
recognized cross culturally, eg, weight,
colour, shininess, symmetry and so on
 may also include non-material
attributes associated with it e.g. age,
or distant place, or magical substance
 In the Yolngu the effect of shimmering
brilliance is produced by covering the
surface of a painting with fine crosshatched lines.
 paintings themselves are believed to be
manifestations of the ancestral past
 shimmering effect is interpreted as the
power of the ancestral beings shining out
from the painting.
 The image is reinforced by song and by
an emphasis in myth on similar images of
transformation between light and dark.
the creation of a particular aesthetic
effect is integral to the art
 aesthetics is part of the semantics of the
 also of the way art is integrated within
the cultural system as a whole.
 recognition of the nonmaterial aspects, however,
requires cultural knowledge
 the properties of the object
are not in themselves aesthetic
 they become aesthetic
properties through their
incorporation within
particular systems of value and
converts a physical property
into an aesthetic property
Battle of Aughrim 11th
July 1691
The decisive battle in
which the Irish lost to
the British
7000 Irish were killed
aesthetics involves not
only how something
looks and is appreciated
but also how it is

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