ART
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
Art?
“Those
things are
considered
art which
are made
by human
beings”
ANGER by Michael
Michael is a gorilla
Fractals
made by
computer
Is this
Art?
“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
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
function
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 least of all.
Pottery Sieve from Headington,
Oxford: 3rd/4th century. It would
have been used for draining boiled
vegetables or shellfish;
 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
museums)
 fine art sold at art auctions
(not craft fairs, folk art, or
ethnographic artefact)
 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
West
provides a means for integration
within a wider world economic system
sale of art to outsiders
 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
makers
 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
make
 a cross-section of a calf
is art if artist so intends
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
Chapman
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
objects..
Thunderbird and
Orca totem pole
Royal B.C.
First and second
Museum in
definitions are of
Victoria
little utility for
anthropology
Senufo
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
century
 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
Woven basket Kenya
 for example, early period artworks, skill,
function and religious meaning integral to work
of art, now expression of aesthetic factors.
Fine Art
rare
expensive
college course subject
made for the market
artist is named
Has a date
product’s uniqueness valued
John Constable,
Wivenhoe Park, Essex 1816
Oil on canvas
produced by artists in
Western classical tradition
not utilitarian - art for art’s sake
Is this Fine
art?
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
sense
artist is anonymous
Art within a cultural tradition – Ashanti Shrine object
no date
 creativity of natural man
 psychologically deep, instinctive, emotional
 in harmony with nature
 childlike
 allied with basic drives - sex and fertility
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
Akua-ba
as Akua-ba (Akua's Child). Eventually she
Fertility Doll
gave birth to a beautiful daughter, and her
Ghana
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
a
 Or is this a Western
classification of art.
 The masks, chairs,
figurines etc. may not be
considered art by the people
who made them.
Baulé (Côte
d'Ivoire) comb
 they were made for a
purpose
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
anonymous.
Tami Mask Papua
New Guinea
the name of the ethnic
group substitutes for the
maker
'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
Demoiselles
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
rituals.
 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
bearers.
Photograph copyright Bojan
Brecelj/CORBIS
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
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
regulated.
 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 clans
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
society.
Maori tattoos or moko told
about the bearer's rank,
lineage, special skills and
marriage status.
A revival in moko is
linked to Maori
identity
 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
incomplete.
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
special.
 does art exist in their
society?
 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.
Asmat
shield
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
values
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. Form and function
 use of the object in ritual and religion etc.
 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
1. Form and Function
 One approach to understanding art is by looking at the form and
function of objects.
The function will to some extent determine the form and dictate
the type of object it is
The art aspect (semantic or
aesthetic dimension) (e.g.
decoration) 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 pleasing
But there is no need to decorate them
 function well without the decoration
1. 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
possession
 in this case the design is
integral to the function of
the mask
Tlingit mask
2. 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
group.
 focus is on art as a system
of meaning and
communication
 how does art encode
meaning.
The pole is carved with crest
figures that relate to family
lineages, status and rights,
2. 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.
3. Aesthetics
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
background.
 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.
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
art
 also of the way art is integrated within
the cultural system as a whole.
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