The anthropology of art is currently at a crossroads. Although well versed in the meaning of art in small-scale tribal societies, anthropologists are still wrestling with the question of how to interpret art in a complex, post-colonial environment. Alfred Gell recently confronted this problem in his posthumous book Art and Agency. The central thesis of his study was that art objects could be seen, not as bearers of meaning or aesthetic value, but as forms mediating social action. At a stroke, Gell provocatively dismissed many longstanding but tired questions of definition and issues of aesthetic value. His book proposed a novel perspective on the roles of art in political practice and made fresh links between analyses of style, tradition and society. Offering a new overview of the anthropology of art, this book begins where Gell left off. Presenting wide-ranging critiques of the limits of aesthetic interpretation, the workings of objects in practice, the relations between meaning and efficacy and the politics of postcolonial art, its distinguished contributors both elaborate on and dissent from the controversies of Gells important text. Subjects covered include music and the internet as well as ethnographic traditions and contemporary indigenous art. Geographically its case studies range from India to Oceania to North America and Europe.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1 Romanticism, from Foi Site Poetry to Schubert’s Winterreise 2 Agency, History and Tradition in The Construction of ‘Classical’ Music: The Debate Over ‘Authentic Performance’ 3 Why Knot? Towards a Theory of Art and Mathematics 4 Captivation, Representation, and the Limits of Cognition: Interpreting Metaphor and Metonymy in Tahitian Tamau 5 What Makes Singo Different: North Vanuatu Textiles and the Theory of Captivation 6 The Captivating Agency of Art: Many Ways of Seeing 7 The Fame of Trinis: Websites as Traps 8 Piercing the Skin of the Idol 9 The Politics and Personhood of Tibetan Buddhist Icons 10 Aboriginal Cultural Production into Art: The Complexity of Redress 11 When the (Oven) Gloves Are Off: The Queen’s Baton – Doing What to Whom? 12 The Patent and the Malanggan
Christopher Pinney is Senior Lecturer in Material Culture in the Department of Anthropology, University College London Nicholas Thomas is Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. His books include 'Entangled Objects' (1991),'Colonialism's Culture' (1994) and 'Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture' (1999)