ANTH 021D. Anthropology of Art and Aesthetics
Is it inevitable for the things people make, exchange and venerate to be invested with symbolic meanings, formal qualities, aesthetic values and affective intensities? Is the category of ‘art’ universal to all human societies? Is a concern with aesthetics the exclusive province of Western civilization? Early cultural anthropologists sought to address these questions comparatively, collecting objects that they perceived to have aesthetic value in an effort to catalog the diversity of artistic production around the world. In this course we will retrace some of their moves, unpacking the colonial histories of Western collections of non-Western art. Our course materials will take us from the Hindu cave temples of South India to ethnographic museums in northern Europe, from aboriginal communities in Central Australia to the metropolitan glitz and glamour of the Venice Biennale and beyond. In ranging across this diverse set of regions and cultures, we will necessarily make recourse to a variety of disciplinary approaches to art, including ethnographies of art producers and art institutions, cultural sociology, museum studies, comparative art history, and the cultural history of the senses. Along the way, we may find ourselves forced to question not only the labels of ‘primitive art,’ ‘native art,’ ‘ethnic art,’ etc., but more deeply, the very categories of ‘art’ and ‘aesthetics’ themselves.
Catalog chapter: Sociology and Anthropology
Department website: http://www.swarthmore.edu/sociology-anthropology
Check the Fall 2018 Schedule of Courses
Check the Spring 2019 Schedule of Courses