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Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theoryby Alfred Gell
Synopses & Reviews
Alfred Gell puts forward a new anthropological theory of visual art, seen as a form of instrumental action: the making of things as a means of influencing the thoughts and actions of others. He argues that existing anthropological and aesthetic theories take an overwhelmingly passive point of view, and questions the criteria that accord art status only to a certain class of objects and not to others. The anthropology of art is here reformulated as the anthropology of a category of action: Gell shows how art objects embody complex intentionalities and mediate social agency. He explores the psychology of patterns and perceptions, art and personhood, the control of knowledge, and the interpretation of meaning, drawing upon a diversity of artistic traditions--European, Indian, Polynesian, Melanesian, and Australian.
Art and Agency was completed just before Alfred Gell's death at the age of 51 in January 1997. It embodies the intellectual bravura, lively wit, vigour, and erudition for which he was admired, and will stand as an enduring testament to one of the most gifted anthropologists of his generation.
In Art and Agency, Alfred Gell formulates an anthropological theory of visual art that focuses on the social context of art production, circulation, and reception. As a theory of the nexus of social relations involving works of art, this work suggests that in certain contexts, art-objects substitute for persons and thus mediate social agency.
Diversely illustrated--and based on European, Polynesian, Melanesian, and Australian sources--Art and Agency was completed just before Gell's death at the age of fifty-one in January 1997. It embodies the intellectual bravura, lively wit, vigor, and erudition for which he was admired, and will stand as an enduring testament to one of the most gifted anthropologists of his generation.
About the Author
Alfred Gell is a former Reader in Anthropology in the London School of Economics.
Table of Contents
Foreword, Nicholas Thomas
1. The Problem Defined: The Need for an Anthropology of Art
2. The Theory of the Art Nexus
3. The Art Nexus and the Index
4. The Involution of the Index in the Art Nexus
5. The Origination of the Index
6. The Critique of the Index
7. The Distributed Person
8. Style and Culture
9. Conclusion: The Extended Mind
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