Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art

Since teaching for a week last September on analyzing visual arts at GIAL, I've wanted to find a book that describes the role of visual arts in indigenous cultures from an anthropological perspective.  That is, a book that explains the purpose of visual artifacts in traditional/nonwestern cultures– why they were created at all and how such cultures "use" and perceive them.  Ultimately, why these artifacts were created at all.

In addition, a book that also explains how to identify these artifacts (harder than it sounds– what is art, anyway?) and how to describe/analyze them.

I used a couple of books (here and here) in the class that offered collections of writings by various authors on one aspect of the topic or another, but none which gave a comprehensive understanding.  I recently ordered a couple of similar texts (here and here), which I've just begun to peruse.

But I think I may have finally found the book that comes closest: Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art by Evelyn Payne Hatcher.  I hope this is the one, if for no other reason because it's becoming an expensive quest!  Once I've read it I'll share my thoughts here.  One reviewer writes,

Hatcher's background and research in both anthropology and art give her a command of a broad view nowhere else offered in the literature. Hers is the only book in the anthropology of art that covers all the major well-known tribal art styles, juxtaposes them with the arts of civilizations usually left to art historians, and introduces the reader to a full range of theoretical approaches to interpretation. While Hatcher's scholarly, thorough presentation of familiar styles provides many fresh insights, her theoretical stance is reassuringly familiar and solidly anthropological: the arts are understood comparatively, in context, and in all their complexity; in short, as culture.

It looks to be a good read, for someone like me at least!


  1. Looks like a very helpful text, keep us posted.

  2. When you're ready to write a book review, you might consider publishing it as an SIL Electronic Book Review in the Anthropology section. My husband formats and posts these brs.