Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory

Paperback | July 1, 1998

byAlfred Gell

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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 ofview, 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 exploresthe 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 hisgeneration.

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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 ofview, and questions the criteria that accor...

Alfred Gell is at London School of Economics.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:296 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.71 inPublished:July 1, 1998Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198280149

ISBN - 13:9780198280149

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Table of Contents

Nicholas Thomas: Foreword1. The Problem Defined: The Need for an Anthropology of Art2. The Theory of the Art Nexus3. The Art Nexus and the Index4. The Involution of the Index in the Art Nexus5. The Origination of the Index6. The Critique of the Index7. The Distributed Person8. Style and Culture9. Conclusion: The Extended MindBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"[This] is not only a contribution to anthropology but a subtle and original counterweight to the banalities of globalization theory."--Times Literary Supplement