The Work of Art
Anthropological insights suggest that the combination of form and meaning in patterns that are both visual and conceptual contributes to all cultural production, mediating social relationships and constructing worldviews, as the work performed by art. In the Western tradition, art is a category of cultural products, and a very selective and hierarchical category too. Anthropology is a Western discipline that makes its business the interpretation of all cultures in terms that allow comparisons between them, but it has never really come to terms with the category of art. To develop Firth’s theme, artefacts are particularly effective in helping to make basic cosmological principles visible, significant, and comprehensible to members of their societies of origin and, with interpretation, to others. The power of art to affect people’s emotions, behavior, and worldview is not limited to the elevation of Western art audiences, but studies of non-Western art traditions have had trouble pinning it down theoretically.