chapter  22
14 Pages

AESTHETIC UNIVERSALS

ByDENIS DUTTON

Art itself is a cultural universal; that is, there are no known human cultures in which there cannot be found some form of what we might reasonably term aesthetic or artistic interest, performance or artifact production: including sculptures and paintings, dancing and music, oral and written fictional narratives, body adornment and decoration. This does not mean that all cultures possess all the various arts. For example, there is no clear analogue in European tradition for the Japanese tea ceremony, which is nevertheless considered by many to be an artform (Okakura 1906). On the other hand there are cases such as the Dinka, a Nilotic herding people who have no developed indigenous visual art or carving. Instead, their aesthetic interests seem to be directed toward poetic expression and, in the visual realm, toward the markings on the cattle that are so important to their lives: they are, so to speak, keen connoisseurs of cattle markings (Coote 1992). Even within the same cultural region there may be sharp contrasts: in the Sepik River region of the northern New Guinea there is an enormous variety of wood carving, while in the Highlands of the same country there is very little carving, with vast effort channeled instead into body adornment and the production of decorated fighting shields.