week 4


By redefining the goals of an anthropology of art, Gell moves away from “the project of ‘indigenous aesthetics’” (3) and symbolic interpretation of art, towards the creation of a framework in which art can be understood by emulating existing anthropological theories.  He asserts that an anthropological theory of art must not recognize a distinction between the human and the art object as an agent by accounting “for the production and circulation of art objects as a function” of social relationships (11).  Although Gell believes agency to be a major component in the discussion of the anthropology of art, he does not consider objects to be agents in the same primary manner as humans.  Instead, objects are secondary objects because their agency is based upon the relational context in which they exist, meaning that they are simply physical manifestations “of the power or the capacity to will their use” (21).  He bases this off the conceptualization that there can only be an agent if a patient exists.  Through the very formulaic “Art Nexus” that he constructs and demonstrates, Gell frames art and agency within a seemingly simple system of relations and interactions.  After reading Gell, I am left wanting more.  It just seems far too simple and far too neat, which leaves me feeling as though at the end of everything Gell is still recognizing objects as having very limited agency on their own. Perhaps this is a misreading on my behalf, but even within his discussion of art captivating the viewer, captivation is reduced down to feelings of wonder/unease/threat in the spectator upon encountering “unimaginable virtuosity,” which, then, brings the agency back to the human actors since the audience is unable to interpret the work of the artist.  


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