Gell’s text Art and Agency is his very sophisticated call for a new type of theory, one that gives agency to objects, although I suppose this is not new for us since we’ve looked at works that start to touch on ideas like these, but regardless, Gell solidifies a concrete methodology for recognizing the power of agency in art, and objects or things. Although some of the diagrams get a little confusing, I think that fact alone shows that these relationships are complex and not as simple as a semiotic understanding would provide us. One of his points and examples that he uses that I like the most is his discussion of the egg and the desire behind it. He writes, “If there were no breakfast-desiring agents like me about, there would be no hens’ eggs (except in the South-East Asian jungle), no saucepans, no gas appliances, and the whole egg-boiling phenomenon would never transpire and never need to be physically explained” (101). I’ve recently looked at concepts of value and the circulation of non-Western art, especially through the work of Nicholas Thomas and Fred Myers, both of who’s work I think relates to Gell and that statement. Myers in particular looks at the new(ish) desires in the Western art world for Aboriginal paintings and artwork from Australia, which affects not only the modes in which people look at the paintings, but also how they are created. The new desire for them will allow for the creation of new forms and ideas, thus demonstrating another aspects of agency, and I suppose desire.
Art and Agency