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Beyond Aesthetics: Gale’s Anthropology of Art

  Art and Motivation is almost the most important theoretical work on art anthropology in the second half of the twentieth century. It not only points out a new direction for this sub-discipline that has been neglected in anthropology, but also has implications for the field of art history. radiated. The author Alfred Gale tried to find another way outside the declining semiotic analysis paradigm, changing the basic analysis orientation from “art as text” to “art as action”, focusing on the process of art production, Rather than just the work itself, the social connection built by “things” is regarded as the core category of art research. Through this major paradigm shift in the anthropology of art, Gale, together with Bruno Latour, Daniel Miller and other anthropologists concerned with “matter studies”, has opened up the “activeness” that is very important to the entire field of anthropology turn”. Emphasizing the dynamism of “things” actually means breaking the premise that “things are divided into two”, and no longer regard “things” as separate from “people” and are purely passively manipulated and manipulated by people. tools”, but as an indispensable part of the construction of a certain social identity of “people” with its own disposition.
  This manuscript is also the author’s efforts to complete in his final days. When Gail was informed by doctors of his critical condition in October 1996, he was less than four months away from the end of his life. According to his widow, Gale spent his entire life despising the vulgar emotion of “self-pity.” He also despises all religious dogma, which suspends reason and self, and degrades human character. In the last days of his life, he accepted the arrangement of fate with a rational and unrestrained attitude, and even comforted his relatives and friends in turn. Then, as always, he devoted himself to writing, and finally completed this landmark and important work in the history of art anthropology.
  From the observation of life shown by Gale in his last days, it may be possible to read a certain alertness to the religious complex and his high emphasis on “temporality”, which are also two aspects of understanding his artistic anthropology theory. important clues. In that well-known concept of the methodology of art anthropology, “methodological philistinism”, he emphasized the need to separate the emotional experience evoked by aesthetic perception from the study of art anthropology, just as anthropologists would When religion is the object of study, it should also uphold an atheist attitude. “Philistineism” was originally a strongly derogatory term in European cultural traditions. It originated from the Philistines who were enemies of the Israeli heroes Samson and David in the “Old Testament”. Since then, in both German and English, it refers to those vulgar philistines who pursue material wealth and abandon the promotion of spiritual and aesthetic tastes. group. The elitist nineteenth-century literary critic Matthew Arnold applied the label to the vulgar, material-seeking new rich business class of the Victorian era. For the noble purity of the cultural canon that Arnold sought to defend, the philistines represented by “Philistineism” were nothing short of monstrous beasts. When Gale used this title to express his theoretical position, he obviously used a flip, assigning a positive value to “emphasizing materiality rather than pursuing beauty”. He does not mean that beauty is not important in art research, but that researchers often lack reflection on the premise that their own personal experience of beauty stems from their own cultural background, so it is easy to subconsciously subconsciously identify individuals when analyzing art. The generalization of aesthetic experience made it difficult to avoid the prejudice of ethnocentrism, which was also a common bias in art history research at that time. Gale believes that the Western concept of art tends to regard aesthetics as the inherent and transcendent quality of art. This point of view itself brings art to the altar and gives “aesthetic” activities a moral meaning similar to that of religion. Therefore, when anthropologists study the art of others, they should not be confined to the track of art history to pay attention to the aesthetic qualities of art, but should pay attention to the social relations cohesive in the “things”.
  In fact, Gale does not intend to deny the importance of aesthetic experience in art appreciation. Gale’s parents are both skilled painters. He has excellent artistic accomplishment and is good at painting. In addition to the hand-painted charts and maps, his anthropological works also contain rich sketches, which can be seen. However, in his character, there is always a strong tendency to “thought experiments”, escaping from the unrestrained, and trying to pursue a deviant “counter-intuitive” expression of ideas. The rebellion of the concept of “methodological Philistineism” is far from just creating a new concept, but a rebellion against the research paradigm of art anthropology of an era. In the 1970s, semiotics and symbolism dominated the field of artistic anthropology. Gail’s teacher, Anthony Fudge Forge) is one of the leading characters. He believed that the formal elements of works of art could provide a system of meaning that was similar to a linguistic sign system, but more essential and pure. Therefore, the interpretation of culture can be developed by treating artworks as texts. The early Gale also followed this line, but when he published his classic “The Enchantment of Technology and the Technology of Enchantment” in 1992, he had abandoned this paradigm, and no longer had any meaning for artistic texts. “The pursuit of art is regarded as the core appeal of artistic anthropology, and even he does not think that it is the most important intrinsic quality of artworks. In this article, Gale analyzes the psychedelic effects of bowboard patterns used in the Kura trade in the Trobriand Islands. According to early psychologically based explanations, the fascination of these bowboard patterns is the psychic shock through the imitation of the eye through the giant turbine-shaped pattern – which is also a typical semiotic reading method: the power of the pattern is derived from the what it represents. Gale’s attempt to explain is to abandon this semiotic approach, and think that the psychedelic effect is caused by the complex process itself contained in the pattern, which needs to be interpreted from the concept of “magic” . In Gale’s eyes, the state of existence of things, in the stillness, contains the flow of time, including the production skills that are extremely important and often covered up in the life course of things, and in the special type of artifact, art. It is precisely because the complexity and sophistication of the craftsmanship applied in the production process exceeds the viewer’s comprehension ability, and thus the production process itself is mysterious, so that the artwork has the energy to capture the viewer’s soul. Therefore, he emphasized that “art works do not come to the world in the form of ‘being’, but come to the world in the form of ‘becoming'”. The misunderstanding of most art criticism is that it only focuses on the analysis of the aesthetic characteristics of art in the form of “Dasein”, but ignores the physical activities that the maker has put in to complete it behind the life history before it “became” a work of art. and technical process. It is precisely the method of excavating the “prehistory of life” of this art product that demonstrates Gale’s unique concept of “temporality” in his research approach.
  Gale’s radical transformation of the paradigm of art anthropology, on the one hand, attempts to exclude the aesthetic dimension, and on the other hand, expands the study of objects from “art” to “art-like object” , this extension can introduce everyday man-made objects and even natural objects into the research objects. In the seminal essay “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Trap”, Gale and renowned art critic Arthur Danto (Arthur Danto) argues precisely on how the making and use of a functional everyday object has the potential to become an “artifact-like” that inspires the vigorous imagination, and how, through a “time-emphasizing” “Abductive Reasoning” method, unlocking its rich poetic quality.

  The argument stems from an exhibition titled “Art/Artifact” curated at the African Art Center in New York in 1988, curated by Susan Vogel, an anthropologist, who was in the gallery A large Zande hunting net, which she had collected during her fieldwork in Africa, was placed in a prominent position in the layer. The focus of the debate is whether such an ordinary hunting net placed in an art museum constitutes “art”? Although Arthur Danto’s The Transmutation of the Ordinary: A Philosophy of Art is an avant-garde study of contemporary art’s approach to the use of the “ready-made” and its legitimacy as a work of art Classic theory defends, however, when analyzing Susan Fergil’s hunting net, he does not admit that the installation can stand as a work of art. Perhaps this is due to Danto’s concept of artistic creation. He still emphasizes that the artwork is the projection of the artist’s creative consciousness, that is, he still emphasizes the authorship in the individual sense, and the authenticity of the inner identity of the artwork and its creator.
  On the other hand, Gale, from the disciplinary standpoint of art anthropology, thinks about this “chaotic entry” into the art museum’s hunting net from a completely different angle. In his opinion, although Danto’s concept of works of art is commendable, he emphasizes that the characteristics of works of art originate from the conscious intention of the author, which is a bit of a misunderstanding of the creators and their works in artistic creation in a specific Western context. The relationship forces a universal presupposition. In Danto’s theoretical framework, the reason why he cannot admit that the Azande hunting net is a work of art is that the hunter who made it is for the purpose of hunting, not “aesthetic”. Therefore, Danto has always divided the “aesthetic purpose” and “practical function” of “object” into a clear dichotomy. An object made for the purpose of practical function can only achieve its purpose in use, so it is incomplete by itself. If it is a work of art, it needs to have a complete and self-sufficient meaning system. Gale’s subsequent interpretation and analysis fully demonstrated the application of the “abductive reasoning” method he advocated. He began by sharply questioning this idea of ​​opposing functional and aesthetic purposes. According to the records of ethnographic research, in the cultural ecology of African tribal societies, hunting activities are not only about daily livelihoods, but are blended with many adult ceremonies and New Year celebrations, with a strong sense of ritual and religious color. transcendence. In these ceremonies, nets are also likely to be used as props to represent the character of the hunter in the ritual theatre of hunting, like those African masks that have been widely recognized as works of art.
  For Danto, the self-sufficiency and completeness of the art’s meaning system makes the viewer encounter it as if he encounters a person with his own thoughts, that is, it is an extension of the creator. Gale’s interpretation of the artistic nature of the net is also based on this concept: a net, even if it is taken out of its original context, is placed in a museum that has nothing to do with its function and ritual. There is still a kind of “dynamic” belonging to the object – it is a powerful “symbol”, which indicates and characterizes some “violence” that is not present – its shape and design not only reflect the hunter’s ability to capture wild beasts Strong will and cunning can also evoke the imagination of animals struggling after falling into a trap. The design of hunting traps often needs to match the body shape of the prey, so it is not only a presentation of the hunter’s self, but also a shape of the prey, which can be regarded as a text about animal behavior. At first glance, Gale still takes a semiotic approach to interpreting the net, but unlike the symbolic anthropologists who are obsessed with reading cultures as texts, he does not emphasize symbols. It focuses on the “meaning” carried by the symbol, and focuses on the “action intention” embodied by the symbol, that is, how the object links the two ends of the actor and the acceptor of a human behavior. The imagination and deduction of the relationship between the predator and the prey here is the application of an abductive reasoning method, which focuses on excavating the social form and technical process of the action contained in the form of the object. In the process of hunting, the hunter needs to hide himself, so he and the prey cannot be in the same space-time field, and the hunting net creates a “time structure”, in a dramatic way. The actions of the two come together. Gale borrowed the way of reading ancient Greek tragedy to interpret the relationship between hunter and prey presented by hunting traps, and the poetic nature contained in it – the former represents God and the inescapable fate, while the latter It is similar to those heroic protagonists who end tragically because of their ego and arrogance. The properties of things are used to help the actor to capture the actions unfolding in time, and to seal them up and store them. Similarly, the properties of things are also a key used by the subject to unlock the purpose of the actor. So far, Gale, from his point of view, has discussed the artistic characteristics contained in an “ordinary thing”—the hunting trap, through its material form and setting mechanism, not only represents the intention of the hunter, but also the intention of the prey. And the imaginative arousal of these complex intentions is, for Gale, the key to defining whether something is or is not a work of art.
  Gale’s discussion of hunting nets shows that he regards the life history and time structure of things as the core elements of understanding their “dynamic”. What he wants to emphasize is that the time course of the manufacture and use of things is inscribed with various traces of links with people. ” and expand. The perception and perception of temporality is also the central theme of Gale’s other ambitious theoretical work, The Anthropology of Time. In this theoretical attempt to integrate anthropology, phenomenology, psychology and economics, Gale’s core point is how to grasp the connection between “past”, “present” and “future”. Among them, he particularly favored Husserl’s phenomenological approach, and at the same time tried to combine the discussions of left-wing theories such as Bourdieu and Marx on history and dynamism, and regarded “present” as closely intertwined with the past and the future, including the history of the past time. The precipitation accumulated by sex can lead to the future through human actions. The importance of the study of “things” is precisely that it seals up the behaviors imposed on it by the actors in the past with its external, seemingly static material properties, and gives the action orientation of the future recipients. guide.
  On the issue of temporality and the performance of objects, Gale once made an interesting extension of the concept. He said that when we watch artistic performances such as dance and music, what we appreciate is the immediacy and liveness of stage performances. For the visual art, the artist’s work, such as a painting by Rembrandt, can be regarded as a demonstration of his master’s skills, but this performance takes place off the stage. happened in the past. Here, one of the most important characteristics of the materiality of artworks is that it seems to be a kind of “amber” that seals time and action, condensing the creator’s intention, technology and the local mental state at that time, and leaving it for later viewers to read. untie. As he put it: “Every object is a ‘show’ in that it can initiate abductive reasoning about how it came into the world.” Thus, for Gale, the artistry of an object does not necessarily need to be embodied in Its aesthetic quality as an aesthetic object lies in whether its characteristics contain enough clues to allow us to develop inferences about its relationship with the actor and the passive, so as to determine the subjectivity of things and people. establish contact between them.
  Gale’s analysis of Duchamp’s work is striking at the end of Art and Activity, in part because it is an early shift in the field of artistic anthropology from “tribal art” to “contemporary art” On the other hand, it is also because these analyses further advance the interlinkages between physicality, temporality, social relations and the human subject that Gale wishes to explore. The English edition of Art and Activity features Duchamp’s Network of Stoppage as the cover. In fact, this work superimposes the prototypes or artworks of several important works of the artist in different periods, covering them layer by layer, but deliberately showing signs. Gale’s interpretation regards each layer as the artist’s creative activity at different time nodes. For a short stay, they imply that the flow of time has been cut and severed again and again, but they echo each other on the same canvas, highlighting the deep inner connection between each other and embodying a kind of inner life consciousness of the artist. A sense of continuous continuity that cannot be truly cut. Gale sees Duchamp’s entire career as a chronologically linked and overlapping whole. The inner connection and echo of the themes and styles of the works make it impossible for any painting to be regarded as an isolated individual, but the artist’s creative consciousness manifests itself in different stages during the continuous growth process. Each work not only reproduces to some extent the artist’s mental state embodied in the previous work, but also indicates the situation of the subsequent works. Therefore, the changes in style and form of these works not only highlight the turning point of the artist’s creative concept, but also reflect its continuity. They are not only the material manifestations of the artist’s spiritual activities, but as a whole, they jointly present the state of mind in different time stages of the artist’s life course, and show the time structure of his mind. The works of art not only solidify the flow of time, but also connect the past and the future in the way of physical state, indicating the continuation of time. This materialized and continuous temporal structure of mental states, which is what Gale defines as artistic “style”, is not only reflected in the works of individual artists, but also in groups. There are clues in artistic expression.
  Here, the concept of “modularization” proposed by German art historian Lothar Ledderose in “Everything: Modularization and Mass Production in Chinese Art” may be used to further clarify. Through this concept, Leidhou attempts to find the connection between the form of objects and the organization of Chinese society, as well as the cognitive model inherent in Chinese culture. “Modularization” is not only a specific cognitive paradigm, embodied in the unique composition of square characters, but also an organizational principle for the production of utensils, such as tenon and mortise in wooden buildings, bucket arches, movable type printing in handicrafts, As well as the production methods of bronze ware and lacquer ware, etc., they together constitute a cultural production method with a remarkable “style”, which is reflected in the morphological characteristics of its utensils, and in turn gives birth to the corresponding social organization method in the process of artistic production. , such as the detailed division of labor and collaboration in manual workshops, etc. In this way, the concept of “modularization” integrates cognitive methods with technical forms and social organizations through specific artistic production practices around the manufacture of objects, forming a holistic cultural composition from the inside out. To explore the technical process and social organization of the objects through their material properties, and to further analyze the mental structure of their makers, Red Hou and Gale can be said to have reached the same goal in different ways.
  ”Art and Activity” might be more complete if Gale had more time. As many later commentators have said, the two parts of this book are dissociated in structure and theme, and in Gale’s complicated exposition, flaws in the use of logic and concepts can be seen from time to time. Of course, the most controversial part is that he aggressively took a different approach, trying to exclude the “aesthetic” dimension from the study of artistic anthropology. But rather than saying that Gale doesn’t care about “aesthetics”, it is better to say that he uses his own thinking approach to re-interpret and construct “aesthetics” from the interconnectedness of materiality, time and sociality in art anthropology. The concept of , gives a theoretically inspiring solution.