Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In the Class Next Week the Subject Is "The Place of Aesthetics in Anthropology"

Dear Visitors to this Blog,

I am glad to resume writing and very much encouraged to see more than 14,000 visits to these posts during the time I was away, very busy elsewhere.

Next week my anthropology class, consisting of very knowledgable people, will study the place of aesthetics in anthropology. Their interest on this subject is something I respect. For the place of art, it's central importance to the well-being of human beings, is still very little known and hardly recognized. Just what does art do? -- all the arts?!

When the functionalists and structural functionalists wrote about art, they were tentative and usually placed it somewhere to the side if at all. Malinowski did not see its place, though he respected Trobriand literature and translated it well. Some of the most admirable anthropologists -- like Firth and Sapir -- felt it was deeply important, but it has been hard to see just what function art actually has.

Through one's study of Aesthetic Realism a person begins to see that effective art is always a like of reality. To begin with, this concept needs to be studied for itself: and a fine place to begin is in Eli Siegel's great essay "What Is Art For?" in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.

Then one can see how it is of great advantage to an individual (let's say a Nuer of East Africa) to successfully like the world more, not less: not to be felled by difficulty -- but to be courageous: to see reality as something often difficult but always friendly. Not to fall by the wayside if for instance there is a raid on the cattle and many are stolen. To fight back and be part of the strength of the tribe or lineage -- to see what can be cared for: these are ways of liking the world and not seeing it as an enemy to be gone away from.

And then to show love for the world around one by, for instance, honoring the means of subsistence, the cattle of the people, in naming them imaginatively, admiring their markings aesthetically -- which a successful Nuer does. And this is part of the irreplaceable function of art.

Further, all the arts strengthen the individual and strengthen society. Art is critical. Art represents in a successful dance, or carving, or story, or song--a well organized reality. This is what we can see in a people when Aesthetic Realism leads the way and shows how it's there.

In The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict, Eli Siegel shows definitively how art, for art gives to a person, in outline, the resolution to conflict--which everyone in every culture feels in himself or herself. Mr. Siegel writes, giving personal histories, about this principle of great moment to the human sciences: "The resolution of conflict in self is like the making one of opposites in art."

How the opposites, beginning with Self and World, and going on to include such opposites as inferior and superior -- which I had in myself so intensely; being separate from people and together with them; selfishness and guilt, all of which affect the Nuer of E.E. Evans-Pritchard as much you or me -- how these opposites are resolved in art is central to understanding human societies. It can be shown that art has encouraged humanity's strength in meeting diverse environments and circumstances in every culture that's been described in detail enough to perceive it. It is evident that art has been central to the evolutionary success of the human species.

And as such, art belongs in every description of a particular society and how it functions.

What I've just written about is some of the background to what we will be discussing next week in the class at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation titled "Anthropology Is about You and Everyone" with delightful ethnographic examples from diverse cultures on December 19th.

My best to you all!

Arnold Perey