How to perceive, think and speak about art from anthropo-gazing?
Art according to anthropologist and epistemologist, Gregory Bateson, is the necessary complementary path to scientific forms of knowing (Charlton 2008).
His concept of mind (Mind and Nature 1979) can only be grasped when understanding/feeling art:
In the past few days, people have asked me, “What do you mean, ecology of mind?” Approximately what I mean is the various kinds of stuff that goes on in one’s head and in one’s behavior and in dealing with other people, and walking up and down mountains, and getting sick, and getting well. All that stuff interlocks, and, in fact, constitutes a network which, in the local language, is called mandala. I am more comfortable with the word “ecology,” but they’re very closely related ideas. (Bateson, A Sacred Unity, 1991, p. 264)
Art in different cultures and societies may have different meanings but in First Nations (indigenous peoples) aesthetics are always intertwined in the survival and reproduction of the community. My Arts & Craft Model: functionality, beauty and symbolic tries to grasp this anthropological gaze (non-western) upon art.
Franz Boas in his cross-cultural comparative study on ‘Primitive Art’ (1927) says:
‘No people known to us, however hard their lives may be, spend all their time, all their energies in the acquisition of food and shelter, nor do those who live under more favourable conditions and who are free to devote to other pursuits the time not needed for securing their sustenance occupy themselves with purely industrial work or idle away the days in indolence. Even the poorest tribes have produced work that gives to them esthetic pleasure, and those whom a bountiful nature or a greater wealth of inventions has granted freedom from care, devote much of their energy to the creation of works and beauty.
In one way or another esthetic pleasure is felt by all members of mankind. No matter how diverse the ideals of beauty may be, the general character of the enjoyment of beauty is of the same order everywhere; the crude song of the Siberians, the dance of the African Negroes, the pantomime of the Californian Indians, the stone work of the New Zealanders, the carvings of the Melanesians, the sculpture of the Alaskans appeal to them in a manner not different from that felt by us when we hear a song, when we see an artistic dance, or when we admire ornamental work, painting or sculpture. The very existence of song, dance, painting and sculpture among all the tribes known to us is proof of the craving to produce things that are felt as satisfying through their form, and of the capability of man to enjoy them’
Seen from Batesonian and Boasian thinking much western art is not art but a search of what has been lost.
For me all art as an expression/intention of beauty and the sacred in deep awareness of life’s decay fits in anthropo-gazing.