Esthetic quality, the most essential ingredient of art, has been left until the last. The esthetic response is a very personal thing, yet there are cultural standards. Some people have thrown in the sponge and said that matters of esthetics are completely relative, yet they discuss art with the implicit assumption of universal esthetic values. One of the reasons for leaving the consideration of esthetics until the last is that I consider that the study of art from the anthropoligical point of view calls for doing just that, putting aside considerations of esthetic excellence until one has looked at a work or a style from every other point of view. Even if one's concern is primarily appreciation, one does not come to it by being told “You ought to like that, " but by withholding judgment, or to be more accurate, setting aside one's inevitable initial reaction, and first considering the work from a number of viewpoints.
By defining art so very broadly in the beginning, I have opened up the possibilities of regarding perhaps the great majority of human things as art, and by this very inclusiveness forced a kind of relativism as each person is forced to select from this vast mass of material what he considers worthy of artistic contemplation. The alternative is to abdicate and only accept what the Tastemakers decree is art by placing on display objects so labeled. This broad view, considering the esthetic dimension of many activities and many kinds of artifacts is part of the present openness, part of the rejection of ethnocentric and snobbish ideas about fine arts. Carried to extremes such a view can lead to a sentimental enthusiasm for anything “hand crafted. " By and large, however, the process of discovering the beauty of everyday objects enlarges and refines esthetic perception and use these for the evaluative terms for art.
Also, perhaps, this is because art is not only meant to be pretty, but at its best seeks to combine Good and the True and the Beautiful, to speak of the quality of life. We feel that art should do this, which is not to say that it necessarily does so. Like any other form of communication, it can convey what is evil, false, and ugly, but part of the esthetic mystery is the feeling that the beautiful should somehow relate to goodness and truth. The matter of esthetics alone is a matter of evaluation - a matter of degree of this kind of pleasurable response that is evoked by something we perceive. Some thinkers refer to esthetic qualities as a lure, an attention getter, as the flower is colorful and provides nectar to lure the bee, so that the flower's species may be perpetuated. For that matter beauty can be regarded as analogous to the pleasures of sex that lure animals to reproduce. To assign such pleasures instrumental biological roles does not explain why the “lures" are so attractive, so lifeenhancing for the individual, nor, for that matter, do such explanations" diminish the ultimate mystery of life itself. The mysterious need of human beings for esthetic experience has never been explained. The role of this need in human affairs has been treated as incidental. When we look at the archeological and ethnographic record, and reassess the importance of trade, however, a new possibility emerges. As soon as the barest physical needs are met, and sometimes even before, some kind of esthetic satisfaction is commonly sought.
Trade, whether in the Sepik River area or in the preColumbian Mississippian or between ancient China and ancient Rome, is not in essentials, but in “luxury goods" - that is to say, pretty things. It is customary to say that the wielders of power, from big men to god-King emperors, organize the making and importation of luxury goods to enhance their prestige and extend their power. But how can the possession and control of beautiful things bring prestige unless they are considered highly desirable in themselves? How can you show off with something if other people do not admire it? As far as the other assigned motivation, that people deal in art objects just for money, how can there be any profit in such things if they are not widely valued for themselves? As soon as people get power or money they use them to embellish their lives.
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