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10 - Art and society: some contemporary practices of art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2014

Richard Eldridge
Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
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The reproduction of social life vis-à-vis “infinite satisfaction”

Presenting a subject matter as a focus for thought and emotional attitude, distinctively fused to the imaginative exploration of material is an aspect of many social practices. As Dewey aptly notes, artistic making was originally not directed toward galleries, museums, pedestals, or free readers. Rather it was

part of the significant life of an organized community . . . Domestic utensils, furnishings of tent and house, rugs, mats, jars, pots, bows, spears were wrought with such delighted care that today we hunt them out and give them places of honor in our art museums. Yet in their own time and place, such things were enhancements of the processes of everyday life. Instead of being elevated to a niche apart, they belonged to a display of prowess, the manifestation of group and clan membership, worship of gods, feasting and fasting, fighting, hunting, and all the rhythmic crises that punctuate the stream of living.

What we now call works of art were used within religious and clan rituals, or they were elements of buildings, or parts of communal festivals involving athletics along with song and ritual. However much care was devoted to their making and however much attention was devoted to form and distinctive expression, the objects and texts that were produced were used within the circuits of the reproduction of social life.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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