I was just curious if anyone had good recommendations on methodological approaches to the ethnographic study of art and artists. Are there any works that have struck you as particularly useful? I am working with artists in theater, and am always on the lookout for new ways to think about my approach. I'm reading Fabian's Power and Performance, which has some provocative insights, but I would like to delve into this more deeply. 

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Jacqueline, you drop names like a kid with a torn bag of candy. Cuts no mustard with me. As far as I can make out, you have no idea whatsoever about the relevance of Tambiah, Fernandez, and Bloch to the data presented in the paper, let alone whether new and better ideas have emerged since 1995. If you have found someone who seems to you to say important things about ritual, please tell us a bit about what those important things are. When you actually have something to say, as opposed to a lot of self-inflating puffery, I will be happy to engage with the ideas. Do tell us more, for example, about Sartre and Luc Boltanski. Sounds interesting. How it applies remains unclear.

On a different tack, for those who have no interest in this tempest in a teapot in which Jacqueline and I appear to be engaged, I wonder if a fruitful approach to the general topic of methodological approaches to art and artists might be to compare the approaches of anthropologists to those of art world professionals, the curators who organize large-scale exhibitions. I may have something to contribute here since, for the past several years, a substantial part of The Word Works' translation business has come from Japanese art museums. A lot of that part of our business is translating introductions to the exhibitions and essays by Japanese scholars from Japanese into English. Why this work exists has a lot to do with the exchange network that links major museums worldwide, lending works to each other for exhibitions whose interest often lies in being able to see a body of work that is normally scattered around the world assembled briefly in one place to facilitate comparison and judgment of the quality of the body of work as a whole. 

Thus, for example, just last week I traveled with my wife Ruth (the founder and president of our business) to the Miho Museum, which is located in the mountains above Shigaraki, an historic pottery making center outside of Tokyo. The museum itself is extraordinary. The back story here is that a woman, the founder of a Japanese new religion and married to an extremely wealthy Japanese businessman, began collecting art to demonstrate the taste required for acceptance into the highest levels of Japanese society (yes, Bourdieu is spot on here). The eclectic collection, a mixture of ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern, classical Roman and Far Eastern art, all in tune with demonstrating  cosmopolitanism in tune with the new religion's beliefs grew to the point that a museum was required to house it.  I.M.Pei, the same architect who designed the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, was engaged to design and build it. Visitors to the museum arrive by bus or car at a reception center from which they are transported in what my wife calls oversized golf carts through a tunnel bored through the adjacent mountain. On the other side of the mountain, they cross a suspension bridge over a gorge that separates that mountain from the ridge on which the museum sits. The symbolic passage through the tunnel of death and across the bridge to heaven is reminiscent of classic rites de passage. 

In this case the exhibition was "Ancient Glass-Feast of Colors."  The major focus was glass from the Hellenistic and early Roman and Sassamid dynasty Persian empires. The central problem addressed by the exhibition was identifying and sorting out glass made with soda from natron, a naturally occurring mineral common on the Mediterranean coast, from glass made with soda from plant ash, a technique associated with Mesopotamia and central Asia. The sorting out was problematic because, thanks to Alexander the Great, the two traditions had mixed and blended throughout the Middle East. 

Two features set this exhibition apart from the usual display of art for art's sake. First was the the systematic use of non-destructive X-ray florescence spectrometry to determine the chemical composition of the glass on display. The second was engaging Japanese glass experts to duplicate two famous works from the British Museum. The first, a lace-glass bowl was made using core-forming techniques that died out two millennia ago. This two-step process involves, first, creating thin glass rods in the desired colors and, then, while keeping them hot enough to be pliable, manually wrapping them around the ceramic core that determines the form of the work. The second work was a gold sandwich glass bowl made by creating two transparent shells that fit perfectly together, decorating the inner shell with gold leaf, putting the shells together and heating them until they fuse to form a single bowl. Both replica bowls were made with glass with the same chemical composition as the originals. The displays included not only the  the replicas, but also superbly done videos showing how they were made. 

In the case of this exhibition, the original artists are unknown; but the exhibition as a whole was a celebration of the knowledge and skills of the ancient glassmakers who produced the objects on display. I found myself deeply moved, not only by the works themselves, but by the question how had they done that without the gas-fired heat sources and aluminum foil face shields used by their modern counterparts.

Oh please, John.  I live in California.  Sugar is just so politically incorrect.  Only stevia, please.  Or agave.  I am just saying that I would prefer Roy Wagner on metaphor--let's just drop another name, OK...--to Fernandez.  And as for self-inflated puffery, if the shoe fits for you, put it on your foot.  French theory is not, in the best case scenario, "have theory, will travel." It is not one size fits all when it is good.  That's American social science, for the most part.  I would prefer another pair of shoes.  And as for telling you about applying Boltanski and Sartre to the study of ritual, take a cue from Derrida.  I am not a fan of Derrida.  However, when he appeared on either British or Australian television and was asked about the relevance of the television show "Seinfeld," to deconstruction, guess what he said? He said "Go do your homework."  That is what I suggest that you do.  Go do your homework.  Go look up Sartre.  And go look up Boltanski and the multi-positional habitus if you want.  And try to learn how to do a tight reading.  I can't do it for you.  That is for damn sure.

John McCreery said:

Jacqueline, you drop names like a kid with a torn bag of candy. Cuts no mustard with me. As far as I can make out, you have no idea whatsoever about the relevance of Tambiah, Fernandez, and Bloch to the data presented in the paper, let alone whether new and better ideas have emerged since 1995. If you have found someone who seems to you to say important things about ritual, please tell us a bit about what those important things are. When you actually have something to say, as opposed to a lot of self-inflating puffery, I will be happy to engage with the ideas. Do tell us more, for example, about Sartre and Luc Boltanski. Sounds interesting. How it applies remains unclear.

Jacqueline, I am not your student. I am an old man of considerable worldly experience, and we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by claims that we must read this or that. All I see here is more hand waving. If you think Roy Wagner, or Sartre  have something to tell us, please tell us about it in a way that makes it interesting enough to spend time on it. Otherwise, you are wasting my time and your breath.

In my opinion a clear, or rather more nuanced, separation should be made between art museums focused on objects made with the intention of being or becoming art and those focused on the translation of cultural artifacts (in general) into artworks. In the first instance the museum is a sort of mediator between the artist as producer and the visitor as consumer. Whereas in regards to the second category the museum is the producer itself of both the artwork and the artist. Of course, these two museum strategies, sometimes, blend and the curator, but also the director (sometimes the two postions are distinct, sometimes they merge), has a great deal of influence in the elaboration of the strategy to be followed. Things get more complicated though when one approaches commercial galleries, independent art spaces, informal artist-run locations, auction rooms, street art etc. While the museum has been studied in depth within anthropology, the latter institutions were, more than less, ignored. Hence the lack of a general methodological approach to art and artists. I think that French sociology of art is one of the most prolific social sciences academia doing art research. Starting with Bourdieu and moving towards Boltanski, Chiapello and getting more specialized with Hennion, Heinich and even some of Latour's collaborators. Most of them are keen in using ethnographic methods and I see here the possibilities of bridging, or inquirying into bridges already made, the gap between sociology and anthropology of art. The latter has been deconstructing and reconstructing ethnography and ethnographies while the former used them rather ready-to-hand. I consider the anthropological work on cultural materials and symbolic gestures to be somehow related more, even narrowed down, to the museum strategy of producing itself artworks and artists. Hence making, for example, pots, weaved objects etc artworks and craftmen artists. For this reason what anthropology can offer to the study of art at this moment is the ethnographic method, as it is been debated, discussed, deconstructed and reconstructed.

John McCreery said:

On a different tack, for those who have no interest in this tempest in a teapot in which Jacqueline and I appear to be engaged, I wonder if a fruitful approach to the general topic of methodological approaches to art and artists might be to compare the approaches of anthropologists to those of art world professionals, the curators who organize large-scale exhibitions. I may have something to contribute here since, for the past several years, a substantial part of The Word Works' translation business has come from Japanese art museums. A lot of that part of our business is translating introductions to the exhibitions and essays by Japanese scholars from Japanese into English. Why this work exists has a lot to do with the exchange network that links major museums worldwide, lending works to each other for exhibitions whose interest often lies in being able to see a body of work that is normally scattered around the world assembled briefly in one place to facilitate comparison and judgment of the quality of the body of work as a whole. 

Thus, for example, just last week I traveled with my wife Ruth (the founder and president of our business) to the Miho Museum, which is located in the mountains above Shigaraki, an historic pottery making center outside of Tokyo. The museum itself is extraordinary. The back story here is that a woman, the founder of a Japanese new religion and married to an extremely wealthy Japanese businessman, began collecting art to demonstrate the taste required for acceptance into the highest levels of Japanese society (yes, Bourdieu is spot on here). The eclectic collection, a mixture of ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern, classical Roman and Far Eastern art, all in tune with demonstrating  cosmopolitanism in tune with the new religion's beliefs grew to the point that a museum was required to house it.  I.M.Pei, the same architect who designed the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, was engaged to design and build it. Visitors to the museum arrive by bus or car at a reception center from which they are transported in what my wife calls oversized golf carts through a tunnel bored through the adjacent mountain. On the other side of the mountain, they cross a suspension bridge over a gorge that separates that mountain from the ridge on which the museum sits. The symbolic passage through the tunnel of death and across the bridge to heaven is reminiscent of classic rites de passage. 

In this case the exhibition was "Ancient Glass-Feast of Colors."  The major focus was glass from the Hellenistic and early Roman and Sassamid dynasty Persian empires. The central problem addressed by the exhibition was identifying and sorting out glass made with soda from natron, a naturally occurring mineral common on the Mediterranean coast, from glass made with soda from plant ash, a technique associated with Mesopotamia and central Asia. The sorting out was problematic because, thanks to Alexander the Great, the two traditions had mixed and blended throughout the Middle East. 

Two features set this exhibition apart from the usual display of art for art's sake. First was the the systematic use of non-destructive X-ray florescence spectrometry to determine the chemical composition of the glass on display. The second was engaging Japanese glass experts to duplicate two famous works from the British Museum. The first, a lace-glass bowl was made using core-forming techniques that died out two millennia ago. This two-step process involves, first, creating thin glass rods in the desired colors and, then, while keeping them hot enough to be pliable, manually wrapping them around the ceramic core that determines the form of the work. The second work was a gold sandwich glass bowl made by creating two transparent shells that fit perfectly together, decorating the inner shell with gold leaf, putting the shells together and heating them until they fuse to form a single bowl. Both replica bowls were made with glass with the same chemical composition as the originals. The displays included not only the  the replicas, but also superbly done videos showing how they were made. 

In the case of this exhibition, the original artists are unknown; but the exhibition as a whole was a celebration of the knowledge and skills of the ancient glassmakers who produced the objects on display. I found myself deeply moved, not only by the works themselves, but by the question how had they done that without the gas-fired heat sources and aluminum foil face shields used by their modern counterparts.

For this reason what anthropology can offer to the study of art at this moment is the ethnographic method, as it is been debated, discussed, deconstructed and reconstructed. 

What, then, does it amount to? How would it differ in substance from, say, Howard Becker's Art Worlds? 

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