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Description: Esthetic Recognition of Ancient Amerindian Art
THE PURPOSE OF THIS WORK is to find how ancient American objects of esthetic value in the visual order have been considered since the Discovery by Columbus. Writers about ancient America are here selected for their ways of evaluating such products, rather than for their conclusions about them. The different bases for the gathering of data about the New World are defined. …
PublisherYale University Press
https://doi.org/10.37862/aaeportal.00046.003
Preface
 
THE PURPOSE OF THIS WORK is to find how ancient American objects of esthetic value in the visual order have been considered since the Discovery by Columbus. Writers about ancient America are here selected for their ways of evaluating such products, rather than for their conclusions about them. The different bases for the gathering of data about the New World are defined.
These studies began in 1949 with a graduate seminar at Yale University for anthropologists and art historians on anthropological theories of art. Philip Dark, William Sturtevant, and the late Stephen Borhegyi were among the participants. It grew from a similar course in 1948–49 in Lima at San Marcos, for the Institute of Social Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. Among the participants then were José Matos, his future wife, Rosalia Davalos, Miguel Maticorena, and José Maria Arguedas. The focus then was more on ethnohistory than on esthetics. Texts for ethnohistory were still few.
Today esthetic discourse seems less pertinent than biographical indications of esthetics in experience. I did not return to the subject until 1980, with the thought that biography would be more rewarding than formal esthetics. Hence the many-headed character of this presentation became necessary, under a tripartite division as esthetics in experience, idealist esthetics from above, and experimental esthetics from below, reflecting the history of esthetic thought itself in a chronological chain of biographical detail from the Discovery of America to the present, as phenomenal (that is, experiential), philosophical, and experiment-oriented stages in the history of esthetic thought. The second division, on esthetics from above, is the shortest, because of the completeness with which Antonello Gerbi treated the problem in 1955.1 La disputá del nuovo mondo: Storia di una polemica 1750–1900 (Milan and Naples 1955).
To distinguish the activities of historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists is to distinguish among actions, things, and cultures. But many scholars and scientists have moved easily among history, archaeology, and anthropology since long before the emergence of such professions. It is in these professions where the dividing lines were drawn during the nineteenth century in universities and museums, following Kant’s dissection of experience, whence we have the idea of the “pure” artist, the “pure” religious, the “pure” politician, and all the special vocations of modern time.2 G. Kubler, The Art and Architecture of Ancient America, 3d ed. ([1962] New York, 1984), 41–42.
The gray area between artifact and work of art was a problem resolved in this century by the statistical concept of the graded series between such polarities; no artifact is conceivable without art; no work of art can be divested of its function as a tool, and the interval between art and artifact is a graded series: there literally is art in every artifact and, vice versa, in every work of art there lies the shadow of an artifact or tool.3 Ibid., 41.
Not included are important scholars and scientists alive at time of publication. The other condition (than being dead) of inclusion is that any writer about ancient Amerindia have some awareness of the relation of esthetics to the rest of history and be able to impart his awareness. For instance, William Henry Holmes published two essays on esthetics that are rarely mentioned, and Columbus wrote letters about the beauty of native life. By this token not every account is relevant to ancient Amerindian art. But any and all views discordant with those of the present are eligible for inclusion, as is customary in present-day historiography.
These seventy brief biographical soundings were chosen to portray the many paths of the human brain in the never-ending task of esthetic cognition. Its limbic system is the seat of reactions of pain and pleasure, the oldest part of the mammalian brain. Interpretations of the past change when the brain perceives change in the understanding of what happened. Actually what happened is harder to determine than what was thought about it. I write more about esthetic thought concerning Amerindia from 1492 to 1984 than about Amerindia itself of that era. Present-day change is beyond the defined scope by a restriction to the work of persons now dead.
 
 
1      La disputá del nuovo mondo: Storia di una polemica 1750–1900 (Milan and Naples 1955). »
2      G. Kubler, The Art and Architecture of Ancient America, 3d ed. ([1962] New York, 1984), 41–42. »
3      Ibid., 41. »