Art Is Never Just for Art's Sake

Topics: Anthropology, Culture, Marvin Harris Pages: 6 (2213 words) Published: December 7, 2012
Alan WawruckArgument Draft 1FranklinEng 112 D8Sept-20-2010

Art is Never “Just for Art's Sake.”
I have always felt that there must be an inherent reason or set of reasons behind human action. While there may not be any inherent reasons or value to the components of the universe, there is always a motive pushing along every person throughout their daily life. Everything a person does, says, and believes, no matter how inane or senseless it may seem, has some sort of reason, whether or not that reason is overt and obvious or subtle and unspoken. I intend to show that reason and reasons pervade all aspects of human life. Imagine an earthenware jug, the kind once used by any number of ancient cultures to carry a volume of liquid from point A to point B. Most of us imagine a brown decorated vase scratched and stained from years of use and function. The vessel itself may be nothing of significant value or excitement, but the manner of decoration on the pot certainly is. The decoration tells us what is significant to the person who made the pot, to the person who used the pot daily, to what went on around that pot on a more human level than the material function. These human meanings are built on foundations of human needs. This concept of acknowledging the universal human desire for ease of survival is one the anthropological community has been ignoring lately: while the Emic[*] studies of anthropology focus on the meanings of cultural artifacts of all people, and the Etic[**] school focuses on strict utilitarian necessity of human life, the two must certainly go hand in hand. As critically thinking adults, we can never hope to understand the life of another without attempting to understand the whole life. The most popular error in the world of anthropology these days is to think of the Etic school of thinking as cold, callous, or just plain bad, when this perception is just not the case. It seems almost a sin to toss out the aspect of Darwinian evolution when looking at what drives a human being to survive. As mortal human beings, we have a duty to survive, pass on our genetic information, and do what we can to make sure our lineage does the same. I assert that on a rudimentary level, and often a very complex level, and quite frequently a convoluted level, all instances of cultural artifacts reflect the basic need for survival. The most prevalent arguments against this idea of Cultural Materialism are Obscurantism and Idealism. When applied to Cultural Anthropology they do not stand on their own for a variety of reasons, actual reasoning being the first and foremost. In his 1980 book Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture, Professor Marvin Harris accused the school of Obscurantist thought as being deliberately in opposition to rational and scientific thought (316). While his accusation may be a little harsh, his distaste for Obscurantism was well founded. Obscurantism is the belief that ideals and values are subject to the individual's construct of reality separate from their own culture's ideals and values, and further detached from cross-cultural perspectives of analysis. In layman's terms, “no one can understand my reverence or meaning for this symbol because they have not lived my exact life.” This idea only encourages impenetrable walls to be built around specific beliefs, and makes very limited room for anthropological study. If the beliefs and experiences of individuals are inherently impossible to be understood by others, then there is no purpose in the study of Anthropology. Cultural Materialism acknowledges that individuals all have a personal meaning to each experience and artifact, and it expands on the roots of the assigned meanings by seeking the cause of significance rather than the reason of significance. If human cultural experience were to be explored through Idealism, the cause of significance is an equally moot point. Idealism claims that human values and meanings are defined...
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