From Chapter 10
Ideally the dynamic criterion of art is the straining of pure affect
against pure (culturally structured) discipline.
Raymond Firth observes in "primitive" art as a
whole, which he believes to be essentially like any other art, an expression
of self-conflict and a resolution of it in the composition of the work
of art itself:
For the resultant work of art to be effective there must not be merely
conflict and tension, doubt and anxiety, but also a resolution of these
in the personality. The chisel or the brush alone is not the solvent. Some
fusion of the elements, some hierarchical order in the stimulus they give,
must be arrived at for aesthetic creation to take place. (1951:181)
And Warner Meunsterberger, writing of what was
then Dutch New Guinea, shows how the New Guinean person has "a socially
acceptable chance to solve his inner conflicts of love and hate" (1950:
317) by means of the carved skull shrines where the people both assert
their "faith in the power of the dead," and also the opposite, for "since
they use his skull, the ancestor is, so to speak, in the hands of his descendants" (p. 315).
A number of anthropologists have observed that
opposites are put together in "primitive" art and mythology in particular
objects of art and particular myths, and sometimes it has been observed
that inner turmoil is assuaged by particular works of art or particular
rituals, but it has not been said that the central purpose of culture is
to solve this aesthetic problem. George Devreux (1964:362) writes:
James Fernandez writing on the Fang of West
Africa (1966, 1968:727, 737) says that in their mortuary sculpture they
put together head and body, hoping to unite logical control with the passions.
In their idea of what makes a man mature, they unite the impulsiveness
of youth with the wisdom of age.
When this balanced arrangement is upset, as it has been by acculturation,
then one can only expect that some of the vitality will go out of life.
Although I had read such statements as Firth's,
Devreux's, Fernandez's, and
Meunsterberger's long before field research in Oksapmin, I'd passed over
them and did not see them as relevant to my research. However, after learning
from Aesthetic Realism how self-conflict is resolved in outline by every
work of art, as explained by Eli Siegel, for example, in Self and World,
I began to see that the resolution of conflict in self was perhaps the
most important function of Oksapmin art.
I then began to re-examine and
re-evaluate works on art I had
seen as too subjective, such as the ones, above. Those cited above stress
the affective aspect of mind, but there are many that stress the cognitive.
What Is Aesthetically and
I attempt to show that in Oksapmin art the way elements
join is the people's picture of the best way a person and the world, or
a person and another person, join. Within the joining there must be individuality,
separation. The opposites of separation and junction are central to what
the Oksapmin people have traditionally been pleased by and have considered
good art. Evidence will be presented here that the same opposites are central
to all cultures' ideas of what is morally and aesthetically good. The evidence
will be presented in two parts: (1) anthropologists have felt that some
ethical and artistic standards are constant, even as we go from culture
to culture, and (2) a certain relation of separation and junction can be
seen underlying the constant standards.
Anthropologists have felt some aesthetic standards
were constant; that is, all societies have them in common. Raymond Firth
I believe that there are universal standards of aesthetic quality,
just as there are universal standards of technical efficiency (1950:161).
Edward Sapir describes the art of all cultures
as having a something deeper than any particular culture. There
is something aesthetic that makes literature good:
A truly deep symbolism, for instance, does not depend on the verbal
associations of a particular language but rests securely on an intuitive
basis that underlies all linguistic expression. The artist's "intuition"
to use Croce's term, is immediately fashioned out of a generalized human
experience (1929, 1949:224).
More direct evidence has been presented by Irvin
L. Child in his article "And the Bridge of Judgment that Crosses Every
Cultural Gap" (1972). He presents statistics showing that trained experts
in aesthetics tend, significantly, to agree on judgments of art from cultures
not their own and in styles they never saw before. The agreement is independent
of time, culture, and observer, says Child. The experts consulted were
Japanese potters of long experience, Fiji Island artisans, Bantu wood carvers,
and New Haven students of art and art history. Child concludes: "We have
to look again at the well-accepted view that esthetic judgment is completely
culture-bound" (page 21). Although Child did not say what the cross
culturally valid standards might be, he showed that some exist.
However, we can see, in the art that particular
peoples have traditionally liked for generations, a union of conflict and
repose (Fernandez, 1966, 1968); a joining with tension of emotion and restraint
(Devreux, 1964:362); a combination of aggression and nurturing, of male
and female (Forge, 1965:8); a presentation of anxiety and its resolution
(Firth, 1959:181); a resolution of the conflict between love and hate (Muensterberger,
1950:317); and a logical model to overcome such contradictions as that
between life and death (Levi-Strauss, 1963:217, 226).
All these examples suggest that Oksapmin art,
in making one of opposites in its own particular way, is doing what the
art of all cultures does. Art presents a certain relation of things which
are separate or opposed, and also united. It presents opposed tendencies
of mind, such as anxiety and hope, and shows that while they are distinct
they are still united. It is this that makes it beautiful.