Art as Action, Art as Evidence

Howard Morphy

in The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199218714
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology

Art as Action, Art as Evidence

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  • History and Theory of Archaeology



This article is a strong defence of the idea of ‘art’, but it also recognizes its complexity and the fact that as a concept, ‘art’ is fuzzy around the edges. It uses a concept of family resemblance and sees art objects as forming polythetic sets. The category contains within it an immense diversity and includes objects that have little in common with each other and require very different methods of analysis. However, at the heart of this concept of art lies a set of loosely connected features or themes around which the idea of art coalesces: art is a form of action, art production is integral to meaning creating processes and requires a sense of form, and art is associated with aesthetic experience. This article proceeds to explain ideas of art and material culture. An analysis of art as cross-cultural category concludes this article.

Keywords: art; action; evidence; cross-cultural category; family resemblance

Article.  11295 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; History and Theory of Archaeology

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