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The Trouble with (The Term) Art

Author(s): Carolyn Dean

Source: Art Journal, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 24-32
Published by: College Art Association
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Inca,"Funerary Rock," c. 1400-1530, stone, Much of what is today called art was not made as art. This is the case not
Machu Picchu, Peru (photograph by the
with to artifacts and monuments, but also with to
author) regard early European regard
made outside the West in where the concept of art has
objects places traditionally
not been recognized. Not infrequently (although less frequently than in the past),
many of the objects from outside the West that were not made as art are
and called art." This is so the fact that art historians
together "primitive despite
and among others, have been about the term
anthropologists, fussing "primitive
art" and its synonyms since the middle of the twentieth century. In

19^7, Adrian Gerbrands was one of the first to offer a discus

Carolyn Dean thorough
sion of what he called "the of the name."2 Yet his
problem proposed
substitute art?was also criticized those in the
term?non-European by
The Trouble with field. Suggested alternatives?exotic art; traditional art; the art of pre

industrial folk or art; tribal art; ethnic or ethno-art;

(the Term) Art

people; popular

ethnographical art; ethnological art; native art; indigenous art; pre

urban art; the art of precivilized people; non-Western art; the indige
nous arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas?have all been and cri
decades of discussion, little has been resolved, as was seen in
tiqued.3 Despite

This essay was originally formulated as a paper the array of commentary in 1984 by William Rubin's "Primitivism" exhi
delivered at the 2005 Annual Conference of the bition and its companion What interests me in all of this is the fact
College Art Association, in a session entitled "Art
that discussion, from the i9?OS to the present, focuses on the
History, Theory, and Ancient American Visual invariably adjective?
Culture" and organized by Dana Leibsohn and exotic, or what have than the noun, "art." This is the case
primitive, you?rather
Bryan R. Just. Iam grateful for the comments and even when the author that "art" is also a difficult term without
suggestions offered by many of those who attend
ed the session. My thanks also to Shelly Errington, proper definition and Thus, it may be time to focus
agreed-upon usage.5 specifi
Catherine M. Soussloff, Dana Leibsohn, Elisabeth on term as
cally the "art" used scholars writing about the many and
L. Cameron, Steve Chiappari, and an anonymous currently by
reviewer who commented on early versions of varied autochthonous visual cultures of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Such
the paper. Funds for manuscript preparation were a discussion matters not to those or it
only studying long-ago faraway places;
generously provided by the Arts Research Insti
tute at the University of California, Santa Cruz. concerns all those who the term, for what art is seems to be at the very
heart of the issue.
1.As early as 1942, Leonhard Adam, inPrimitive
While all can concur that "art" is an term with multifarious
Art (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1942), 14, ambiguous
noted that only a certain foreignness in form and and inconsistent a small number of art historians in the
meanings, surprisingly
content linked the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the
so-called AOA fields (Africa, Oceania, Americas), those fields focused on cultures
Americas in the minds of Europeans. He argued
that, because the linkage is extraneous to the most labeled face this problem head on.6 Some recent art
commonly "primitive,"
works themselves, the alleged association of to say
historians working in the diversre AOA fields skirt the issue by declining
African, Oceanic, and indigenous American arts
what art focus instead on what those that have been collected and
depends solely on the attitudes of Europeans is; they objects
toward said works. Still, despite his own reserva in the West as art do. Dorie Reents-Budet is one of a few in
displayed exceptions;
tions, Adam entitled his book Primitive Art.
2. Adrian Gerbrands, Art as an Element of Culture, her catalogue Painting theMaya Universe, she notes that the "Western recognition of

Especially inNegro-Africa (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1957), non-Western art is vulnerable to historical events, education, and sociocultural
fashion."7 Outside the AOA area, Donald Preziosi has asked "whether our own
3. One only has to peruse the pages of Current
Anthropology inwhich, over the past five decades, modernist conceptions of art make much sense
our own
some forty anthropologists and art historians have
or socio-cultural horizons"; he answers his rhetorical in the negative
query largely
published their opinions, to see that plenty of
very smart people have attempted to reckon with and out that the discipline of art with its indistinct boundaries, has
points history,
terms and labels of this ilk. In 1965, for example,
no defined, coherent domain of his reservations, the assump
in response to a letter from Adriaan G. H. clearly study8 Despite

Claerhout, the editors of Current Anthropology tion that art is a universal that can and should be found in every society
published the comments of twelve internationally in every historical period pervades the discipline. Although people everywhere
recognized authorities on the term "primitive
sometimes make aesthetic distinctions between and value certain
art," which was widely used at that time, but objects things
widely disliked as well. See Claerhout, "The above other things owing precisely
to these aesthetic distinctions, "art" as a
Concept of Primitive Applied to Art," Current
Anthropology 6 (October 1965): 432-38. Several
category of things and practices composed of subcategories defined variously by
years earlier Herta Haselberger offered readers of medium, function, geographic provenance, value, and so on, is not recognized

25 art journal
Current Anthropology a critique of various terms worldwide. If it were, the term "art" would not be such a and
defining persistent
used to describe what she called Ethnological Art;
twenty-four scholars, including George Kubier vexing problem. The fact that there is no globally acceptable definition of art is the
and Douglas Fraser, responded to her essay. See in our room.
elephant disciplinary living
Haselberger, "Method of Studying Ethnological The art historian Elisabeth L. Cameron writes about the Lega of what
Art," Current Anthropology 2 (October people
341-84. For additional discussion of the term is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).9 The Lega sepa
"primitive" as applied to societies and their cul rate from the realm of material culture the objects describe as masenao or
tures (including "art"), see Lois Mednick, "Mem they
orandum on the Use of Primitive," Current that exist from mundane activities and are
"heavy things," meaning objects apart
Anthropology I (I960): 441-45, and Francis L. K. endowed with powers virtue of their use within the Bwami an
special by society,
Hsu, "Rethinking the Concept 'Primitive,'" Current
institution concerned with wisdom and morality which the majority of
Anthropology 5 (June 1964): 169-78. through
4.William Rubin, ed., "Primitivism" in 20th Century are acculturated. Had our out of Lega we
Lega discipline grown precepts, might
Art: Affinity of the Tribal and theModern (New
well be self-described Historians of Heavy Of course, a of heavy
York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984). Things. history
5. See, for example, essays by Emma Lou Davis
things would look quite different from a history of art; different things would be
and Tatiana Proskouriakoff (both inClaerhout,
The canon would be and our definition of a
433 and 436). Discussions about the (impossi privileged. comprised differently,

bility of defining art have filled the pages of The masterpiece (if we used the term at all) would be altered, perhaps drastically
British Journal of Aesthetics and The Journal of
Whether we find this proposition enticing or humorous or simply ridiculous, it is
Aesthetics and Art Criticism. See, for example,
Morris Weitz, "The Role of Theory in curious that we don't recognize the capriciousness of taking
history of art into
Aesthetics," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism fields where art is, the notion of didn't exist to contact.
(that art) prior European
15, no. I (1956): 27-35; James Carney, "Defining
It is a fact that, even in where the concept the word "art"
Art," British Journal of Aesthetics 15(1975): Europe originated,
191-206; Robert Matthews, "Traditional was not used in the modern sense of visual valued for
something independently
Aesthetics Defended," Journal of Aesthetics and
its aesthetic until at least the
Art Criticism 38, no. I (1979): 39-50; Thomas qualities eighteenth century.IO While many have

Leddy, "Rigid Designation inDefining Art," Journal noted this circumstance, too few have discussed the of both dehis
of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 45, no. 3 (Spring and art.
In this essay, Iwant to consider some
toricizing universalizing then, of
1987): 263-72; Jerrold Levinson, "Refining Art
the of art in societies where such a did or does
Historically," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism consequences identifying concept
47, no. I (Winter 1989): 21-33; and David not art where it was to our
exist. In
not found prior naming it, we risk
Novitz, "Disputes about An," Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism 54, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 153-63. societies in the of the modern West, or rather, in the of
re-creating image image
See alsoW. B. Gallie, "Art as an Essentially the modern West but to render or
just different enough them lesser insufficient,
Contested Concept," Philosophical Quarterly 6,
no. 23 (April 1956): 97-1 14,who argues that art or more We also risk that cultures that did not the
primitive. suggesting possess
is a concept that should always, necessarily be of art to have and that somehow benefit in the concept
concept ought they having
introduced to them. In this essay, then, I seek to open a conversation
6. See, for example, Lynn Mackenzie, Non-Western (and for)
Art: A Brief Guide, second ed. (Upper Saddle about how the discipline of art history all too often has, through many of its
River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001). Like Mackenzie,
reinforced what are in fact colonialist
Arnold Rubin, inArt as Technology: The Arts of European epistemological technologies,

Africa, Oceania, Native America, Southern California, perspectives, judgments, and rationales.
ed. Zena Pearlstone (Beverly Hills: Hillcrest,
The in her article "What Became Authentic
anthropologist Shelly Errington,
1989), 16, also elects not to define "art," but sug
Primitive that what was in the West as art from outside
gests that itdoes three things: I) establishes para Art?", argues recognized
meters of identity; 2) teaches and enculturates; the European tradition in essence, driven the needs and desires the
was, by of
and 3) enables societies and individuals to relate
to their environment and secure their survival. modern Western art market.I2 What became art was what had been and could still
He also suggests that these three things are what be collected and in the manner to which art had become accustomed. At
art does everywhere and, to demonstrate this,
the turn of the twentieth and the durability of materials were
includes some cultural practices of Southern century, portability
California in his introductory AOA text. valued, as were ritual functions and iconic content. like African
highly Objects
7. Done Reents-Budet, Painting theMaya Universe:
masks were often of natural materials. Cleaned, on and
stripped placed podiums,
Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1994), 29. were reconstituted as calls such "art
spot-lit, they "sculptures." Errington things
8. Donald Preziosi, "Art History: Making the as these as other
by appropriation," recognizing that objects such
Visible Legible," inThe Art of Art History: A Critical originated
and are "counted as 'art' because were claimed as such at certain his
Anthology, ed. Donald Preziosi (Oxford: Oxford things they
University Press, 1998), 14-15; see also Preziosi, torical moments."'3 She "art by with "art by intention,"
juxtaposes appropriation"
Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science
that is, things made as art.
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 146-55. purposefully
9. Elisabeth L. Cameron, Art of the Lega (Seattle: In a video I often show students in my visual-culture
pre-Hispanic Maya
University of Washington Press and Regents of
a well-known
class, exclaims "This is art!" to an eccentric
the University of California, 2001), 53. archaeologist referring
10. Paul Oskar Kristeller, inRenaissance Thought flint excavated at the site of Copan. In this claim, the archaeolo
recently making

26 SUMMER 2006
and the Arts: Collected Essays ( 1965; Princeton: draws attention to the and aesthetic merits of
gist extraordinary craftsmanship
Princeton University Press, 1980), 163, dates
modern notions of art to the eighteenth century,
the finely carved offering he holds in his hand. His intention is to raise the value
as does Larry Shiner, inThe Invention of Art: A of the unfamiliar object in the eyes of the viewer who he justifiably fears might
Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago
not its exquisite His choice of words is effective, for
Press, 2001). Douglas F. Fraser, inHaselberger, recognize quality. calling
368, however, writes "This term [art] was not art tends to elevate the estimation held for that However,
something something.
used in the modern sense of something valued art reveals to which term
inherent in the the is
calling something nothing object
independently for its aesthetic qualities until the
second half of the 19thcentury." The origins of rather, it reveals how much the viewer values it. Thus the archaeologist
the word "art" as used today are further explored in this instance reveals and his own aesthetic sensibilities. In other
by Victor B?rgin, The End of Art Theory: Criticism
words, the carved flint as art, he tells us nothing about the ancient
and Postmodernity (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: by identifying
Humanities Press International, 1986), 144; rather, he tells us how he values the flint in relation to other excavated
Preziosi, Rethinking Art History and The Art of Art
In this moment of self-revelation, the archaeologist
History; and David Summers, Real Spaces: World things.14 simultaneously
Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism and aWestern of the eccentric flint. In other words,
imposes prioritizes reading
(London: Phaidon, 2003), 3 I and 67. when we and name "art" in societies that do not this or
I I. Elisabeth L. Cameron, in "In Search of recognize recognize
Children: Dolls and Agency inAfrica," African Arts similar of we not say more about ourselves than about
categories things, only
30, no. 2 ( 1997): 19, finds the following: "At the the objects we we also terms and
study, supplant indigenous values, suggesting,
core of the problem [regarding whether certain
small African figurai sculptures are dolls or art or perhaps, that our value system matters more than whatever system gave rise to
both or neither] is the question of whether a uni the creation of the object in the first Too the term "art" is bestowed
place. often,
versal understanding of art exists." The question
and defended as in so we were other cultures a favor,
is not pursued in this article, however. Preziosi, in though, doing, granting
Rethinking Art History, 1989, also observes and recognizing their (to us) uncanny objects
as akin to a notion that we find indis
comments on this problem as does Cecelia F.
to the concept of culture. What's more, because in naming art we do
Klein, "Objects are nice, but.. .",Art Bulletin, 76, pensable
no. 3 (September 1994): 401-04. not translate, but rather re-create artifacts in the of art, we will
just image always
12. Shelly Errington, "What Became Authentic
and recenter the West, its aesthetics, and its cultural Thus,
Primitive Art?" Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 2 inevitably categories.
the of "art" can be seen as an to reconstruct other visual
(1994): 201-26. recognition attempt
13. Ibid., 203; as Errington herself notes, Andr?
cultures in the of the colonizing West, different in ways that render
image only
Malraux, inMuseum without Walls, trans. Stuart
Gilbert, Bollingen Series 24 (New York: Pantheon them somehow
Books, 1949), called these kinds of objects "art "This is art!" I tell the students in my Andean visual-culture
by metamorphosis," as did Jacques Maquet, in
course as I show them a small, silver, made and used
Introduction to Aesthetic Anthropology, second ed. llama-shaped figurine by
(1971; Malibu, CA: Undena Publications, 1979). the Incas (Inkas) in the late fifteenth century. Imay not utter those words (in
14. FrankWillet (in Haselberger, 379) observed
fact, I'm pretty sure I but an art historian who is
that "If the form of an object is pleasing, it can be don't), by being showing,
treated as an object of art in European terms, but and making students remember Inca means of slide
discussing, figurines by
not necessarily in the terms of the society which
quizzes, I am telling them implicitly that this object is to be valued over other
produced it.This is comparable to a European
artist's admiring a work of primitive art for the Inca artifacts about which I do not wax I also show them the so-called
(ethnologically) wrong reasons. It is a permissible Rock from Machu Picchu and tell them that we the Incas val
Funerary suspect
form of aesthetic appreciation, though not of the
most profitable kind." ued this kind ofthing even more highly than they did figurai sculptures, for it
15.Homi K. Bhabha, "Of Mimicry and Man: The received of not alcoholic and but even
offerings only beverages textiles, possibly
Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse," October 28
small However, unlike Inca figurines, this rock and others like it were
( 1984): 126, argues that mimicry is inherent in figurines.
cultures subjected to colonization. "Colonial mim not as art until Esther in her on
recognized recently. Pasztory, insightful essay
icry," he states, "is the desire for a reformed,
Andean aesthetics, has out that the turn to abstraction
recognizable Other," an Other who is the same pointed twentieth-century
(thereby affirming the beliefs and practices of the inWestern Europe and America encouraged
mid-twentieth-century r??valua
colonizer), but not quite (thereby affirming the tion of Andean visual in the of abstract Inca
culture, particular recognition
inferiority of the colonized).
16. Esther Pasztory, "Andean Aesthetics" in The forms.'6 In this observation, she echoes an essay written in 1953 by Meyer
Spirit of Ancient Peru: Treasures from theMuseo who concluded that "the values of modern art have led to a more
Shapiro, sym
Arqueol?gico Rafael Larco Herrera, ed. Kathleen
Berrin (New York and London: Thames and pathetic and objective
to exotic arts than was possible fifty
or a hun
Hudson; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, dred it can some
years ago."17 While certainly be argued that objects of African
1997), 60-69.
17.Meyer Shapiro, "Style," inPreziosi, The Art of and Pacific Island origin propelled European artists toward certain kinds of
Art History, 147. abstraction, no one would ever assert that carved Inca rocks a part in this
18. J.Alden Mason, The Ancient Civilizations of
move. In fact, in 19^7 the historian J. Alden Mason concluded that stone
Peru (Baltimore and Harmondsworth, UK: sculp
Penguin Books, 1957), 231. ture "was from Inca visual culture.18
entirely missing"

27 art journal
Factors the Rock" as art
long militating against identifying "Funerary
Inca, llama figurine, c. 1400-1530, crimped include the fact that it is not therefore not to traditional
portable?and subject
silver sheet metal, 9% x 8% in. (23.8 x
methods of collection and except What's more,
20.6 cm), American Museum of Natural display through photography.I9
History, photograph #B/1619 (artwork in of the of this outcrop is the fact that it echoes the sacred moun
part significance
the public domain; photograph provided by
tain on the horizon behind it. It cannot be relocated?or for that matter looked
the Library, American Museum of Natural
History) at from a different point of view?without affecting its ability to represent

a mountain Indeed,
mimetically specific peak. Inca-manipulated
rocks have received scant attention until when C?sar
Paternosto's book Piedra abstracta and Maarten Van de Guchte's dis

sertation on carved Inca outcrops in the Cuzco focused

attention on the clear these rocks had in Inca cul
ture.20 such recent considerations of the abstract
Despite quali
ties of much of Inca rock most focus remains on the
few of such as the pumas,
examples imagistic carving, frogs,
and terraces of the Saywite monolith. Sometimes cited as
is the so-called Puma Rock at K'enko Grande.21 It is an
framed a masonry border. to
unsculpted outcrop, by According
one of the aspects of made "art by
Errington, things appropria
tion" is what she calls iconicity, by which she means the ability
of observers to find resemblance to
something recognizable?
most a person or an animal. she writes,
notably "Iconicity,"
"remains an unstated and even criterion for the iden
tification of what counts as art."22 Her observation prompts the

Do we find a in the natural rock at

question: crouching puma
K'enko in order to meet our needs and for art? In
other words, is this a puma for art's sake? there is no
evidence that the Incas valued this outcrop for its putative like

ness to a puma.

Similarly, we might well wonder if the appeal of the claim

that the Incas' of Cuzco was built in the of a puma
capital shape
stems from our desire for rather than any congruence
with Inca Despite the fact that R.Tom Zuidema and
Monica Barnes and Daniel J. Slive have offered serious reserva

tions to this the notion that Inca Cuzco was remains

hypothesis, puma-shaped
the idea of a settlement, and cer
popular.24 Perhaps inspired by puma-shaped
19. Itcould be argued that the twentieth-century
a recent book Fernando and Elorrieta Salazar, tour
conversion of Machu Picchu from remote, over tainly prompted by by Edgar
grown ruins into an accessible tourist destina guides
at Inca sites today point
out the "flying condor" at
Pisaq, the "cosmic
tion?a museum al fresco?has accomplished
bird" of Machu Picchu, and a of other found in the structures
both acts of collection and display. Today, many variety "images"
of the site's carved outcrops, including the and environs of Inca settlements.2? What's more, it is not uncommon these days
"Funerary Rock," are roped off and specially to find tourists in the search for "hidden" in the ruins of
participating imagery
20. C?sar Paternosto, Piedra abstracta: La escul the Inca built environment. That we continue to find where the Incas
tura Inca;Una visi?n contempor?nea (Lima: Fondo
didn't suggests that we still engage in processes similar to those that resulted
de cultura Econ?mica, 1989), available in English
as The Stone and the Thread: Andean Roots of in the removal of natural fibers from African masks (discussed By privi
Abstract Art, trans. Esther Allen (Austin: University the iconic or the certain artifacts as more
leging imagistic, by separating worthy
of Texas Press, 1996); Maarten Van de Guchte,
of than others reason of our own aesthetic standards, or
"'Carving theWorld': IncaMonumental Sculpture study by expectations,
and Landscape," PhD dissertation (Department of we have Inca visual culture of its natural fibers.
disciplinary categories, stripped
Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana into
Iconocentric has transformed Inca culture the West
is a practicing artist looking something
Champaign, 1990). Paternosto
and Van de Guchte is an anthropologist. knows how to value. This kind of looking, the heir to
panoptic looking?

28 SUMMER 2006
which takes the world of and segregates, orders, and ranks them?
21. Paternosto, The Stone and the Thread, 66;
reminds us to consider the work of Michel Foucault, who, in both The Order
Rebecca Stone-Miller, Art of the Andes: From
Chavin to Inca, rev. ed. (London: Thames and ofThings and Discipline andPunish, explores the development of various kinds of dis
Hudson, 2002), 200, fig. 158. Fernando E. are useful
in the West.26 Many of his observations to those of us who
Elorrieta Salazar and Edgar Elorrieta Salazar, in cipline
Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, trans. academic who are, in fact, as Foucault observes, both the
practice disciplines,
Beverly Nelson Elder (Cusco: Tanpu, 2001), 59, and its subjects. He identifies disciplines, which
find a toad in this same rock instead of a puma.
agents of discipline he describes
22. Errington, 208. as for the ordering of human as the
"techniques assuring multiplicities," doing
23. The claim that Cuzco was laidout in the form and related
following overlapping things: they organize, categorize, divide, sepa
of a puma was originally suggested by Manuel
Chavez Ballon and first argued inprint by John rate, segregate, and isolate; compare, differentiate, distribute, rank,
identify, they
Howland Rowe, "What Kind of a Settlement normalize, and exclude; and the undisciplined.27 I'm
homogenize, they punish
Was IncaCuzco?" ?awpa Pacha 5 (1967): 59-77.
sure that as of a all art historians can
24. R. Tom Zuidema, "The Lion in the City: Royal well-disciplined practitioners discipline,
Symbols of Transition inCusco," Journal of Latin think of ways we have participated
in or
experienced such acts.
American Lore 9, no. I (1983): 39-100; Monica
From the long list of things that disciplines, including academic disciplines,
Barnes and Daniel J. Slive, "El Puma de Cuzco:
?Plano de la ciudad Ynga o noci?n Europea?" do, Foucault emphasized normalization, by which he meant the power to
Revista Andina I (1993): 79-102.
nize as well as to make distinctions appear natural, and, above
25. The Elorrietas have found the following in the arbitrary logical,
all, useful.28 Art, with its assorted is but one of these but
layouts of pre-Hispanic settlements: a guanaco subcategories, arbitrary
at Tiwanaku; a deity named Wiracocha, a condor, normalized distinctions.29 Traditional Western of art have
categories expanded
a sacred tree, two llamas, and a corn cob at
a condor at Pisaq; and a lizard, a to normalize found in the non-Western world. For the
Ollantaytambo; practices only example,
crouching puma, a standing puma, and a cosmic category "sculpture"
now stretches to
incorporate skin carving,
as in the Maori
bird at Machu Picchu.
of Mok'o, which combines tattoo with scarification. While Western cate
26. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, trans. practice
Alan Sheridan ( 1966; New York: Random House, have been altered encounters with others, have,
gories by they simultaneously,
1973); Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, schemata on non-Western cultures.30
trans. Alan Sheridan ( 1975; New York: Random imposed disciplinary
House, Here it is useful to return to a consideration of some Inca rocks. When I tell
27. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 218. concerns assumes
my current book Inca rocks, everyone
people project nearly
28. Ibid., 184.
29. David Summers has recently questioned the that Imean carved Inca rocks. But, as far as we know, the Incas did not value

ability of many traditional art-historical categories carved rocks from many uncarved ones; nested both kinds with
differently they
to adequately describe the full range of both non
in masonry frames or utilized a of other visual cues to the
Western andWestern objects. Unfortunately variety signify impor
he retains what must surely be one of the most tance of certain rocks whether carved or not. in mind den White's
Keeping Hay
problematic categories of all?art. Although not to attempt to oneself in the of past agents,
Summers recognizes that the word "art" has had warning "put place seeing things
its problems historically when applied to visual from their of view," we that we cannot see rocks
point acknowledge through
cultures outside theWest, he continues to use
Inca eyes.31 On the other hand, we can take cues from the Incas themselves (from
itwithout definition. He does suggest that what
has been called "visual arts" ought to become their own words recorded in and chronicles, as well as the still
myths, legends,
"spatial arts" so as to acknowledge that, for many visible traces of their about how to understand rocks in other than
cultures, much more than sight and vision are
involved. Summers, I I. Western ways. One Inca way of rocks seems to have on
categorizing depended
30. Art is not the only term imposed from outside how rocks render their that which index. Rather than
present prototypes, they
that creates a homogenizing category for cultures
a prototype mimetic or resemblant forms, revered
that did not use it. For example, "shamanism" is a representing through many
term introduced to (imposed on?) almost all cul Inca rocks their relation. For
embody prototypes through m?tonymie example,
tures that are said to practice it. Some scholars
certain rocks called huanca the valleys of which are the petrified
fear that the term "shamanism" homogenizes as it embody they
normalizes; see, for example, Cecelia F. Klein et owners. Some rocks, called hirauqui, embody the rulers of whom they
are consid
al., "The Role of Shamanism inMesoamerican
ered brothers. Rocks called sayhua, like that of Saywite, embody boundaries of the
Art: A Reassessment," Current Anthropology 43,
no. 3 (2002): 383^20. "Race" and "writing" are territories where stand. fields of which are the petri
they Chacrayoq embody they
but two more examples of terms with problem owners. came
fied Puruauca warriors who to life in order to
embody petrified
atic, unreflective global application.
31. Hayden White, "The Politics of Historical defend specific territories before repetrifying. Rocks called saykuskaembody the
Interpretation," inThe Politics of Interpretation, ed. from which masons removed rocks for Inca In each
quarries building projects.32
W. J.T Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago
of these instances, rocks the animate of a or
Press, 1983), 129. embody "spirit" specific person
32. For a study of Inca stories about saykuska, see field, or The of niches and flat
place?whether valley, quarry, king. carving places
Maarten Van de Guchte, "El ciclo m?tico de la
into the stone may locations for offerings, or on the
piedra cansada," Revista Andina 4, no. 2 ( 1984): provide imagistic carving
539-56. stone may of the prototype, but does not appear to
represent aspects carving

29 art journal
have been essential to the function and of the rocks that
significance signify par
or That is, they the with which
tially entirely through metonymy. embody things
are identified. conventional art-historical such as
they Stretching categories,
so as to embrace all manner of Inca rocks, such as those named above,
Inca, carved monolith, c. 1400-1530, stone,
reveals about Inca rocks and serves to further normalize a non-Inca con
approx. 8 x 10 x 9 ft. (244 x 305 x 274 cm), nothing
Saywite, Peru (photograph by the author) cept, art. In so sacred Inca rocks, made "art by are
doing, appropriation," implic
to "art intention," a
itly compared by
move that invites
judgment according
toWestern aesthetic standards by
which can fail to
they only, invariably,
measure up, since were not
made with such standards in mind.

Foucault observes that discipli

nary methods intend to reveal what

he called "evolutive time" by charting

the notion of progress.33 Since, histor

ically, European art has been held (by

those schooled in the Western tradi

tion) to represent the highest degree

of evolution, art elsewhere
cannot but reinforce
help European
aesthetic supremacy. Indeed, we find

that all too often Western aesthetic

standards have been (and are still)

wielded as instruments of cultural As Preziosi observes, "Aesthetic
standards are conventional and and not neutral, absolute, or
arbitrary indepen
33. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 160.
dent of institutions, classes, or social In short, are instruments of
34. Preziosi, Rethinking Art History, 25 ideologies. they
35. As early as 1842, Franz Kugler's Handbuch der art, like writing, the use of the wheel, and monotheistic
power."34 Historically,
Kunstgeschichte included descriptions of what was
has been used to gauge how or low on the ladder of
called "art" from Oceania and North America. religion, high evolutionary
Not long after, indigenous artifacts from sub culture its producers It is important to remember that art born
perched. history,
Saharan Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific were
in in the nineteenth Itwas
early modern Europe, reached maturity century. both
irrevocably linked.
36. Preziosi, Rethinking Art History, 29; Nelson authored and authorized the same who were and colo
by Europeans exploring
Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking (Indianapolis: much of the rest of the world. It can be no accident that
nizing the discipline of
Hackett, 1978), 66.
37. Both Klein, in "Objects are nice, but. . .", and art and the of the so-called arts of or former
history linkage European European
Cameron, in "In Search of Children," 18-33, have colonies came into at the same in the same
time and
being place.35 We might
provided models for this kind of reflectivity when,
that notions about art and the discipline of art are
independently and with regard to different cul reasonably recognize history
tures, they both discussed the implications of the intertwined with colonization. While much has been writ
inextricably European
labels "doll" and "art"when applied to certain
ten about the development of in concert with
objects. anthropology Europe's colonizing
38. James Elkins, review of Real Spaces: World Art
agenda, those of us who practice
art in
once colonized
history by Europe
History and the Rise of Western Modernism by have little the ways our enables certain avenues
questioned very discipline of
David Summers, Art Bulletin 86, no. 2 (June 2004):
377-78. while others, about how the questions we ask and
investigation discouraging
39. Felipe Sol?sOlguin, "Art at the Time of the we
the choose to examine often to colonial discourses and are
things respond
Aztecs," inAztecs, ed. Eduardo Matos Moctezuma
and Sol?s (London: Royal Academy of Arts, as Preziosi it is
shaped by European disciplinary apparatuses. Perhaps, suggests,
2002), 56. time to take an observation
seriously offered by Nelson Goodman in his book
40. Beatriz de la Fuente, "Traces of an Identity," in
The Aztec Empire, ed. Felipe Sol?s Olguin (New Ways ofWbrldmaking: that "what is art?" is the wrong and so to
question ought
York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2004), be the query "when is art?"36 Art historians?and not those in
replaced by just
non-Western fields?would then be of the contexts in which
41. A Dominican friar, Domingo de Santo Tom?s, always cognizant
the author of a Quechua-Spanish were named art and, more the
dictionary pub objects important, consequences ofthat naming.37

30 SUMMER 2006
We would ask ourselves whether the term "art" as we are it in our studies
has either in the vernacular or theoretical If it has neither,
linguistic parity utility.
then maybe we to discard it as an if not actually
ought intellectually unproductive
term that tends to render what we as insufficient.
counterproductive study
lnca,"Puma Rock," c. 1400-1530, stone, at
In of "art," we consider the use of indigenous terms, categories,
K'enko Grande, Cuzco, Peru (photograph place might
by the author) and even epistemologies where thev can be recovered, the reservations recently

discussed by James Elkins notwith

In his review for The Art
Bulletin of David Summers's art
text entitled Real Spaces, Elkins
to the use of critical concepts
and to the cul
vocabulary indigenous
tures studied, that "too many
unfamiliar terms and the text may no

longer feel like art history"38 With

regard to cultures that have (or had)
no use for the notion of art, perhaps
not like art isn't such a
feeling history
bad Those interested in the pre

Hispanic societies of central Mexico,

for example, might usefully further

the of a
explore concept toltecayotl,
N?huatl term that Felipe Sol?s Olguin
translates as "artistic
the Aztec ideal of cre
Beatriz de la Fuente equates (Mexica) toltecayotl with the

ation of that "reach a between the dual, ele

things perfect equilibrium opposed
lished in 1560, translates quillcani (to make quillca)
ments that could be found the universe"; she is
as pintar (to paint), labrar alguna obra con colores throughout toltecayotl, explains,
generalmente (to color something generally), or "the dialogue between head and heart," and "the person who had a
debuxar (to draw) and arte de debuxar (the art of
with his or her own heart was known as a toltecatl, called an 'artist.'"40 How
drawing); quillcacamayoc (creator of quillca) as
pintor generalmente (painter, generally) and debux was articulated and how it affected the reception of monuments
toltecayotl visually
ador (one who draws); and quillcasca (a thing with
in Central Mexican where the root word tolteca referred to
postclassic society,
quillca) as debuxada cosa (something drawn) or
the builders of ancient monuments and cities in the are
esculpida cosa (something sculpted); see Santo long-abandoned region,
Tom?s, Gramm?tica o Arte de la Lengua General de that could be discussed. We
open questions usefully might wonder, however,
los Indios de los Reynos del Peru (Lima: Universidad
Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1951 ), 98, 188, whether the of toltecatl as "artist" male and is so
rendering (both female) straight
357. The Jesuit Diego Gonz?lez de Holgu?n, forward. What has been lost?or or confused?in the translation? Is de la
author of a Quechua-Spanish dictionary published
Fuente ancient Mexican ideas, more about the Aztecs than
in 1608, defines quellka as labor (needlework or transforming masking
ornamental work), matiz (tint), and adorno she is revealing? What nuances of Aztec are elided when we render tolte
(adornment), and quellkani as dibujar (to draw) terms or
catl as artist? What might the disparity between say about the Aztecs
and pintar (to paint); see Gonz?lez de Holgu?n,
Arte y diccionario Qquechua-Espa?ol correjido y about us?
aumentado por los RR. PP. Redentoristas (Lima:
terms in the way I suggest is not a act of
Employing indigenous simple
Imprenta del Estado, 1901), 293.
42. Santo Tom?s, 131, 357, translates quillca as translation. At first blush, the Incas to have had a term that
appear approximates
letra o carta mensagera (letter or messenger's "visual arts." According to
early colonial-period Quechua dictionaries, Quechua
note) and libro o papel generalmente (book or
of the the word its cognates refer to
paper generally). Gonz?lez de Holgu?n, 293, being the language Incas, quilico and paint
defines quellka as carta (letter) and escritura ornamental and Yet even a cursory
ing, drawing, work, engraving, sculpting.41
(writing). For a discussion of quillca in the colonial
consideration of the term how translation to be an awkward
period and indigenous Andean responses to exposes proves
alphabetic script, see Joanne Rappaport and Tom enterprise, for, in addition to the practices named above, in the
Spanish colonial
Cummins, "Between Images andWriting: The
was used to refer to common surfaces with on them, some
Ritual of the King's Quillca," Colonial Latin American period quillca writing
Review 7, no. I (1998): 7-32. unknown in the
pre-Hispanic Andes.42 The ready recognition of mundane

3 I art journal
as that the word refers to the of sur
alphabetic writing quillca suggests marking
faces the addition of of medium or
(including color) regardless technique;
whether or all
painting, drawing, engraving, embroidery, writing, superficial
was in itself does not refer to the order of
marking quillca.43 Thus, quillca highest
the visual, but rather describes a subset of the visual, and not a
particularly spe
cial one at that. If we were to restrict our studies to works that as
qualify quillca,
that we were truer to an Inca notion of the visual arts, we would elimi
nate a whole range of monuments?including many of the revered rock embod

iments discussed above. Thus, while Iwould argue that terms and
are to consider and discuss, it is clear that, for the most part,
concepts important
the solution is not a substitution of native words that approximate conven
tional art-historical terms and then allow us to with business as usual.
researchers, those in fields where vocabularies
Many especially indigenous
are not accessible, find the concept of visual culture, with its rejection of art his

conventional boundaries and value more flexible and

tory's judgments, accepting
of nonart traditions. To my mind, however, there are more issues than
the particulars of our I am concerned with the ways scholars
terminology. today
are in the naturalization of the culturally and bound con
implicated historically

cept of art the unreflective usage of modern art notions, ideas,

through history's
terms, and even more is the future of art
tropes. Perhaps consequential history
itself as the to all times and of human
discipline expands incorporate places

occupation.44 Are those of us working at the so-called margins of the discipline,

at least on some level, new resources for the art

scholarly explorers locating
market, museums, and the discipline of art How we most effec
history? might
intervene in the processes which non-Western material culture is
tively through
converted into art, craft, and other Western of A
categories things? particular
concern, for is the art-survey text in which
chapters of non
example, "global"

European visual cultures often little more than exotic from

provide digressions
the progressivist climb Western As I see it, those of us
through history.45 focusing
43. The indigenous chronicler IngaDiego de on areas outside the Western tradition, those of us all too familiar with the loss
Castro Titu Cusi Yupanqui, a descendant of Inca
of autochthonous systems of natural fibers of meaning that I
rulers who wrote his memoirs in 1570, describes signification?the
the bible or breviary, shown to the ruler Atahualpa referred to earlier?have much to contribute to conversations about art
by the Spaniards under the command of conquis Eurocentrism and concomitant intellectual I offer this
tador Francisco Pizarro just before they took frequent imperialism.
to and such conversation.
Atahualpa prisoner, as the quillca de Dios y del rrey essay provoke promote
(quillca of God and king). Atahualpa, not seeing
anything of interest in the book, tossed iton the Carolyn Dean, professor of History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz,
ground. While alphabetic writing may have been researches aspects of Inkavisual culture both before and after the Spanish conquest. She is currently
identified as quillca, itwas not deemed remark
working on a book entitled A Culture of Stone: Inka Perspectives on/in Rock.
able. Thus scribes and notaries created quillca just
as did painters, carvers, and embroiderers. See
Titu Cusi Yupanqui, Relaci?n de la conquista del
Per? (Lima: Ediciones de laBiblioteca Universitaria,
1973), 16.
44. See Preziosi, Rethinking Art History, 10, 33,
where he offers relevant discussion of art histo
ry's "disciplinary machinery" and its need to
expand, to extend its "disciplinary horizons to all
places and times" as if to prove its universal
45. For a cogent critique of what she calls the
Hegelian narrative of the history of art, see Shelly
Errington, The Death of Authentic Primitive Art and
Other Tales of Progress (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1998), 51-54.

32 SUMMER 2006