In the West, when we see objects that were made in Africa, Oceania, Native America, or Asia, we tend to perceive them as something other than works of art. Why is this particular 'perception' problematic?
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Traditionally, we in the West have not perceived things from non-Western cultures (with the possible exceptions of “advanced civilizations” like China and Japan) as art. Instead, we have thought of them as artifacts. I would argue that the problem with this perception is that it is based on ethnocentrism. It is based on the idea that people from primitive cultures are not sufficiently advanced to be able to truly create art.
When something is perceived as an artifact, it is primarily seen as a way of letting people understand a given time and place. When a thing is perceived as art, it is felt to have aesthetic value on its own. Therefore, when we look at Michelangelo’s “David,” we do not ask what it tells us about Italian society of the time. Instead, we enjoy its aesthetics. By contrast, when we see a Native American mask, we ask about its significance to their culture rather than seeing it as an art object.
This is problematic because it implies that the things that people from other cultures make are only interesting because they tell us about those cultures. They are not intrinsically interesting in the way that our art is. This can be seen as an ethnocentric attitude.
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