According to Coote, what is the “anthropology of aesthetics” and “the cultural eye”? How is the anthropology of aesthetics useful when studying nomadic peoples like the San and the cattle herders of the Sudan? Describe the art and aesthetics of the San and the cattle herders of the Sudan. What do they make? What do they value? What might be some connections between their ways of life and their art/aesthetic systems?

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This question refers to an influential essay on aesthetics by Jeremy Coote entitled "Marvels of Everyday Vision: The Anthropology of Aesthetics and the Cattle-Keeping Nilotes." Essentially, the phrase "anthropology of aesthetics" has meant an attempt to grapple with the meanings that cultures assign to works of art. Why, anthropologists of aesthetics ask, do cultures prize the artworks that they do? Coote's argument in this essay is that this approach is incomplete in that it cannot be applied to some cultures that do not generate (or venerate) material art.

He describes the anthropology of aesthetics as "the comparative study of valued perceptual experience in different societies." Some of these societies have no traditional visual art, which means they cannot be analyzed in the same ways. So studying these peoples consists of trying to figure out "how they see." As an example, he uses the "cattle-keeping Nilotes," a collection of nomadic peoples who live in the southern Sudan region. These peoples are well-studied by anthropologists, Coote writes, but scholars have assumed that they lacked an aesthetic tradition, because they produced no tangible works of art in a conventional sense.

But Coote argues that it is still possible to apply a "cultural eye" to these peoples, to understand their aesthetic vision in their own terms. He does this in several ways. First, he analyzes their views of their most important possessions—their cattle. Each of these peoples carefully categorize cattle by color, spotting configuration, and other traits that are not as visible to outsiders. They sing songs about cattle horns, about the fatness of cattle, and about other things they prize. He shows that the Nilotes actually view the world through the aesthetic lens provided by their cattle. Various aspects of their culture are understood in these terms. People are compared to cattle, and animals with similar colors and markings as certain types of cattle are named accordingly. Traditional dances emulate the movements and the markings of bulls, and even physical human beauty is often compared linguistically to descriptors of traits valued in cattle. The point of this is to suggest that anthropologists can develop a sense of the meanings that even peoples who do not generate much "art" assign to the world around them.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 7, 2020
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