Not available in 2022/23
AN283      Half Unit
Anthropology, Art, and Poetics

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Michael Scott


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Social Anthropology, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Cape Town), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Fudan), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Melbourne) and Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Tokyo). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.



Course content

‘Art’ and ‘poetics’ – practices of making and creating – are prolific, diverse, fluid, and mutable.  Nowadays, anything can become art, and art can be as many things as there are people who make and study it.  The broad theme of this course will be the historical and ongoing nexus between art and anthropology.  We will discover how anthropology has informed the theory and practice of art and vice versa.

Topics covered will include: art and the anthropology of modernity; the significance of qualifiers attached to the category art (e.g., ‘primitive’, ‘fine’, ‘sacred’, 'commerical', ‘decorative’, ‘practical’); art and alternative modernities; Surrealism and anthropology; class, race, and gender in relation to art; the concept of ethnoaesthetics; economies of value; the ethnographic study of artists and art-making; the concept of art worlds; art and agency; the ethnography of art collecting and curation; the works of artist ethnographers and ethnographer artists; ways of decolonizing art; problems of cultural appropriation; intellectual property; and modes of relational and collaborative poetics.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Students will have the opportunity to write an (unmarked) formative essay (1,500 words) and will be invited to discuss the written feedback during office hours.

Indicative reading

Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Coote, Jeremy and Anthony Shelton, eds. 1994. Anthropology, Art, and Aesthetics. Oxford: Clarendon.

Danto, Arthur C. 1989. Art/Artifact: African Art in Anthropology Collections. New York: Prestel.

Fillitz, Thomas and Paul Van Der Grijp, eds. 2018. An Anthropology of Contemporary Art: Practices, Markets, and Collectors.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kisin, Eugenia and Fred R. Myers. 2019. The Anthropology of Art, After the End of Art: Contesting the Art-Culture System. Annual Review of Anthropology 48: 317-34.

Morphy, Howard. 2007. Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories. Oxford: Berg.

Myers, Fred R. 2000. Around and about modernity: some comments on themes of primitivism and modernism. In Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity, ed. Lynda Jessup, pp. 13-25. Toronto: University Toronto Press.

Schneider, Arnd, ed. 2017. Alternative Art and Anthropology: Global Encounters. London: Bloomsbury Academic.


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills