Art history and cultural difference: Alfred Gell’s anthropology of art

Matthew Rampley

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The problems presented by recognition of cultural difference and alterity have long been recognized as presenting substantial challenges to traditional assumptions about the scope and limits of art history. This article examines some of the arguments that have emerged in relation to this issue, focusing in particular on ways in which anthropology and, specifically, the work of Alfred Gell, might contribute to debates. It argues that Gell's theory of the art nexus offers new possibilities for the cross-cultural study of art, which can be applied not only to the art of small-scale oral societies but also to Western art history. In so doing, it suggests that the art-historical engagement with anthropology should imply more than the promotion of difference as a value; rather, it suggests alternative methods of analysis that examine the role of art within social transactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)524-551
JournalArt History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2005


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