THE AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE: An Anthropologist Looks at the Visual Arts by Jacques Maquet

THE AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE: An Anthropologist Looks at the Visual Arts

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Having opened his study with ""In this book, an anthropologist looks at the visual arts,"" the author admits, ""This is not a striking line."" Granted, it's no ""Call me Ishmael,"" but it is direct and concise--qualities in short supply in the ensuing 250 pages. Maquet (anthropology/UCLA) addresses the question of how art is perceived, suggests there is a linkage between the aesthetic experience and certain forms of Far Eastern meditation, speculates on the meanings and messages to be found in works of art and investigates the intellectual, natural, cultural and technical elements that shape aesthetic forms--all familiar territory. There would be nothing wrong with this, of course, if fresh light were shed. Unfortunately, Maquet uncovers little that is original or especially insightful during his peregrinations. The Aesthetic Experience is almost all academic obfuscation, interdisciplinary gobbledygook, the paradigm (to use the author's most overworked expression) of the pedestrian and the prolix. Add to the familiarity of the material an elephantine writing style that shambles along, stumbling occasionally over neologisms like ""distanciation"" or sinking into such jargonistic bogs as ""contextually monosemic referents"" (Maquet's definition of ""words"") and the effect is at first annoying, then slightly risible, finally soporific. Maquet's analyses of specific works of art do nothing to leaven the proceedings. His delvings into the ""meaning"" of Brancusi's scupture ""Adam and Eve"" are at once tortuous and inconclusive. On the other hand, paintings by Ingres, Modigliani and Mel Ramos prompt little more than personal reminiscences of sun-tanned nymphs lolling on the sands of Malibu--pleasant reveries but hardly revelatory. As a primer of aesthetics, Maquet's work is couched in language that will discourage and befuddle beginners in the field; more advanced readers will fred the familiarity of the basic information contained here of little interest or value. A disappointment all around.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press