The Work of Art

Rethinking the Elementary Forms of Religious Life

Michael Jackson

Columbia University Press

The Work of Art

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Pub Date: October 2016

ISBN: 9780231178181

256 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $40.00£32.95

Pub Date: October 2016

ISBN: 9780231541992

256 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $39.99£32.95

The Work of Art

Rethinking the Elementary Forms of Religious Life

Michael Jackson

Columbia University Press

How are we to think of works of art? Rather than treat art as an expression of individual genius, market forces, or aesthetic principles, Michael Jackson focuses on how art effects transformations in our lives. Art opens up transitional, ritual, or utopian spaces that enable us to reconcile inward imperatives and outward constraints, thereby making our lives more manageable and meaningful. Art allows us to strike a balance between being actors and being acted upon.

Drawing on his ethnographic fieldwork in Aboriginal Australia and West Africa, as well as insights from psychoanalysis, religious studies, literature, and the philosophy of art, Jackson deploys an extraordinary range of references—from Bruegel to Beuys, Paleolithic art to performance art, Michelangelo to Munch—to explore the symbolic labor whereby human beings make themselves, both individually and socially, out of the environmental, biographical, and physical materials that affect them: a process that connects art with gestation, storytelling, and dreaming and illuminates the elementary forms of religious life.
To read a book by Michael Jackson is to be in his company: to hear a cultured and cosmopolitan voice relating stories that disclose how the human and universal inhabit the personal and particular. Art and religion, he avers, are transitional phenomena that facilitate links between inner experience and outer worlds such that human life is made more viable. To craft artworks and to engender religious cosmologies and practices is to create that artifice whereby pain may translate into comprehension and anonymity into a sense of control. Jackson is a uniquely insightful and compassionate guide. Nigel Rapport, author of I Am Dynamite: An Alternative Anthropology of Power
Jackson's meditation on art and religion is an erudite blending of philosophy, personal biography, history, and ethnography. Full of powerful time-space juxtapositions that weave Europe, West Africa, Australia, and New Zealand into the same sentences, paragraphs, and pages, The Work of Art is a sustained inquiry into the affecting sociality of art in its making and sensuous resonance. A wonderful addition to Jackson's elegant writings on key existential themes in anthropology: between-ness, becoming, and relationality. Steven Feld, author of Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana
Jackson's lucid, elegant, and incisive book is a laser beam piercing the murky discourse that surrounds contemporary art. His clarity restores the reciprocal relations between the work of art and our experience of it; his wisdom honors the age-old link between life, ritual, and soul-making. Most important of all, he shows again what it means to be alive in the world: bearing witness equally to joy and to pain. Martin Edmond, author of The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont
The Work of Art is a deeply moving, inspirational, and intellectually compelling examination of the myriad ways in which art, religion, and ritual overlap. Combining phenomenological and existential insights with honest and intimate ethnographic reflection, Jackson teases out the productive and transformative implications of art practice. Adrian Parr, author of The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics
[The Work of Art] offers intriguing insights into how we might understand art and religion as two modes of the same creative impulse. Publishers Weekly
Preamble
Part 1
Worlds Within and Worlds Without
Melbourne Now
The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
Art as Religion
The Interplay of Coming Out and Going In
Consciousness
From Joyce to Beuys
Production and Reproduction
Axes of Bias
A Visit to the Kunstmuseum Basel
Part 2
The Life and Times of Paddy Jupurrula Nelson
Ecstatic Professions
Art and Adversity: Ian Fairweather and the Solitude of Art
Transplantations: The Art of Simryn Gill
My Brother's Keeper: The Art of Susan Norrie
Heroic Failure: The Art of Sidney Nolan
Une Vie Brève, Mais Intense
The Pare Revisited
A Man of Constant Sorrow: The Existential Art of Colin McCahon
Part 3
Landscape and Nature Morte: The Art of Paul Cézanne
Art and the Unspeakable
Marina Abramovic and the Shadows of Intersubjectivity
Exodus
Making It Otherwise
Art and the Everyday
The Work of Art and the Arts of Life
Notes
Acknowledgments
Permissions
Index

About the Author

Michael Jackson is Distinguished Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. He is the author of the prize-winning Paths Toward a Clearing (1989) and At Home in the World (2000). His most recent Columbia University Press books include As Wide as the World Is Wise: Reinventing Philosophical Anthropology (2016) and Harmattan: A Philosophical Fiction (2015). He is also the author of The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration, and the Question of Well-being (2013); Between One and One Another (2012); and Lifeworlds: Essays in Existential Anthropology (2012).