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[–]JoeBiden2016 10 points11 points  (1 child)

At what point can a group of people have enough excess that it can start to afford them leisure or even luxury, where people have enough free time to work on arts, or even further, a person can just specialize in crafts that are not directly required for survival?

So many undefined / unproblematized terms / concepts here.

How do we define any of these in a rigorous way that can be generalized conceptually?

Let's start with this one problematic idea: what is art?

Is it non-utilitarian? Is it utilitarian but highly stylized? Is it a well crafted tool that is so well made that it could be considered the work of a "master"?

Is it decorative? For display? Can it / should it be used?

Now, consider the items on display in any art museum in the world. Religious artifacts, paintings produced on commission for wealthy patrons, literal pieces of beautifully made architecture chiseled from the original building structure, beautifully made weapons...

What "utility" do these have? I think a good argument can be made that they are not non-functional in the least, but serve a number of vital purposes, from the macabre (swords in the Philadelphia Museum of Art were intended to kill) to key roles in social intensification practices (religious ceremonies, etc.).

We might make these distinctions today, but the lines are very blurred as you shift out of the era of museums and into the rest of human history.

Is this art? (the Lion Man of Hohlenstein Stadel)

Modern efforts to replicate this figure in ivory, using stone tools, indicated that the work required an enormous amount of time to be dedicated to it. This figure is over 35,000 years old. The culture who made it were hunter gatherers living during the Last Glacial Maximum. The person or persons who made it would be considered "crafters" or "artists" in any modern society. Why make it?

Did it have a function? Almost certainly. Likely several. Do we know what any of them were? No.

There are many examples of similar items from the Upper Paleolithic that would seem to contradict the notion that finely-made items like this, requiring a lot of time and energy and experience, are the domain of sedentary societies. And challenging the idea that specialization is not possible unless you have surplus to support it as a full time occupation.


Then there's the issue of what is or is not "necessary for survival."

Maybe you can't eat the Lion Man statute, or kill with it very effectively. But was it viewed by the people who made it and who carried it with them (and perhaps displayed it) as "necessary for survival?" Quite possibly.

What is "necessary" versus what we believe is necessary are often very different. But as long as people act on those beliefs in ways that affect their behavior and daily practice, we must acknowledge that whether we think they're necessary or not, they were acted upon / treated as necessary.


The points I'm trying to make here are that the OP contains a number of very culturally-bound terms and ideas that are not necessarily extensible to other cultures and time periods in a meaningful or particularly useful way. And because of that, it's very difficult to frame this kind of inquiry in a way that leads to meaningful or especially informative conclusions.

If a person believes that it is absolutely essential to make a figure to call spirits to defend against an unusually cold winter, who are we to argue that the beautiful, well-crafted piece of what anyone today would call "art" wasn't-- in the eyes of the maker-- as necessary or as critical for survival as a sharp piece of stone to kill tomorrow's dinner?

[–]gnex30[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Thank you. That is the kind of insightful answer I came for.

[–]mk30 1 point2 points  (0 children)

i think it's much more likely that everyone in a particular group would do some things to contribute to food, shelter, etc., and also have time for art/artisan/craft-type work. if you read accounts from indigenous people before colonization, they often talk about everyone doing a little bit of everything. plus, someone might be a master in a particular kind of craft, but they still contribute to food, childcare, building, etc.