Cross-cultural aesthetics and etiquette

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In transferring an object created by an Indigenous person into a museum or gallery we generally reclassify it as art, foregrounding the artists’ skills and use of materials. This has been assumed to be a sign of respect. Yet it is also apparent that the artistic and aesthetic qualities that we admire about the objects from other cultures, religions and other periods of history are not necessarily the predominant feature for the creators of those objects. In fact, the creators or guardians of such objects may object to the re-contextualisation that such admiration entails. In such a situation, aesthetic and ethical or political values conflict. This chapter analyses the normative and aesthetic features of the contexts in which the exchange occurs of ‘inalienable possessions’: those objects closely bound with identity. It argues that if aesthetic appreciation has the capacity to create communities of understanding and respect, as has been claimed for it, then this involves an imaginative engagement with the ceremonial contexts for which such objects were produced, including the etiquette of those contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Aesthetics and Moral Judgment
Subtitle of host publicationPleasure, Reflection and Accountability
EditorsJennifer McMahon
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315148496
ISBN (Print)9781138553262
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Cross cultural aesthetics
  • etiquette
  • ceremony
  • Indigenous art
  • museum collections
  • inalienable possession
  • gift exchange
  • fine art
  • everyday aesthetics
  • social aesthetics
  • Cross-cultural aesthetics

    Coleman, E. B., 2018, International Encyclopedia of Anthropology: Anthropology Beyond Text. Callan, H. (ed.). Hoboken NJ USA: Wiley-Blackwell, Vol. 3. p. 1267-1274 8 p.

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