Ethnography and Anti-Aestheticism: The Case of "Documents"

By Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Documents was a Parisian art magazine published between 1929 and 1930 that placed a large emphasis on ethnographic material, in contrast to other art periodicals of the era. The journal’s originality chiefly derived from the juxtaposition of art and popular culture, prominently featured in its pages, along with an innovative use of photography and a non-conformist approach to beauty. The revolutionary yet contradictory idea that guided Documents was the need to affirm the value of “primitive” cultures even when their material production did not fit classic aesthetic standards. Its collaborators, many of whom were ethnographers, struggled between dismantling art’s aesthetic ideals and conventions and valorizing the “primitives” artifacts without reducing them to mere functionality and use. My paper will dissect the contradictions Documents’ artists and ethnographers faced when evaluating ethnographic cultural production. I argue that although their efforts were guided by a desire to rebuke Western art and its dominant evaluative categories, they did not realize the implications of their anti-aestheticism for ethnographic understanding. A content analysis of images and articles published in Documents will demonstrate how the journal’s anti-aesthetic direction complicated the analysis of the “primitives” material production and had far reaching implications for both the notion of art and anthropological knowledge.

Keywords: Aesthetics, Ethnography

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp.21-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 673.110KB).

Prof. Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi

Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, USA

Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches courses on social theory and cultural analysis. Her intellectual and research interests mainly fall within the areas of politics and culture. More specifically, she is concerned with studying the political as a site of cultural discourse, cultural identity, and cultural production.