The Work of Art

Michael Jackson. Columbia Univ., $40 (272p) ISBN 978-0-231-17818-1
Jackson, professor of world religions at Harvard Divinity School, provocatively challenges our understanding of the categories art and religion. Rather than being distinct practices, he writes, both are attempts of individuals or communities to bring about in the world something hidden, as an attempt to cope with, understand, and reshape existence. Key to this argument is Jackson’s consideration of art from the perspectives of production and reception, recognizing that both are essential to understanding its impact. Relying on his ethnographic research among the indigenous peoples of West Africa and Australia, his encounters with living artists, biographies, and works of an impressive collection of geographically and chronologically diverse artists, Jackson weaves together anthropology, memoir, and philosophy to make his argument. The main thread of his claims is difficult to trace in some of the anecdotes. For dedicated readers with the patience for philosophy and oblique reasoning, the work offers intriguing insights into how we might understand art and religion as two modes of the same creative impulse. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/08/2016
Release date: 10/01/2016
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