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The Work of Art


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Table of Contents

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 Breve, 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 Cezanne 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

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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 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.

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).


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

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