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Davies, Stephen, Samer Akkach, Meilin Chinn, et. al.. How Do Cross-Cultural Studies Impact Upon the Conventional Definition of Art?
2018, Journal of World Philosophies 3 (1): 93-122
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Abstract: While Stephen Davies argues that a debate on cross-cultural aesthetics is possible if we adopt an attitude of mutual respect and forbearance, his fellow symposiasts shed light upon different aspects which merit a closer scrutiny in such a dialogue. Samer Akkach warns that an inclusivistic embrace of difference runs the risk of collapsing the very difference one sought to understand. Julie Nagam underscores that local knowledge carriers and/or the medium should be involved in such a cross-cultural exploration. Enrico Fongaro searches for a way of experiencing cross-cultural art such that it can lead to a transformative experience Relatedly, Meilin Chinn uses the analogy of friendship to explore the edifying dimension of experiencing an art form. Lastly, John Powell studies whether Dickie’s Institutional Theory can be meaningfully used to identify works of art in Western and non-Western traditions.

Comment: The selection of texts by Davies, Akkach, and Chinn, with a part of Davies’ reply in the end, are particularly interesting. These present an interesting tension, with Akkach and (somewhat less overtly) Chinn, criticising Davies for adopting a Western-centric attitude to studying and conceptualising art of other cultures. It can be useful to consider this in the context of Nikiru Ngzewu, ‘African Art in Deep Time: De-race-ing Aesthetics and De-racializing Visual Art’, asking to what extent the present discussion is similar to her criticism of Vogel and Danto. Given that Davies is offering a reply to the criticisms, this could offer an opportunity for a debate-style class design. The texts, and especially Davies’ reply, invite a further reflection: can one ever understand, conceptualise, or analyse the products (art?) of another culture, without doing so using the conceptual frameworks of one’s own culture in ways that are problematic? If yes, how could this be done? If not, should we just never attempt it? What role do power structures and imbalances play in such attempts?

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