An ethnographic study of the economic and cultural impact of aesthetics, focusing on an internationally renowned workshop where Oaxacan woodcarvings, or alebrijes, are highly profitable.
Unlike many other handicrafts in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which have long cultural and historical trajectories, Oaxacan woodcarving began in the second half of the twentieth century and has always been done for the commercial market. In The Value of Aesthetics, Alanna Cant explores how one family’s workshop in the village of San Martín Tilcajete has become the most critically and economically successful, surpassing those of neighbors who use similar materials and techniques. The dominance of this family is tied to their ability to produce a new aesthetic that appeals to three key “economies of culture”: the tourist market for souvenirs, the national market for traditional Mexican artesanías, and the international market for indigenous art.
Offering a new analytical model by which anthropologists can approach visual aesthetics and conceptualize the power of artworks as socially active objects, The Value of Aesthetics shows how aesthetic practices produce and redefine social and political relationships. By investigating the links between aesthetics and issues of production, authorship, ownership, and identity, Cant shows aesthetic change to be a process that ultimately repackages everyday life into commodified objects in Oaxaca.
- Chapter 1. The Alluring Thing Itself
- Chapter 2. Aesthetics of Work in Woodcarving
- Chapter 3. Authorship and Its Consequences
- Chapter 4. Artesanías into Ethnic Art
- Chapter 5. The Art of Indigeneity
- Chapter 6. The Allure of Art and Intellectual Property
- Conclusion: At the End of the Aura
- Appendix: A Note on Names
“This adeptly argued book brings a fresh theoretical orientation to the discussion of Oaxacan crafts, opening it up to the wider material culture scholarship.”
W. Warner Wood, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, author of Made in Mexico: Zapotec Weavers and the Global Ethnic Art Market
“A fascinating, careful ethnography with lucid discussions of relevant theories of anthropology and aesthetics.”
Michael Chibnik, University of Iowa, author of Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings