Art as a mode of action: Some problems with gell's art and agency

Howard Morphy*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    105 Citations (Scopus)


    This article is a dialogue with the theoretical arguments of Alfred Gell's book Art and Agency. While strongly supporting an action-oriented perspective on art it is argued that Gell's argument deflects attention away from human agency by attributing agency to the objects themselves. It is argued that the very properties of art that Gell excludes from his definition of art objects and largely from his analyses - aesthetics and semantics - are integral to understanding art as a way of acting in the world and to understanding the impact that art works have on people.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5-27
    Number of pages23
    JournalJournal of Material Culture
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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