Craft and the kingly ideal : art, trade, and power

 

Craft and the kingly ideal : art, trade, and power

TitleCraft and the kingly ideal : art, trade, and power
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsHelms, Mary W.
PublisherUniversity of Texas Press
CityAustin
ISBN Number0292730748 9780292730748 0292730780 9780292730786
KeywordsAgency, Mobility/Exchange
Abstract

In ancient Mediterranean cultures, diamonds were thought to endow their owners with invincibility. In contemporary United States culture, a foreign-made luxury car is believed to give its owner status and prestige. Where do these beliefs come from? In this study of craft production and long-distance trade in traditional, nonindustrial societies, Mary W. Helms explores the power attributed to objects that either are produced by skilled artisans and/or come from "afar." She argues that fine artisanship and long-distance trade, both of which are more available to powerful elites than to ordinary people, are means of creating or acquiring tangible objects that embody intangible powers and energies from the cosmological realms of gods, ancestors, or heroes. Through the objects, these qualities become available to human society and confer honor and power on their possessors. Helms draws her examples from cultures around the world, dating from ancient to modern times. Her novel approach, equating trade with artistry, rejects the classic Western separation between economics and aesthetics and offers a new paradigm for understanding traditional societies that will be of interest to all anthropologists and archaeologists. In addition, shifting emphasis from the exchange of objects to their acquisition offers an exciting new perspective for a wide range of scholars interested in cultural contact and trade, including those in history, religious studies, and sociology.