Adornment: What Self-Decoration Tells Us About Who We Are
From the decline of the hat, the function of jewelry, and popularity of tattooing to the wealth of grave goods found in the Upper Paleolithic burials and body painting of the Nuba, we see that there is no one who does not adorn themselves, their possessions, or their environment. But what messages do these adornments send?
Drawing on aesthetics, evolutionary history, archaeology, ethology, anthropology, psychology, cultural history, and gender studies, Stephen Davies brings together African, Australasian, and North and South American indigenous cultures and unites them around the theme of adornment. A captivating story unfolds of hair, skin, and make-up practices across times and cultures. Through each illustrated chapter, we come to see that adorning is one of the few social behaviors that is close to being genuinely universal, sending vitally important signals about what we care about, our affiliations and backgrounds, our social status, and values.
In short, by using the theme of bodily adornment to unify a diverse set of human practices, this book tells us about who we are.
“The wondrous array of body ornaments pictured here itself adorns a wide-ranging, learned, accessible, and fascinating discussion of aesthetics by distinguished philosopher Stephen Davies. Adornment is not only a feast for the eyes but for the mind.”
Ellen Dissanayake, author of What Is Art For? and Homo Aestheticus
“Decoration is often dismissed as trivial, but Davies shows how deep-seated and functional the human impulse to decorate is. He argues that it is nothing less than one of our most fundamental modes of communication. This fascinating tour of adornment is bound to transform readers’ outlook, drawing attention to the aesthetic embellishments that we add to everything we touch.”
Kathleen M. Higgins, Professor of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
“The pinnacle of the philosophical debate on adornment and self-decoration. Davies enlightens the merging of pleasure, symbolic value, and communicative tasks at place in the practice of adorning.”
Fabrizio Desideri, Professor of Aesthetics, Florence University, Italy
About the author:
Stephen Davies teaches philosophy at the University of Auckland. He writes mainly about aesthetics and the philosophy of art, and has written extensively on the definition of art, the ontological character of artworks, cross-cultural aesthetics, the expression of emotion in art, and the interpretation and evaluation of art. His other interests include evolution and human origins, ornithology, and Balinese music, dance, and culture. His books are Definitions of Art (Cornell University Press, 1991), Musical Meaning and Expression (Cornell University Press, 1994), Musical Works and Performances (Clarendon Press, 2001), Themes in the Philosophy of Music (OUP, 2003), Philosophical Perspectives on Art (OUP, 2007), Musical Understandings and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Music (OUP, 2011), The Artful Species: Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution (OUP, 2012), and The Philosophy of Art (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016, second edition). He is a former President of the American Society for Aesthetics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities.
Click here for Stephen Davies’ contact details.
Interview on the topic of skin with [Kon], November 2020 at www.kon-paper.com
[k n]: What does skin mean to you?SD: We are embodied creatures and ourskin provides one of the interfaces betweenourselves and the world. It is wherewe literally touch the world. Vision andhearing allow us to observe the world ata distance. Smell depends usually on closeproximity to the odour’s source and onsensors in the skin. In…
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Radio interview with Kathryn Ryan – RNZ Nine to Noon
Monday, February 10, 2020 Hear Stephen interviewed by Kathryn Ryan athttps://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2018733427/self-decoration-tells-us-about-who-we-are