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A Pebble for your Thoughts: Reconsidering Aesthetics, Art, and Value in the Context of Cycladic Marble Sculpting



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Aston, Alexander 


Aesthetics as commonly understood is bound up in Western notions of beauty, taste, discernment, worthiness, and superiority. One need only peruse 19th-century writings on ‘primitive art’, or how cultural gatekeepers of refinement and respectability responded to every innovative musical trend of the 20th century, to appreciate that aesthetics is enmeshed within notions of cultural supremacy and hierarchies of value. This paper argues that for archaeological analysis of aesthetic experience to generate productive insight into cultural dynamics, it must return to the term’s conceptual foundations as the perception and feeling of things. The archaeology of aesthetics can benefit from the perspective of material engagement, which examines how recursive relationships between materials, perception, skill, and social interaction constitute subjective and intersubjective experiences of affective value. To demonstrate such an approach, this paper engages in a brief case study of Cycladic sculpting, examining the relationships between the properties of marble and the development of skill, attention, and social interaction. The paper concludes with a reflection upon how aesthetic experience is intrinsic to the semiotics of value and collective identity.



Cycladic sculpting, material engagement, collective identity

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Archaeological Review from Cambridge

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