The Work of Art: Rethinking the Elementary Forms of Religious Life


To read a book by Michael Jackson is to be in his company: to hear a cultured and cosmopolitan voice relating stories that disclose how the human and universal inhabit the personal and particular. Art and religion, he avers, are transitional phenomena that facilitate links between inner experience and outer worlds such that human life is made more viable. To craft artworks and to engender religious cosmologies and practices is to create that artifice whereby pain may translate into comprehension and anonymity into a sense of control. Jackson is a uniquely insightful and compassionate guide. - Nigel Rapport, author of I Am Dynamite: An Alternative Anthropology of Power

Jackson's meditation on art and religion is an erudite blending of philosophy, personal biography, history, and ethnography. Full of powerful time-space juxtapositions that weave Europe, West Africa, Australia, and New Zealand into the same sentences, paragraphs, and pages, The Work of Art is a sustained inquiry into the affecting sociality of art in its making and sensuous resonance. A wonderful addition to Jackson's elegant writings on key existential themes in anthropology: between-ness, becoming, and relationality. - Steven Feld, author of Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana

Jackson's lucid, elegant, and incisive book is a laser beam piercing the murky discourse that surrounds contemporary art. His clarity restores the reciprocal relations between the work of art and our experience of it; his wisdom honors the age-old link between life, ritual, and soul-making. Most important of all, he shows again what it means to be alive in the world: bearing witness equally to joy and to pain. - Martin Edmond, author of The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont

The Work of Art is a deeply moving, inspirational, and intellectually compelling examination of the myriad ways in which art, religion, and ritual overlap. Combining phenomenological and existential insights with honest and intimate ethnographic reflection, Jackson teases out the productive and transformative implications of art practice. - Adrian Parr, author of The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics

[The Work of Art] offers intriguing insights into how we might understand art and religion as two modes of the same creative impulse. - Publishers Weekly