Ancient, universal and persistent
Post #1092 • November 29, 2007, 7:47 AM • 31 Comments
In the main presentation at the conference, Ellen Dissanayake, an independent scholar affiliated with the University of Washington, Seattle, offered her sweeping thesis of the evolution of art, nimbly blending familiar themes with the radically new. By her reckoning, the artistic impulse is a human birthright, a trait so ancient, universal and persistent that it is almost surely innate. But while some researchers have suggested that our artiness arose accidentally, as a byproduct of large brains that evolved to solve problems and were easily bored, Ms. Dissanayake argues that the creative drive has all the earmarks of being an adaptation on its own. The making of art consumes enormous amounts of time and resources, she observed, an extravagance you wouldn't expect of an evolutionary afterthought. Art also gives us pleasure, she said, and activities that feel good tend to be those that evolution deems too important to leave to chance.
Dissanayake is doing a lot of the heavy lifting to re-establish art as an activity characterized primarily by pleasure and innate functioning, as opposed to thinking and acquired functioning. She's doing so via biology and anthropology, so in contrast to art theorists of the last couple of decades, she works with observations and data. This is bracing. She deserves your close regard. (Homo Aestheticus presently lies in the To Be Read Pile chez Artblog.net. Oh, what I could do with a 32-hour day...)