Friday, January 30, 2009

Evolution and Art

I believe it was on the first day of this class, that Dr. Fox said something to the effect of:
Evolution affects every subject, with perhaps the exception of art...

After recently finishing a semester of studying art history, I wasn't sure this was true. I wanted to find this link. Last night I found it in the most unlikely place, "The Colbert Report".

Stephen T. Colbert's guest on January 28th 2009, was Dennis Dutton, who says that the appreciation of art has evolved as an evolutionary trait. He has written a book on why art is related to human evolutionary history called "The art of instinct".

You can see the episode on the CTV broadband network, under The Colbert Report.

1 comment:

Dr. Fox said...

Clearly I spoke too hastily in my off-the-cuff remark that Darwin's ideas had had no influence on art.

Dutton's actually not the first to propose an idea along these lines. As an undergrad, I recall reading an essay (by Gordon Orians?) arguing that good landscape paintings share certain features, and that these features reflect our evolutionary history. Specifically, landscapes that we regard as attractive and interesting (landscapes we'd like to enter if we could) resemble the African savannas on which human ancestors evolved. For instance, these landscapes will be neither too open and tree-free, nor to cluttered and dense. There's no need to explore a very open landscape (you can see from a distance if it contains any resources of value), and it's risky to explore a dense forest (which could be hiding a predator). At least, that was the gist of the argument. I'm sure I haven't done it justice; I recall being very intrigued by this idea as an undergrad. But I was less skeptical then, too; I suspect if I were able to chase the essay down and re-read it I'd be less convinced (in no small part because it's not clear that the savannas of our ancestors actually did bear a close visual resemblance to the savannas of today).