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Unread December 30th, 2008, 06:17 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 174
Thumbs up Introduction to Dutton

Just got my review copy of The Art Instinct. I'm impressed by the sweeping style of it.

"The arts in all their glory are no more removed from evolved features of the human mind and personality than an oak is remote from the soil and subterranean waters that nourish it.... a story of how we became a species obsessed with creating artistic experiences with which to amuse, shock, titillate, and enrapture ourselves, from children's games to the quartets of Beethoven, from firelit caves to the continuous worldwide glow of television screens." (from the introduction)

" ... experimental psychology ... explains too much", "... prehistory ... extraploate(s) too much ..."

So Dutton's approach:
  • Starts with the familiar: calendars and their landscape illustrations cater to very ancient tastes
  • Uses ethnographies of preliterate people to construct a picture of human tastes, interests, and inclinations
  • Derives from this a cross-cultural definition of art as a cluster of features including skill display, pleasure, imagination, and emotion, allowing us to identify art across time and place
  • Addresses the perception that different cultures have different concepts of art, accusing anthropologists of "exoticizing" foreign cultures and denying the universality of art
  • Examines the enjoyment of creative storytelling as a possible adaptation (young children have a sophisticated capacity to distinguish these fictions)
  • Presents the sexual selection explanation for showing off artistically,
  • Describes us having literally domesticated ourselves as we did with various animals
  • Addresses three classic issues in art theory in evolutionary terms: (a) whether artists' intentions are decisive in interpreting art, (b) our puzzling insistence that a perfect fake is still a fake, (c) the artistic status of "shocking" art
  • Explores how evolved capacities have influenced the limits of art (smell is a source of pleasure and an important survival sense, yet rarely is considered art, while rhythms of pitched sounds are fundamental to several forms of art despite having little obvious survival relevance)
  • Turns to what we consider exalted artistic performances to explain their timeless appeal to our senses in spite of not neccessarily being the most popular art in any given period.
  • Finally distinguishes art as a unique hominid adaptation by making a central distinction between human art and chimpanzee art-play because of an apparent lack of calculation of the effects on the viewer that Dutton considers central to the human definition of art, and an apparent lack of an intention to look back and appreciate the work when it is done. Interrupted from their play, chimps don't go back to finish their messterpieces.
  • Is more sympathetic to comparisons of human art with bower birds than with chimp play, and appreciates the expression in termite mounds, but still distinguishes human art for its evolutionary role in our species.

And it's a fun read so far. Dutton is careful to avoid making art a spandrel, a purely cultural construction, or a purely EEA picture of aesthetic preferences, so his narration doesn't annoy me the way a lot of EP authors do with their overreliance on narrow explanations from the Pleistocene.

Last edited by ToddStark; December 31st, 2008 at 10:45 PM. Reason: Added the missing "THAN chimps" in the last bullet
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