The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

2.3 16
by Denis Dutton
     
 

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The Art Instinct combines two of the most fascinating and contentious disciplines, art and evolutionary science, in a provocative new work that will revolutionize the way art itself is perceived. Aesthetic taste, argues Denis Dutton, is an evolutionary trait, and is shaped by natural selection. Its not, as almost all contemporary art criticism and academic…  See more details below

Overview

The Art Instinct combines two of the most fascinating and contentious disciplines, art and evolutionary science, in a provocative new work that will revolutionize the way art itself is perceived. Aesthetic taste, argues Denis Dutton, is an evolutionary trait, and is shaped by natural selection. Its not, as almost all contemporary art criticism and academic theory would have it, "socially constructed." The human appreciation for art is innate, and certain artistic values are universal across cultures, such as a preference for landscapes that, like the ancient savannah, feature water and distant trees. If people from Africa to Alaska prefer images that would have appealed to our hominid ancestors, what does that mean for the entire discipline of art history? Dutton argues, with forceful logic and hard evidence, that art criticism needs to be premised on an understanding of evolution, not on abstract "theory." Sure to provoke discussion in scientific circles and an uproar in the art world, The Art Instinct offers radical new insights into both the nature of art and the workings of the human mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Anthony Gottlieb
Although he endorses the popular form of evolutionary psychology in principle, [Dutton's] practice is more nuanced. His discussion of the arts and of our responses to them is uniformly insightful and penetrating, and I doubt whether much of it really depends on the ideas of evolutionary psychology. His considered view (though he sometimes strays into more ambitious explorations) is that Darwinian aesthetics sheds light on literature, music and painting not by demonstrating them to be evolutionary adaptations, but by showing how their existence and character are connected to prehistoric preferences, interests and capacities. This is a reasonable aim…
—The New York Times
Jonah Lehrer
Dutton is an elegant writer, and his book should be admired for its attempt to close the gap between art and science. It really is time that art critics learn about the visual cortex, musicologists study the inner ear and evolutionary psychologists unpack Jane Austen.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Pugnacious, witty and entertaining first book by prolific essayist and critic Dutton (Philosophy of Art/Univ. of Canterbury, New Zealand), who founded the influential blog Arts & Letters Daily. Picking up where evolutionary psychologists like Steven Pinker leave off in their investigations into the origins of human language and other mental phenomena, Dutton argues that the arts too-why and how they are made, how they are experienced, why in all their myriad forms they are so central to human life in every culture and age-can be explained by Darwinian natural and sexual selection. He plausibly suggests how a nearly universal taste for paintings of rolling landscapes, dotted with trees, bodies of water and animals, may be a relic of our Pleistocene ancestors' evolutionarily successful preference for the savannas of Africa, where game and safe prospects to view it from were plentiful. He makes the case for fiction's origins in the adaptive advantage to our ancestors of imagining scenarios they would not actually have to live through as an aid to planning for survival. He cites work from evolutionary psychologists to show how the art instinct, like the peacock's tail, may have developed as a "fitness signal" to mark the prehistoric artist as an abundantly healthy mate. After a century of criticism that divorced art from ordinary human experience-either placing its definition in the hands of institutions like museums and university art departments or reducing it to authorless "texts" that defy consistent interpretation from critic to critic-Dutton wants to shift the discussion about art to more common, solid ground. He treads shakily when he tries to use his Darwinian aesthetics to justifyhis own (vehemently anti-modernist) tastes, but even those who disagree with these opinions will find his manifesto scintillatingly written and not to be missed-even the end notes are indispensable. Promises to instigate a lively conversation about the origins and meaning of art, not only among the author's peers in academia, but also in the culture at large. Agent: John Brockman/Brockman
From the Publisher

“If you care about art writ large as a miraculous bounty for the world, or only for your own selfish sake, The Art Instinct should impress you as the most shrewd, precisely written and provocative study you'll find on its topic's place in human nature.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“An important book that raises questions often avoided in contemporary aesthetics and art criticism. [Dutton] has woven a powerful plea for the notion that art expresses a longing to see through the performance or object to another human personality.” —Los Angeles Times

“Denis Dutton argues that humankind's universal interest in art is the result of human evolution. We enjoy sex, grasp facial expressions, understand logic and spontaneously acquire language—all of which make it easier for us to survive and produce children. In The Art Instinct, Dutton contends that an interest in art belongs on this list of evolutionary adaptations… read Dutton's book: his masterful knowledge of art and his compelling prose make it a thing of beauty.” —James Q. Wilson, Newsweek

“Pugnacious, witty and entertaining first book by prolific essayist and critic Dutton... Picking up where evolutionary psychologists like Steven Pinker leave off in their investigations into the origins of human language and other mental phenomena... even those who disagree with these opinions will find his manifesto scintillatingly written and not to be missed--even the end notes are indispensable... Promises to instigate a lively conversation about the origins and meaning of art, not only among the author's peers in academia, but also in the culture at large.” —Kirkus (starred review)

The Art Instinct gives a comprehensive survey of the field, written with fluency, wit, and wide erudition.” —John Derbyshire, New Criterion

The Art Instinct offers fresh and liberating ideas while demonstrating Dutton's profound sense of curiosity and his willingness to take risks while dealing with puzzling and largely fragmentary pre-history.” —Robert Fulford, National Post (Canada)

“As he observes in his provocative new book, The Art Instinct, people the world over are weirdly driven to create beautiful things…Dutton is an elegant writer, and his book should be admired for its attempt to close the gap between art and science.” —Jonah Lerner, Washington Post BookWorld

“Mr. Dutton's book is anything but strident. He argues his thesis--that art-making evolved among humans as a means of demonstrating physical and cognitive fitness to potential mates, and that this fundamental reality provides the best answer we can give to the question "What is art?"--with almost old-fashioned politeness toward his adversaries. And that, perhaps, is the best way to read The Art Instinct: as a guided tour of the great landmarks of the philosophy of art--aesthetic theory explained, modified and refuted with patience and fluency by a writer whose mind was apparently formed well in advance of the meme-ocracy it helped to create.” —New York Observer

“Why do we human beings make art?...That is the question raised and answered, more or less, in this intriguing book. Author Denis Dutton teaches philosophy, has done archaeological work in New Guinea and is founder of the popular Arts & Letters Daily Web site. Art's appeal, he argues, is lodged in our genes and in the genes of our Ice-Age ancestors, those shaggy forebears who first painted cave walls and told stories around the campfire.” —Dallas Morning News

“[Dutton's] discussion of the arts and of our responses to them is uniformly insightful and penetrating……he touches on all the major issues of aesthetics in this fairly short book and invariably illuminates them…Dutton's eloquent account sheds light on the role art plays in our lives, whatever its ultimate origins” —Anthony Gottlieb, New York Times Book Review

“Full of observations that again demonstrate [Dutton's] uncanny ability to collect complex arguments and present them as thought-provoking statements” —James Panero, City Journal

“Vigorous and wonderfully provocative” —Raleigh News & Observer

“A substantial contribution to the debate we ought to be having.” —Martin Kemp, The New Scientist

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608191932
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
07/01/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,088,165
File size:
644 KB

Meet the Author

Denis Dutton founded Arts & Letters Daily and continues to edit the website, one of the Guardians "best websites in the world," and one of the most heavily trafficked sites anywhere for news and opinion in science, the arts, and politics. He founded and still edits Philosophy and Literature, a highly successful scholarly journal published by Johns Hopkins University Press. He is a professor of the philosophy of art at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Denis Dutton founded Arts & Letters Daily and continues to edit the website, one of the Guardians "best websites in the world," and one of the most heavily trafficked sites anywhere for news and opinion in science, the arts, and politics. He founded and still edits Philosophy and Literature, a highly successful scholarly journal published by Johns Hopkins University Press. He is a professor of the philosophy of art at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

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