Beauty as a Darwinian concept

November 20, 2010 | By | Reply More

Philosopher of Art Dennis Dutton gives a succinct description of art as a Darwinian concept. He begins his well illustrated talk by noting that many disparate things are seen to be “beautiful,” most of those cross-culturally. What is it about all beautiful things? For instance, we all prefer landscapes with trees, water, animal and plant life and paths extending into the distance.  This preference is universal, and this type of landscape has been termed the “ideal landscape.”  It also offers protection, water and food.

Dutton argues that beauty is an adaptive effect that we extend and intensify in the enjoyment of works of art and entertainment. Natural selection explains many of out attractions and repulsions in art. But Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is equally applicable; it functions as fitness signals.  This function goes all the way back to pre-lingual hand-axes, many of which have been intricately carved and never used to actually cut anything.  They did serve, however, as a display of competence, and that is yet another universal aspect of beauty:  Beauty is the appreciation of something well done.   Lovers of beauty especially love virtuoso performances.

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Category: Art, Evolution

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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