A Brief History of Art/ A Theory of the Evolution of Art from Prehistory to Abstraction
- Darwin thought that art could be explained by sexual selection. Ultimately visual art, music and dance evolved in animals (not only humans) as a way for males to attract females. Art was a highly competitive function, and sometimes a violent one (sometimes males destroy other the beautiful artifacts of other males). Therefore males were the first artists/musicians and females were the first art/music critics.
- Later in human civilization it became pointless for men to seduce women with art because other forms of seduction prevailed (or, simply, arranged marriages).
- Leisure, wealth and sexual "abundance" led to using that evolved skill for personal satisfaction.
- Meanwhile, women learned the artistic skill from men.
- At that point art was almost literally "useless": art is what is useless, otherwise it is technology or science.
- Later, artists tried to convey meaning via art, basically turning art into philosophy, looking for a meaning to life beyond mere survival and reproduction, using art as a tool to understand the universe.
- Artists wanting to make art socially useful turned it into politics.
- Artists wanting to make art industrially useful turned it into design.
- In the 20th century art faced one of its own major failures: it failed to find meaning. So it became a representation of the meaningless: noise in music, abstract forms in the visual arts, chance in both (randomness being a way to express the serendipity that lies behind most of life, knowledge and science)
- It turns out that noise, abstraction and chance are actually closer to what we observe in nature than classical art and classical music were.
- Now we see art everywhere in both the human and the natural world.
- Furthermore, the definition of art expanded as a by-product of political democratization that makes the leader less heroic and of the scientific revolution that makes god more ubiquitous and humans less special.
An alternative plot:
- Art uses human senses and human hands to propagate and evolve.
- The signaler (the arts) and the receiver (the art audience) coevolve.
- The beauty we observe in the universe is the real protagonist, and great artists, whether human or animal, are just a vehicle (one of many) to fulfill that project.
An alternative plot:
- The beauty we see in the animal kingdom is actually a form of camouflage. The peacock's tail is a very visible artifact outside its natural environment but virtually invisible in its natural (flowery) environment.
- Art may have originated simply as a way to create things that are visible to you but not to other species, i.e. things that camouflage with your environment.
- Charles Darwin: "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" (1871)
- Gerald Thayer: "Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom" (1909)
- Hugh Cott: "Adaptive Coloration in Animals" (1940)
- Helena Cronin: "The Ant and the Peacock - Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today" (1991)
- Ellen Dissanayake: "Homo Aestheticus - Where Art Comes From and Why" (1992)
- Matt Ridley: "The Red Queen - Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature" (1993)
- Ellen Dissanayake: "Homo Aestheticus - Where Art Comes From and Why" (1995)
- Amotz Zahavi: "The Handicap Principle" (1997)
- Nancy Aiken: "The Biological Origins of Art" (1998)
- Edward Osborne Wilson: "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" (1998)
- Arthur Danto: "The Abuse of Beauty" (2003)
- David Lewis-Williams: "The Mind in the Cave - Consciousness and the Origins of Art" (2004)
- Dale Guthrie: "The Nature of Paleolithic Art" (2006)
- Iegor Reznikoff: "Music Went With Cave Art In Prehistoric Caves" (2008)
- Denis Dutton: "The Art Instinct - Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution" (2010)
- David Rothenberg: "Survival of the Beautiful" (2011)