Dr. Jerzy Luty

Association for Education, Science, Culture; General Tadeusz Kościuszko Military Academy of Land Forces, Poland
Let's Naturalize Aesthetics! Evolutionary Approach to Visual Culture

Ellen Dissanayake (What is Art For?, Homo Aestheticus, Art and Intimacy), the late Denis Dutton (The Art Instinct), and just recently Stephen Davies (The Artful Species) became known among aestheticians for attracting attention to and popularizing a new trend in naturalistically oriented aesthetics. Evolutionary aesthetics (i.e. the evolutionary theory of art, evolutionary approaches to art and aesthetics) is a discipline that tries to explain the foundations of human aesthetic preferences in relation to art, artificial and natural objects, focusing on adaptive (in the biological sense) values of different forms of artistic activity and aesthetical response. It treats the artistic or artificial object (both in the context of its creation and admiration) as a universal property of the human mind, yielding natural pleasure and generating an indispensable component of the human psyche.

The title of the talk makes a reference to Dutton’s famous article published in Aesthetics online in 2003. As he states: “Many philosophers are reluctant to psychologize values if that means naturalizing them as stable components of an evolved human nature. But why? What’s so much better about using “culture” as the one-size-fits-all explanation for values? (…) Evolutionary psychologists insist that wherever an intense pleasure is found in human life, there is likely some reproductive or survival advantage connected with it. Art has little practical value, but can deliver intense pleasure. Why?”

Then he makes a reference to famous Komar and Melamid experiment to create the favorite paintings for various peoples around the world, derived from poll results.

“There is a cross-culturally established list of elements which are desired by human beings in landscapes – water, variegated open areas with climbable trees, large wild or domestic mammals, roads that disappear into an inviting distance (what the evolutionary psychologists call “way-finding” elements), and so forth. Beyond psychological lab tests, these preferred landscape elements show up both in landscape calendars and in the design of private gardens and public parks worldwide. Komar and Melamid back this up, but then so does the history of landscape painting in both Europe and Asia”.

The purpose of the talk is to take into consideration the claim that evolutionary perspective might be of any help in establishing the conceptual framework or theoretical base for the study of visuality.