Introduction -- Landscape and longing -- Art and human nature -- What is art? -- But they don't have our concept of art -- Art and natural selection -- The uses of fiction -- Art and human self-domestication -- Intention, forgery, dada : three aesthetic problems -- The contingency of aesthetic values -- Greatness in the arts.
The need to create art is found in every human society, manifest in many different ways across many different cultures. Is this universal need rooted in our evolutionary past? The Art Instinct reveals that it is, combining evolutionary psychology with aesthetics to shed new light on fascinating questions about the nature of art.
Aesthetic theoriesmayclaim universality, but they are normally conditioned by the aesthetic issues and debates of their own times. Plato and Aristo- tle were motivated both to account for the Greek arts of their day and to connect aesthetics to their general metaphysics and theories of value. Closer to our time, asNo¨el Carroll observes, the theories of Clive Bell and R.G. Collingwood can be viewed as “defenses of emerging avant-garde practices— neoimpressionism, on the one hand, and the mod- ernist poetics of (...) Joyce, Stein, and Eliot on the other.”1 Susanne Langer can be read as provid- ing a justification for modern dance, while the ini- tial version of George Dickie’s institutional the- ory “requires something like the presupposition that Dada is a central form of artistic practice” in order to gain intuitive appeal. The. (shrink)
The concept of forgery is a touchstone of criticism. If the existence of forgeries — and their occasional acceptance as authentic works of art — has been too often dismissed or ignored in the theory of criticism, it may be because of the forger’s special power to make the critic look ridiculous. Awkward as it is, critics have heaped the most lavish praise on art objects that have turned out to be forged. The suspicion this arouses is, of course, that (...) the critics were led to praise the forgery for the wrong reasons in the first place. Since the aesthetic object as perceived is no different after the revelation that it is forged, the implication to be drawn is that it has previously been critically valued not for its intrinsic aesthetic properties, but because it was believed to be the work of an esteemed artist. (shrink)
Seventeen philosophical thinkers ask: What is creativity? What are the criteria of creativity? Should we assign logical priority to creative persons, processes, or products? How do various forms of creativity relate to different domains of human activity?
Europeans seeking to understand tribal arts face obvious problems of comprehending the histories, values, and ideas of vastly remote cultures. In this respect the issues faced in understanding tribal art (or folk art, primitive art, traditional art, third or fourth-world art — none of these designations is ideal) are not much different from those encountered in trying to comprehend the distant art of “our own” culture, for instance, the art of medieval Europe. But in the case of tribal or so-called (...) primitive art, there are special complications. First, objects of tribal art are sometimes so strange to us that we cannot tell immediately whether they are intended to be works of art (or some local analogue of what we would call art) at all.1An African head-rest I once came across had an odd, extravagant extrusion which made the whole piece reminiscent of Arp. It seemed to my baffled, ignorant eyes to be much more than a mere head-rest, but I couldn’t tell what more it was supposed to be. Maybe that extension on the side of the object had some purely utilitarian function, acting as a handle, or perhaps it was a natural part of the original block of wood, left there merely because it looked nice to the eye of the carver. Though the head-rest seemed beautiful, I still don’t know if I was admiring as an essentially expressive object some simple item of practical use, or something that combined expression and utility. (shrink)
We commonly hear it said that a work of art must be understood “on its own terms,” and that phrase is used in other contexts as well; people, especially people very different from ourselves, are said to have to be understood on their own terms. But what is the meaning of the expression “on its/their own terms?” Note that we do not say of every possible object of understanding that it must be understood on its own terms. The statement, “Chemistry (...) must be understood on its own terms,” sounds odd. The “on its own terms” appears to lack point. It invites the retort, “Good grief, on what other terms had you expected to understand it?!” We seem to be brought to this: where the exhortation “understand it on its own terms” is to be used in reference to some object, there must be some reasonable way of understanding that object alternative to understanding it on its own terms. We may ask the child its own childish reasons why it keeps clobbering little sister (“She took my dolly!”), or we may account for its actions in terms the child does not comprehend (“sibling rivalry”). We may on occasion even do the same sort of thing with adults, perhaps giving a reason out of Freud for something done by a person who never heard of Freud or psychoanalysis. But naturally, distinctions between “their terms” and “our terms” become of extreme importance when we attempt to understand the peoples of other cultures. In such cases there literally are different systems of terms, that is, different languages, within which we must make sense of activities. (shrink)
Forty years ago Roland Barthes defined a mythology as those Â“falsely obviousÂ” ideas which an age so takes for granted that it is unaware of its own belief. An illustration of what he meant can be seen in his 1957 critique of the photographic exhibition, The Family of Man . Barthes declares that the myth it promotes stresses exoticism, complacently projecting a Babel of human diversity over the globe. From this image of diversity a pluralistic humanism Â“is magically produced: man (...) is born, works, laughs and dies everywhere in the same way....Â” The implicit mythological background of the show postulates Â“a human essence.Â” Barthes exhorts us instead to probe beneath the facile implications of a universal human nature implied by the exhibitionÂ’s sentimental juxtapositions. We must try Â“constantly to scour nature, its Â‘lawsÂ’ and its Â‘limitsÂ’ in order to discover History there, and at last to establish Nature itself as historicalÂ” (1972:100-102). (shrink)
As much as many other human enterprises, the art world today is fuelled by pride, greed, and ambition. Artists and art dealers hope for recognition and wealth, while art collectors often acquire works less for their intrinsic aesthetic merit than for their investment potential. In such a climate of values and desires, it is not surprising that poseurs and frauds will flourish. For works of painting and sculpture are material objects that derive their often immense monetary value generally from two (...) factors; (1) their aesthetic qualities their embody, and (2) who made them and when. It is the second of these two factors that comes into play in most art hoaxes, which are cases of forgery. (shrink)
If a catalogue were made of terms commonly used to affirm the adequacy of critical interpretations of works of art, one word certain to be included would be “plausible.” Yet this term is one which has received precious little attention in the literature of aesthetics. This is odd, inasmuch as I find the notion of plausibility central to an understanding of the nature of criticism. “Plausible” is a perplexing term because it can have radically different meanings depending on the circumstances (...) of its employment. In the following discussion, I will make some observations about the logic of this concept in connection with its uses in two rather different contexts: the context of scientific inquiry on the one hand, and that of aesthetic interpretation on the other. In distinguishing separate senses of “plausible,” I shall provide reasons to resist the temptation to imagine that because logical aspects of two different types of inquiry, science and criticism, happen to be designated by the same term, they may to that extent be considered to have similar logical structures. (shrink)
Once in a while stunning new ideas that energize a scholarly discipline — or even wreck it altogether — come from the outside. The most influential philosopher of science in the last generation was not a philosopher at all, but an historian and physicist, Thomas Kuhn. Ernst Gombrich, an art historian, has deeply informed the philosophy of art, as the linguist Noam Chomsky has affected the philosophy of language. And Jacques Derrida continues to cast his stupefying spell over many a (...) literature department, even if most philosophers remain unimpressed. (shrink)
The charge that a particular critical remark is “irrelevant” to its object is one of the most frequently heard in discussion and debate among critics. Frequently heard because frequently true: there has never been a shortage of criticism which aimlessly relates the work to the artist’s biography, or invokes inappropriate artistic standards, or employs pointless historical speculation, or describes the critic’s own foggy reveries to misdirect our attention and obscure the essential significance of the object before us. But even if (...) we grant that there is no limit on ways to go wrong in criticism, the question remains whether it might be possible at least to isolate areas of traditional critical discourse or general kinds of critical remark which could be ruled out as ever having a proper place in the effort to enhance our understanding of works of art. This is part of the concern to find a correct method for doing criticism, a concern which, as the central issue in talk about talk about art, has generated more controversy than any single commentator might hope to gloss. Nevertheless there is a certain seldom noticed characteristic inherent in the very concept of a method which is necessarily shared by all attempts to formulate methods of criticism. Its recognition will enable us to discern important features intrinsic to both objects of art and critical discourse which serve to distinguish these from ordinary objects and other types of discourse. (shrink)
Considering the philosophic intelligence that has set out to discredit it, intentionalism in critical interpretation has shown an uncanny resilience. Beginning perhaps most explicitly with the New Criticism, continuing through the analytic tradition in philosophy, and culminating most recently in deconstructionism, philosophers and literary theorists have kept under sustained attack the notion that authorial intention can provide a guide to interpretation, a criterion of textual meaning, or a standard for the validation of criticism. Yet intentionalist criticism still has avid theoretical (...) defenders and plenty of informal practitioners. The essay that follows, while an exercise in neither such defense nor practice, nevertheless attempts to demonstrate why intentional questions can be expected to be of permanent concern to criticism. (shrink)
DO SOCIOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY STAND with the sciences or with the humanities? Most attempts to settle this question involve comparing these disciplines with the natural sciences on the one hand and with history on the other. If we take history as paradigmatic of the various forms of humanistic inquiry, we will certainly find many illuminating comparisons to be drawn between it and the social sciences, but history is not the only humanistic inquiry. In fact, there exists another whole realm of (...) the humanities that has been almost universally neglected as an area which might provide revealing comparisons with sociology and anthropology: that is aesthetic criticism. In the discussion which follows, I want to begin to remedy some of that neglect. (shrink)
Evolutionary psychology has much to say about the origins of human political structures. Paul Rubin argues persuasively that given our hard-wired sociality, democracy is the best, most stable political arrangement we can hope for. He is correct in this view.
That postmodernism is a general cultural mood and a style in art, architecture, and literature is uncontroversial. But does postmodernism present a coherent intellectual doctrine or theory of politics, art, or life? In the discussion which follows, I will concentrate on two aspects of the intellectual pretensions of postmodernism. First, I examine the postmodernist claim that to justify the idea that the postmodern world is characterized by a general indeterminacy of meaning. Next I will look at aspects of the postmodernist (...) contention that the present age has witnessed the decline of individuality. (shrink)
With Toni Morrison, I acknowledge that what I think and do is already inscribed on my teaching, and all my work. Indeed, we do "teach values by having them," or at least cannot but reveal our values in the classroom in one manner or another. This is not a voluntary option for those of us who teach in higher education or anywhere else: it is a permanent feature of the human condition. I sit at my computer overlooking a grass commons (...) between suburban houses. As it's a warm New Zealand summer, neighborhood children below are playing an improvised game of cricket. Mr. Gagliardi from the house opposite mine appears with his lawnmower and asks the kids to give way so he can mow the lawn. Today he's doing my side as well, because my old mower is still in the repair shop. They patiently wait by the side of the commons for him to finish, though it takes some more time when he shuts down the mower to chat a bit with Mr. McConchie next door. When the children later resume their play, Mr. Gagliardi helps out with some batting instruction, guiding them with his usual care and patience. (shrink)