A bona fide ethological view of art: The artification hypothesis

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Ellen Dissanayake: A bona fide ethological view of art: The artification hypothesis. In C. Sütterlin, W. Schiefenhövel, ed., C. Lehmann, J. Forster, G. Apfelauer (eds.) Art As Behaviour: An Ethological Approach to Visual and Verbal Art, Music and Architecture, pp. 42-60. Hanse Studies Vol. 10. BIS Verlag Oldenburg.



Between the 1960s and 1980s, most biologically-informed speculation about the origin and function of art was produced by two zoologists, Desmond Morris (1962, 1968) in England and Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1975, 1989a, 1989b) in Germany. Both had been students of the founders of ethology, Niko Tinbergen at Oxford and Konrad Lorenz at the legendary field station in Bavaria, Seewiesen. In their writings, “art” was presumed to refer to visual art and its animal roots were traced to play (Morris) or display and other forms of communication (Eibl-Eibesfeldt). Like these scholars, my own early forays into the subject of art in human evolution were also heavily influenced by ethological concepts that were prominent at the time (Dissanayake 1974, 1979, 1980, 1982). In the United States, during the 1980s and thereafter, both animal and human ethology were gradually assimilated or swept aside by the American-born fields of evolutionary psychology and cognitive science. By 2010, in his influential textbook Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, David Buss described “the ethology movement,” as being of primarily historical interest and essentially passé. Although Buss praised ethology for forcing psychologists to reconsider the role of biology in the study of human behaviour and for focusing attention on the importance of biological adapta- tion, he found that ethologists did not develop “rigorous criteria” for discov- ering adaptations. Moreover, their focus on observable behaviour resulted in descriptions that tended to be “labels” without explanatory force, particularly of the “underlying mechanisms” of the behaviour. ...

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