Aesthetic universals

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Dutton, D. (2002). Aesthetic universals. In B. Gaut & D. M. Lopes (Eds.), The Routledge companion to aesthetics. London: Routledge.




Art itself is a cultural universal; that is, there are no known human cultures in which there cannot be found some form of what we might reasonably term aesthetic or artistic interest, performance, or artifact production — including sculptures and paintings, dancing and music, oral and written fictional narratives, body adornment, and decoration. This does not mean that all cultures possess all the various arts. For example, there is no clear analogue in European tradition for the Japanese tea ceremony, which is nevertheless considered by many to be an art form (Okakura 1906). On the other hand, are cases such as the Dinka, a Nilotic herding people who have no developed indigenous visual art or carving. Instead, their aesthetic interests seem to be directed toward poetic expression and, in the visual realm, toward the markings on the cattle that are so important to their lives: they are, so to speak, keen connoisseurs of cattle markings (Coote 1992). Even within the same cultural region there may be sharp contrasts: in the Sepik River region of the northern New Guinea there is an enormous variety of wood carving, while in the Highlands of the same country there is very little carving, with vast effort channelled instead into body adornment and the production of decorated fighting shields.

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Used References

Aristotle (1980) Aristotle on the Art of Poetry, Ingram Bywater (trans.), Oxford.

Bell, Clive (1914) Art, Chatto & Windus.

Berlyne, D.E. (1971) Aesthetics and Psychobiology, Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Carroll, Joseph (1995) Evolution and Literary Theory, University of Missouri Press.

Coote, Jeremy (1992) “Marvels of Everyday Vision’: the Anthropology of Aesthetics and the Cattle-Keeping Nilotes,” in J. Coote and A. Shelton (eds.) Anthropology, Arts and Aesthetics, Clarendon Press.

Dissanayake, Ellen (1997) Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why, University of Washington Press.

Hume, David (1987) “Of the Stadard of Taste,” in Eugene F. Miller (ed.) Essays Moral, Political, Literary, Bobbs Merrill.

Kant, Immanuel (1987) Critique of Judgment, Werner Pluhar (trans.), Hackett.

Martindale, Colin (1990) The Clockwork Muse: the Predictability of Artistic Change, Basic Books.

Okakura, Kakuzo (1906) The Book of Tea, Fox Duffield.

Orians, G.H. and Heerwagen, J.H. (1992) “Evolved Responses to Landscapes,” in J.H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby, The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, Oxford.

Pinker, Steven (1997) How the Mind Works, Norton.

Schiller, F. (1966) On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, E.M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby (ed. and trans.), Oxford.

Tolstoy, Leo (1960) What Is Art? Aylmer Maude (trans.), Bobbs-Merrill.

Wypijewski, J., ed. (1997) Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid’s Scientific Guide to Art, Farrar Straus Giroux.


The Biological Origins of Art, Praeger. (A general treatment of emotional cues in art from an evolutionary perspective.)

Human Universals, Temple University Press. (The best account of universals in human life and culture.)

Carroll, Joseph (2004) Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. (A wide-ranging, profound account of the relation of literature to evolved human values.)

Cooke, Brett, and Frederick Turner, eds. (1999) Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts, ICUS. (Articles examining features as seen in the light of adaptive psychology. Includes writing on art by biologist E.O. Wilson.)

Sociobiology and the Arts (1999) Rodopi. (Similar to the above anthology, with a wide variety of art themes examined.)

Gottschall, Ian, and Wilson, David Sloan eds. Literature and the Human Animal. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. (Essays by critics and scientists on the Darwinian basis for universal literary values.)

Mithen, S. (1996) The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origin of Art, Religion, and Science. London: Thames and Hudson. (A historical summary of evidence for human artistic impulses in the ancient past.)

Philosophy and Literature, vol. 25.1 (October 2001). (A special issue devoted to evolution and literature.)

Pinker, S. (2002) The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Viking. (A general survey of contemporary psychology, especially as informed by evolutionary science. Includes a chapter on the arts.)

Turner, Mark (1996) The Literary Mind, Oxford University Press. (A lucid and penetrating examination of how human beings construct narratives in literature and in everyday thinking.)

Wilson, E.O. (1998) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. (An overview of how psychological science, including the study of aesthetic values, can be incorporated into a unitary notion of science.)


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