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Snippet No. 13: Reading “The Arts After Darwin” by Ellen Dissanayake Pt. 2

This is the second part of my reading “The Arts After Darwin: Does Art Have an Origin and Adaptive Function?”

In the first part of the essay, Ellen Dissanayake explained why she thinks it’s helpful to think of art as an adaptive function and lays out some of the existing hypotheses of how art may have helped us survive, in the Darwinian sense. However, she argues most of the existing hypothesis aren’t really general enough or are skewed by Western notions of what art is. In the second half of the paper, which I read to you in this episode, the author lays out her own hypothesis about the adaptive function of art, which she argues is more universal.

The author, Ellen Dissanayake, is best known for three books on art anthropology: What Is Art For? (1988), Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from and Why (1992) and Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began (2000). I chose to read “Arts After Darwin”, which was published in 2008 as a chapter in a book called World Art Studies, not just because it’s a shorter, stand-alone, piece but also because it is general enough to serve as an introduction for someone, like me, who isn’t an anthropologist. It was also published after Dissanayake’s three main books on art anthropology, which means she had completed the bulk of her research into this subject by the time she wrote this – not to mention that recency is very important when considering academic writing, especially when there’s a scientific aspect to it.  

You can read “Art After Darwin” yourself here: http://mail.ellendissanayake.com/publications/pdf/EllenDissanayake_ArtsAfterDarwinWAS08.pdf