I’ve studied biology most of my life. In college, my major was Psycho-biology which translated into animal behavior. When I worked as a biologist in Philly, I used the train commute to read, but always fell behind. Now, over four years after leaving that career for this one, I have finally caught up in reading my magazine subscriptions.

So here I am reading a December 2000 issue of Natural History magazine and I come across a fascinating article entitled Birth of the Arts by Ellen Dissanayake. In it she begins to explain her theory of what lies behind the human urge to elaborate and embellish. She suggests that it basically derives from the “emotionally evocative and compelling features of mother-infant interaction”. Further, she places high importance on ceremonies rich in art as efficient means of arousing interest, compelling attention, and conveying important messages. And she provides a purpose for it all – “through being especially riveting, beautiful, rare, painstaking, and astonishing, a people’s arts are emblems to themselves of how much they care about the sacred beliefs that bind and preserve them”.

For me this describes not just the urge to create, but the reason that we all buy and support the arts whether visual, musical, theatrical, or otherwise. And it does so in a biological construct of evolution and anthropology. I’ve just discovered her writings, so there is more I want to read of her (she has at least three books out).

Gift of Gold (c) Paul Grecian



4 thoughts on “Natural History of Art

  1. Very interesting theory. Lovely photo, too. Sorry for my absence lately–the mundania monster’s been intruding in my life. Hopefully it’ll let up soon!

  2. Lana – thanks for the kind words!

    Diana – thanks for the visit. You would really need to read her theory in more detail to appreciate where she is coming from. But even from the magazine article I find her view enticing.

  3. Sounds like an interesting read Paul. I have often wondered which is stronger, an artists desire to communicate with others, or the desire to create to communicate with themselves. Perhaps completely off base from what she writes about, but this is what came to mind in reading your post.

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