Davies: Chapter One: Evolution and Culture



                  Does art have a natural/biological origin or a cultural/social one?

                  Positive or negative view of the role of museums for art

                  Tourist art, authenticity of native art, and double standards

                  Are the products of popular culture art?

                  Can we assume that ancient “art” is art?



                  Biological vs cultural account of art’s origins

                  A nature/nurture argument  




        Arguments for biological account


                  Art exists all over the world and at all times

                    -        Mothers sing to children; people tell stories and dramaticize events in all cultures; they sing and dance, carve wood; all humans decorate and beatify env., bodies, and possessions

                    -        So they have music, drama, and art more generally

                                      Question 1.2, p. 21


                  European cave paintings are 50,000 years old, as are some musical instruments

        This art gives pleasure and value to those people

                  Even if functional as well (e.g., appeasing gods in ritual ceremonies)


        Genetic story: Thus there is an underlying genetic disposition to art, passed from generation to generation because it enhances reproductive success of people who have such dispositions

                  Not one gene

                  Behaviors that genes code for are plastic and are molded by learning, development etc., namely shaped by socio-cultural context

                  Not denying art includes huge conventional and socio-historical component (but insisting it has strong biological component as well)

                    -        The contrasting cultural view insists that art behaviors are purely cultural and entirely contingent

        Ways art might be adaptive (responsible for reproductive success)


                    -        Art behavior, like peacock’s tail, advertises our fitness as good mates (we are creative, talented, original, intelligent)

                                      So get more mates.....

                    -        Art intensifies and enriches our lives, brings us together and engenders cooperation and shared identity

                                      Enhances reproductive success by creating an env. in which individuals and their children can flourish

                  Indirect: Propensities to art not directly targeted by evolution but byproducts of other behaviors/capacities that were so targeted

                    -        These other behaviors/capacities are: curiosity, adaptability, intelligence, imagination, improvisational facility, patience

                                      These promote survival of people and their offspring

                    -        Once a creature with these behavioral capacities evolved and finds spare time it will inevitably use these talents to create and enjoy art


        Arguments for Cultural Invention of Art (art purely cultural)

        Distinction arts and crafts (saddle-making, boat building and plumbing)

                  Art products contemplated for own sake,

                    -        Ends in themselves

                    -        Value lies within them and not for benefits and uses of their effects.

                  Crafts aimed at useful function products serve


                    -        Means to an end

                    -        Value lie in the benefits they produce

                  Artist must be creative and original


                  Artisan not expected to be original

                  Good art not produced by slavish rule following or imitation      

                  Artisans follow rules, models, recipes

                  Good work of craft if matches template and performs desired function

                  Disinterestedness (DI) Spectator must distance herself from “interested” concerns: practical uses of art (personal or general)–so can have appro exp of pleasurable contemplation of work’s aes properties for own sake

                  User of a craft very much interested in its practical function and what benefits it can produce

        Above conception of art a product of specific culture and history, not biology

                  Mid 18th century, in Europe

                  Before 18th century, “art” meant not nature (that is, anything created by humans)

        Distinction between art and craft essential to our modern conception of art

                  Since no such distinction existed until 18th century, there was no art before 18th century


        Before 18th century, various artforms not recognized as comprising a unified group

                  Music was classed with math and astronomy

                  Poetry with grammar and rhetoric

                  Individuality not expected or highly valued

                  “Artists” were servants of church or court

                    -        Bach was a church composer who produced new music weekly

                  Only later did “artists” in our sense emerge

                    -        Independent, large numbers, signed as opposed to anonymous works, emphasis on originality, idea of artist as inspired and creative in ways artisans are not

                  Change in social status of artists due to emerging econ power of middle class who could patronize arts

        Conclusion: Art not ancient and universal, but recent and localized socio-philosophical creation.

                  See question about facemask used once, 1.5, p. 21


        Follows that: Non-Western cultures (and western culture prior to 18th century) do not have art in our sense

                    -        Though not creators of art, they “have own functionally similar practices”


                  Their objects can become art by being appropriated into the western art world

                  If western culture has become thoroughly globalized, people from other societies make art now


        Objection: What about Leonardo da Vinci (1400s), Shakespeare (1500s), Greek Tragedy? All before 18th century

                  Leonardo would probably not have distinguished his painting from the practical products of artisans as sharply as we do.



        Can we just assume that ancient rock paintings (or non-Western dances) are art, without knowing the intentions of the makers of the ancient pictures or how they were regarded or used in those cultures?

                  Could argue that this would make us unable to fully (or properly) interpret these artworks (figure out their symbolic, metaphorical or religious meanings), but we can still identify them as art.

        And we identify them as art because of their formal beauty, such as grace elegance and balance

                  Obvious someone gone to great trouble to create them and that these properties are important to the thing’s function or valuable in own right

                  If such properties marginal or absent, not art

        Objection: But if (formal) beauty is the mark of art, much contemporary art would not be art (as not beautiful)

                  Some of this sets out to be ugly

        Reply: Claim is not beauty nec for art, but that in the history and origin of art, properties that universally strike the audience as beautiful will be present



                  Tension between community-based art versus museum-based art


                  Separating art from context of creation and role in community, destroys its relevance and power

                  Art should intensify and add significance to people’s lives by its immediate involvement in things that directly affect them, like religion and rites, work/entertainment

                  When we put art in a museum/symphony hall, it can no longer engage with daily existence of community


                    -        Take Bach’s cantatas out of their performance in 18th century church services and play them in a symphony hall (undermines their meaning/nature?)

                    -        Rip altarpieces from churches and display in museum

                    -        “Acquisitive imperialism has seen global harvest of statues from cultures around the world”

                                  Ancient marble statues removed from Athens, Greece in 18th century have not been returned from British museum even though Greek government requested it

                  Displaying art in a warehouse, pinned and labeled, kills it, alienates if from setting in which it matters to ordinary folk, thus impoverishing their lives

                  See question 1.6, p. 21 (Japanese tea cups)

                  See question 1.7, p. 22 about work songs and authentic performances


                  Art museums provide for undisturbed contemplation of art and this is the proper way to appreciate it

                  Contextualizing artworks by ordering them by artist/period/style is best for their appreciation

                    -        Consider listening to boring church sermons in order to hear Bach’s music

                    -        Gloomy interior of churches are poor conditions for viewing carvings and paintings

                  High art been created for museum/concert hall; they are its natural home

                  Museums bring art out of hands of private wealthy people and put it on public display for people who might otherwise not see it

                  Museums guard and treasure art that would otherwise have been lost


        Museums changing

                  Material from other cultures transferred from natural history to art museums

                  Display products of domestic skills such as weaving, quilting, and sewing

                  Theme rooms that bring paintings, sculptures, rugs, furniture that might coexist outside the museum: show how art integrated in social context

                  Is this good or bad?



        Double standard and romantic ideological toward native ‘primitive” arts

                  Cultural tourists seek out spiritual nourishment in what they identify as art in these primitive cultures

                  Use standards of authenticity not apply to western artists/art

                    -        No problem if American composer is influenced by music from foreign culture

                    -        No problem if American uses an instrument manufactured in Japan

                    -        Not condemn a performance because it is staged for a fee-paying audience who are mostly tourists

                  Performances of non-Western music in indigenous contexts dismissed as inauthentic if any taint of Western influence or commercialism

        See question 1.1 p. 20-21



        If view art as old and universal likely to be inclusive and regard modern pop entertainments as art

                  Even if not of the best kind

        If view art as product of 18th century, likely to be more conservative

                  Put art on higher pedestal than ordinary occupations and functional artifacts

        Critique of pop art

                  Conservatism that equates art with highest achievements of Western civilization

                    -        Distinguish fine art from other cultural products aimed at amusing or entertaining

                  Distinguishes art from works of pop entertainment

                    -        Which are despised along with the crafts

                  Because entertainments aim to be accessible, they target lowest common level of taste and rely on stereotypes and formulas that inhibit audience’s imaginative and critical engagement

                    -        But don’t thriller genres (example of pop art) demand imaginative engagement and critical analysis from audience?

        Some not oppose folk or popular art as such, but mass art, product of tech of mass dissemination