Davies: Chapter One: Evolution and Culture



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

                i.      Is art as old as humanity or a recent invention in the 18th century?

                ii.     Not same questions: Art could be as old as humanity and have a cultural/social origin

        b.     Is ancient “art” art? Is non-western “art” art?

        c.     Positive or negative view of the role of museums for art

                i.      Museum-based versus community based views of art

        d.     Are the products of popular culture art?



        a.     Biological vs cultural account of art’s origins

                i.      A “nature or nurture” debate

        b.     Biological: Activities involved in making and appreciating art due to human biological evolution

                i.      Art is universal and old     

        c.     Cultural: Art is a product of culture, and a very specific culture: 18th century Europe

                i.      Art a product of particular (recent) time and culture (localized at first)

                ii.     Concept of art familiar to us today emerged then


3.     Art is universal

        a.     Art exists all over the world and at all times

        b.     Examples: Mothers sing to children; people tell stories and dramaticize events in all cultures; they sing and dance, carve wood; all humans decorate and beatify their environment, bodies, and possessions

        c.     So all cultures have music, drama, and art more generally

                         (1)   Question 1.2, p. 21 (Can people sing to kids and not have music? Can they have music but not art?)

4.     Art is ancient

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

5.     Art gives pleasure beyond functional value

        a.     Even though many (all?) of these objects are functional as well (e.g., are used in appeasing gods in ritual ceremonies)

        b.     They also give pleasure and value to those people not reducible to their functional value

6.     Genetic story about origins and existence of art

        a.     There is an underlying genetic disposition to art, passed from generation to generation

        b.     Because it enhances reproductive success of people who have such (art) dispositions

7.     Ways art might be adaptive (responsible for reproductive success)

        a.     Directly adaptive:

                i.      Art-making a tool for sexual advertisement and seduction

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

                         (2)   So those with disposition to art get more mates

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

                         (1)   Enhances reproductive success by creating an environment in which individuals and their children can flourish

        b.     Indirect adaptive:

                i.      Propensities to art not directly targeted by evolution but are byproducts of other behaviors/capacities that were so targeted

                ii.     These other behaviors/capacities are: Curiosity, adaptability, intelligence, imagination, improvisational facility, patience

                         (1)   These promote survival of people and their offspring

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

8.     Biological/genetic origin account allows for some cultural shaping of art behavior

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

        b.     **The biological account of art does not denying art includes conventional and socio-historical component (but insists it has strong biological component as well)

        c.     **Note: The contrasting cultural view insists that art behaviors are purely cultural and entirely contingent



        a.     (Art purely cultural and a product of the 18th century ideas)

10.   Art needs to be distinguished from craft

        a.     Art

                i.      E.g., Painting, music, sculpture

                ii.     Contemplated for its own sake

                iii.    Value lies within them and not valued for the benefits and uses of their effects

                iv.    Valued intrinsically, as ends in themselves (and not as a means to something else)

        b.     Crafts

                i.      E.g., Saddle-making, boat building, and plumbing

                ii.     Aimed at useful function products serve

                iii.    Value lie in the benefits they produce

                iv.    Valued instrumentally; are means to an end

        c.     Originality important in art not craft

                i.      Artist must be creative and original

                ii.     Artisan (of crafts) not expected to be original

        d.     Rule following for crafts, not art

                i.      Good art not produced by slavish rule following or imitation

                ii.     Artisans follow rules, models, recipes

                         (1)   Good work of craft if matches template and performs desired function

        e.     Disinterestedness important for art, not craft

                i.      Art appreciation is disinterestedness (DI)

                         (1)   Appreciator must distance herself from “interested” concerns

                                 (a)    E.g., from any practical uses of art

                         (2)   DI necessary to have appropriate aesthetic experience, namely pleasurable contemplation of work’s aesthetic properties for their own sake

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

11.   Above conception of art (as distinct from craft) a product of specific culture and history, not biology

        a.     Arose in mid 18th century in Europe

        b.     Before 18th century, “art” meant not nature (that is, art was anything created by humans) and not art in our more narrow sense

12.   No art before 18th century

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

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

        c.     Worry:

                i.      Why isn’t the only conclusion here that no one had the concept of art before 18th century

                ii.     That no one had the concept of electron before the 18th century does not mean there were no electrons before then

                iii.    That no one had the concept of “psychopath” before the 18th century does not mean there were no psychopaths before then

                iv.    So that no one had the concept of art as opposed to craft, does not mean there was no art before they developed that concept

                v.     Reply: “Because art can be such only when made and appreciated as falling under the concept that identifies it” (p. 6)

                         (1)   Is this true?

13.   Before 18th century

        a.     Various artforms not recognized as comprising a unified group

                i.      Music was classed with math and astronomy

                ii.     Poetry with grammar and rhetoric

        b.     Individuality of artists was not expected or highly valued

        c.     “Artists” were servants of church or court

                i.      Bach was a church composer who produced new music weekly

        d.     Only later did “artists” in our sense emerge

                i.      Artist as inspired, original, and creative in ways artisans are not; their works were signed as opposed to anonymous works

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

        a.     Facemask used once, 1.5, p. 21


15.   On this cultural view of art----

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

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

        b.     Or their objects can become art by being appropriated into the Western art world

        c.     Or if Western culture has become thoroughly globalized, people from other societies make art now (as they have been Westernized)

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

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



19.   Question: 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?

        a.     One response: Since we don’t know the intentions of the makers or the way these objects are used, we can’t know if they are art

        b.     Another response: Lack of this knowledge makes 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 because of the dominant presence of aesthetic properties

                i.      They are art because of their formal beauty, such as grace elegance and balance

                ii.     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

                iii.    If such properties were marginal or absent, then not art

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

                         (1)   Some contemporary art sets out to be ugly

                                 (a)    Damien Hirst The Crow 1990

                         (2)   Reply: Claim is not that beauty is necessary for art, but that in the history and origin of art, properties that universally strike the audience as beautiful will be present and this is enough for us to identify them as art



        a.     Tension between community-based art versus museum-based art

21.   Critique of museums (In sum: They take art out of people’s lives)

        a.     Museums separate art from its context of creation and role in the community

                i.      Such separation destroys art’s relevance and power

        b.     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

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

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

        e.     Examples

                i.      Take Bach’s cantatas out of their performance in 18th century church services and play them in a symphony hall

                         (1)   Undermines their meaning/nature?

                ii.     Rip altarpieces from churches and display then in museums

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

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

                iv.    See question 1.6, p. 21 (Japanese tea cups put on display in cabinet in museum separated from use in tea ceremony)

                v.     See question 1.7, p. 22 (About work songs, performed by coral group; are they authentic performances?)

22.   Defense of museums

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

                i.      **Consider listening to boring church sermons in order to hear Bach’s music!

                ii.     **Gloomy interior of churches are poor conditions for viewing carvings and paintings

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

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

                i.      Well then, only place that kind of art in museums!

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

        e.     Museums guard and treasure art that would otherwise have been lost

23.   Museums changing

        a.     Material from other cultures transferred from natural history to art museums

                i.      Native bowls part of nature or culture?

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

                i.      Should these object be displayed in “Art Museums?”

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

        d.     Is this good or bad?



        a.     What is pop art? Rock music? Music videos? Folk dancing? Movies? Anything aimed at “entertainment?”

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

        a.     Even if not of the best kind

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

        a.     Put art on higher pedestal than ordinary occupations and functional artifacts

27.   Critique of pop art

        a.     Popular entertainment is not art (just as crafts are not art)

        b.     Distinguish fine art from other cultural products aimed at amusement or entertainment

        c.     Conservative critique that equates art with highest achievements of Western civilization

        d.     Popular entertainments not art as aim to be accessible, target lowest common level of taste, and rely on stereotypes and formulas that inhibit audience’s imaginative and critical engagement

        e.     Reply:

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


28.   Mass art

        a.     Some critics do not oppose folk or popular art as such, but

        b.     Oppose mass art, art that is the product of technology of mass dissemination

                i.      So a local folk artist singing in a bar is art, but a you-tube video aiming for one million views is not?

Study questions for Davies, Ch. 1: Evolution and Culture


1.     Describe the biological account of the origin of art (as Davies explains it). What are some reasons/arguments for this account? How is it different from the cultural account?

2.     Explain the genetic story behind the view that art has a biological origin. How might art be adaptive (responsible for reproductive success)?

3.     Describe the cultural account of the origin of art (as Davies explains it). What are some reasons/arguments for this account? How is it different from the biological account?

4.     Which account of the origin of art (biological or cultural) do you think is most persuasive (if either) and why?

5.     Explain the distinction between art and craft. Give clear examples of each and explain how they illustrate the differences between what makes something art and what makes something craft.

6.     Explain the concept of disinterestedness and how it relates to art and art appreciation. Use examples in your explanation.

7.     Explain why someone might think that ancient “art” is not art. What would the cultural view of art say about this?

8.     Explain why someone might think that non-western cultures do not have art.

9.     As forcefully as you can, explain the criticism of art museums that Davies discusses. Do you think there is any merit in these criticisms? What can be said in favor of putting art in museums?


10.   Explain the argument in favor of the view that pop art and mass art is not art. What is pop art? What is mass art? Do you think they should count as art?


Tourist art, authenticity of native art, and double standards


12.   Double standard and romantic ideology toward native ‘primitive” arts (see p. 16)

        a.     Cultural tourists seek out spiritual nourishment in what they identify as art in “primitive” cultures

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

        c.     Use standards of authenticity not apply to western artists/art

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

                ii.     No problem if American uses an instrument manufactured in Japan

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

13.   Is this a fair criticism?

14.   See question 1.1 p. 20-21 (religious ceremonies now performed for tourists)

        a.     Still authentic? No longer art? Was it art to begin with?

15.   Explain Davies’ worry about the double standard in tourist art–about, for example, what counts as authentic performance of music in Western and non-Western?