What engineers our aesthetic development? Nature? Nurture? Both? The noted aesthetic philosopher, Denis Dutton, (visit his website at www.denisdutton.com) has recently posited in his new book, The Art Instinct, that we are hard-wired for art/aesthetics through natural selection. That our aesthetic and appreciation for the arts (music, drama, visual arts) has evolved naturally as a result of evolution. (Calling Darwin! It’s for you, Charles.) Of course, one of the questions that’s raised by Dutton’s book, is why did an art not evolve from our sense of smell? Oh, never mind.
But he does suggest, for instance, that one reason landscapes are so popular, is that they offer the viewer an ideal vantage point, oftentimes a source of water and a quick escape route (such as an easily climbed tree); all aspects of early man’s need to defend and cultivate his home.
Gets you to wonder, does it not? Part of our aesthetic development must be, that as children, we are sponges–all sorts of information is absorbed, some sticks, the rest is wrung out. I don’t believe that when I was eight and putting on plays with my cousin in my grandmother’s backyard, such as Romeo and Juliet for heaven’s sake, that we had ever read Shakespeare. But we definitely knew who he was and enough of the play to create our own version in a verdant, pastoral setting on a hot mid-western summer afternoon.
Does that artistic ability makes us more attractive as a mate? Dutton seems to think so and some of the most interesting arguments he raises are based on the Darwinian notion of sexual attraction. In the book, Dutton draws on Darwin’s Descent of Man to describe the possession of artistic talent as “an ornamental capacity analogous to the peacock’s tail.” A rich and vibrant vocabulary may draw the same results–all indicating a developed intelligence–not an unattractive quality in a mate, hmmm?