Dissanayake, Ellen.
Does art have selective value?
Empirical Studies of the Arts 2. 1 (1984): 35-49


In the absence of satisfactory accounts by evolutionary biologists to explain the ubiquity and persistence of art in all human societies, a number of reasons offered by other writers for the existence and effects of art are critically examined for their evolutionary plausibility. These are found to be inadequate because they are incomplete and because their "selective value" is more parsimoniously attributed to other behaviors and attributes, such as play, ritual, and fantasy, that resemble art. The necessity of invoking a concept "art" is questioned, and it is posited that a universal human behavior, "making special," from which art in the modern sense is derived, had evolutionary value because it reinforced the adoption of other selectively valuable behaviors. Aesthetic ingredients and responses can be called enabling mechanisms to this end. Peculiarities of advanced technological society that contribute to modern confusion about art and its place in human life are discussed.



Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles