Ellen Dissanayake
What is art for?
Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1988

(from the jacket)

What Is Art For? offers a new and unprecedentedly comprehensive theory of the evolutionary significance of art. Art, meaning not only visual art, but music, poetic language, dance, and performance, is for the first time regarded from a biobehavioral or ethological viewpoint. It is shown to be a biological necessity in human existence and a fundamental characteristic of the human species.... In this provocative study, Ellen Dissanayake examines art along with play and ritual as human behaviors that "make special," and proposes that making special is an inherited tendency as intrinsic to the human species as speech or toolmaking. She claims that the arts evolved as a means of making socially important activities memorable and pleasurable, and thus have been essential to human survival.... Avoiding simplism and reductionism, this original approach permits a fresh look at old questions about the origin, nature, purpose, and value of art. It crosses disciplinary boundaries and integrates a number of diverse fields: human ethology; evolutionary biology; the psychology and philosophy of art; physical and cultural anthropology; "primitive" and prehistoric art; Western cultural history; and children's art. The final chapter, "From Tradition to Aestheticism," explores some of the ways in which modern Western society has changed from other societies--particularly the type of society in which human beings evolved--and considers the effects of this aberrance on our art and our attitudes toward art.

     The biobehavioral view.
     What is art?
     What does art do for people?
     "Making special": Toward a behavior of art.
     The evolution of a behavior of art.
     The importance of feeling.
     From tradition to aestheticism.
     Photographic credits.
     Index of names.
     Index of subjects.


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