The Descent of Art: The Evolution of Visual Art as Communication via Material Culture

Autor: Larissa M. Straffon
[erschienen in: IMAGE 14 (Ausgabe Juli 2011)]

Schlagwörter: Visual art; Human evolution; Communication; Material culture; Pleistocene

Disziplinen: World Art Studies; Pleistocene archaeology; palaeoanthropology; evolutionary psychology; cognitive evolution

This paper starts out by offering an analysis of three highly topical and influential evolutionary approaches for the origins of art: The first goes back to Darwin and suggests that art, like the peacock’s tail, was shaped by sexual selection to attract the opposite sex. The second proposal suggests that the main adaptive function of art is to attract and share attention, thereby promoting social cohesion and increasing the overall fitness of the group. The third model advances that throughout evolution, visual art has helped organize mental structure and enhanced cognitive abilities – e.g. memory and learning. By contrasting these models against evidence of artistic behaviour from the archaeological record of the Upper Pleistocene – 127-10,000 years before present, and especially from 100-30,000 BP, it becomes evident that none of them can fully account for the emergence and development of visual art as it is reflected in the archaeology. Based on that analysis the present work argues that: 1) Many important issues regarding the evolution of visual art in particular have not been attended by existing models, for which an account that is compatible the archaeological record is still lacking. 2) It might be fruitful to pursue an alternative evolutionary scenario for visual art, in which this trait is conceived of as a communication signal in the form of stylistic variation in material culture. 3) An evolutionary model based on communication, material culture, and style can generate preliminary predictions for the emergence and development of visual art in the Pleistocene, some of which will be outlined.


Volltext des Artikels:

06_IMAGE 14_Straffon.pdf