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Una obra innovadora que hará tambalear los cimientos de un siglo de teoría y crítica del arte. El instinto del arte une dos de las disciplinas más apasionantes y polémicas, el arte y la ciencia evolutiva, en una nueva y provocadora obra que revolucionará el modo en que pensamos sobre las artes. ¿Por qué determinados paisajes son los predilectos para ilustrar los calendarios Una obra innovadora que hará tambalear los cimientos de un siglo de teoría y crítica del arte. El instinto del arte une dos de las disciplinas más apasionantes y polémicas, el arte y la ciencia evolutiva, en una nueva y provocadora obra que revolucionará el modo en que pensamos sobre las artes. ¿Por qué determinados paisajes son los predilectos para ilustrar los calendarios de todo el mundo? Según Denis Dutton, los gustos y las preferencias del ser humano por las artes son rasgos evolutivos que se han ido conformando por selección natural. No son «construcciones sociales», tal como habrían defendido la crítica del arte y la teoría académica del siglo pasado, ni tampoco vienen determinados por el entorno cultural. Nuestro amor por la belleza es innato y muchos gustos artísticos son universales, como por ejemplo la preferencia por paisajes que combinan imágenes de agua y de árboles lejanos, pues evocan las sabanas desde las cuales evolucionamos. Ingenioso, erudito, y profundamente humano, su debate propone nuevas vías de reflexión sobre creaciones que van desde las tallas polinesias hasta novelas como Orgullo y prejuicio. Además, nos indica la dirección para abandonar el terreno inerte de las guerras culturales y reivindica el lugar preeminente de la belleza, el placer y la pericia técnica como valores artísticos esenciales.


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Una obra innovadora que hará tambalear los cimientos de un siglo de teoría y crítica del arte. El instinto del arte une dos de las disciplinas más apasionantes y polémicas, el arte y la ciencia evolutiva, en una nueva y provocadora obra que revolucionará el modo en que pensamos sobre las artes. ¿Por qué determinados paisajes son los predilectos para ilustrar los calendarios Una obra innovadora que hará tambalear los cimientos de un siglo de teoría y crítica del arte. El instinto del arte une dos de las disciplinas más apasionantes y polémicas, el arte y la ciencia evolutiva, en una nueva y provocadora obra que revolucionará el modo en que pensamos sobre las artes. ¿Por qué determinados paisajes son los predilectos para ilustrar los calendarios de todo el mundo? Según Denis Dutton, los gustos y las preferencias del ser humano por las artes son rasgos evolutivos que se han ido conformando por selección natural. No son «construcciones sociales», tal como habrían defendido la crítica del arte y la teoría académica del siglo pasado, ni tampoco vienen determinados por el entorno cultural. Nuestro amor por la belleza es innato y muchos gustos artísticos son universales, como por ejemplo la preferencia por paisajes que combinan imágenes de agua y de árboles lejanos, pues evocan las sabanas desde las cuales evolucionamos. Ingenioso, erudito, y profundamente humano, su debate propone nuevas vías de reflexión sobre creaciones que van desde las tallas polinesias hasta novelas como Orgullo y prejuicio. Además, nos indica la dirección para abandonar el terreno inerte de las guerras culturales y reivindica el lugar preeminente de la belleza, el placer y la pericia técnica como valores artísticos esenciales.

30 review for El instinto del arte: Belleza, placer y evolución humana

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lazarus P Badpenny Esq

    Occasionally irate academic becalmed in his own backwater mentality fails to deliver the book this subject deserves. Thank God it's over. Like this book, life's too short to waste another moment on such a risible act of narrow-minded scholarship [an oxymoron if ever there was one:], suffice to say it was rife with under-argued assumptions and intermittently self-contradictory. Yet, paradoxically, if the experience had been prolonged it may have been less painful. In a longer, better book every la Occasionally irate academic becalmed in his own backwater mentality fails to deliver the book this subject deserves. Thank God it's over. Like this book, life's too short to waste another moment on such a risible act of narrow-minded scholarship [an oxymoron if ever there was one:], suffice to say it was rife with under-argued assumptions and intermittently self-contradictory. Yet, paradoxically, if the experience had been prolonged it may have been less painful. In a longer, better book every lazy conjecture, too numerous to catalogue for reasons given, could have been met with its counter. There was so much to take issue with here that I even began to doubt the veracity of the man's name. Perhaps I'm missing the point. After all, this was very well received by The Journal of New Zealand Art History. If you want a second opinion: http://www.artsandecology.org.uk/maga... "But then, the whole idea that art worlds are monadically sealed off from one another is daft. Do we need to be reminded that Chopin is loved in Korea, that Spaniards collect Japanese prints, or that Cervantes is read in Chicago and Shakespeare enjoyed in China?" What? Every Spaniard? Are we to understand that the drawing rooms of the Iberian peninsular, from the sea-dipped southern extremities of Andalusia right up to the wind-swept Galician cliffs, are stuffed to the gills with Hokusai? Do the booksellers of Chicago take a collective holiday whilst they wait for the city's readers to traverse the arid plateau of Don Quixote's la Mancha? "A determination to shock or puzzle has sent much recent art down a wrong path. Darwinian aesthetics can restore the vital place of beauty, skill, and pleasure as high artistic values." But whose definition of these values? Dr Dutton's, mine, Adolf Hitler's? Might have been better-titled The Art Critics Instinct as, so far, it has dealt exclusively not with the creative impulse but with aesthetic judgement.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    A fascinating, thought-provoking, controversial argument for why we love art.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Al Bità

    The Arts have been with us a long time, starting, perhaps, with language and story telling, dance, musical sounds, cave paintings, etc. Ditto regarding speculation on them: as early, at least, as Pythagoras and music. In general, each of these disciplines have developed and flourished more or less independently (or so we have been lead to believe) culminating in reaching alleged apexes (within specific cultures and racial groupings) determined more or less in the 19th-century. But it was really The Arts have been with us a long time, starting, perhaps, with language and story telling, dance, musical sounds, cave paintings, etc. Ditto regarding speculation on them: as early, at least, as Pythagoras and music. In general, each of these disciplines have developed and flourished more or less independently (or so we have been lead to believe) culminating in reaching alleged apexes (within specific cultures and racial groupings) determined more or less in the 19th-century. But it was really in the 20th-century, when the Arts were all included in academic institutions and subjected to more intense study and theorising, that a veritable flourishing of ideas on aesthetics for each discipline came to fruition. Much of this is highly conceptual, often using highly specific jargon, exploring the many nooks and cavities of each — so much so that often enough they can be almost impenetrable for anyone not within the discipline to grasp readily. At the core of this is the implication that each of the disciplines associated with the Arts generally considers itself as separate and distinct from the others, requiring specialised training and expertise by its acolytes. Anyone trying to come to terms with the Arts in general, therefore, will often find themselves inundated, as it were, by mountainous waves of specific theorising and speculation that can be disorienting, to say the least. In The Art Instinct Denis Dutton attempts to reorient much of this disorientation by suggesting that in fact, the Arts are not really distinct and separate disciplines, but rather manifestations of basic human evolutionary instincts that are part and parcel of who we are as human beings. In so doing, Dutton does not wish to completely discredit the implicitly separate nature in theoretical considerations, as they often enough have useful things to say, but he does need to go through these ideas if only to give them some credit where it is due. As such, some readers might find Dutton’s discussions a little hard-going, particularly since most of us have never actually participated in, or familiar with all the all the associated jargon of, the relevant discussions, but Dutton does try his best (and in my opinion more or less succeeds) in being as clear as he can be regarding those theories and theorists. The book is not long — merely some 250 pages — so a lot of information is provided in very condensed form. This can provide its own difficulties for the ordinary reader, but it can be (and is) of real value to the persistent reader. Many of the individual chapters are very insightful all on their own. Put all together, Dutton is arguing that one needs to consider all the Arts, not as separate, individualistic manifestations (as they might appear to us specifically in the 21st-century) but as in fact representing a more holistic aspect of humanity which is better appreciated by taking an evolutionary approach to them. Dutton’e conclusion remains: the Arts are not separate disciplines, but instead form a united and cohesive whole. Regardless of whether one agrees with Dutton’s approach or not, the book is intellectually stimulating on many levels, and one is, I would venture to suggest, educated into a more encompassing appreciation of humanity as a whole. I will end with Dutton’s own conclusion (at the end of the Afterword he added to the 2010 edition of his work): after referring to the nuances reflected in the numerous theories of aesthetic responses in the Arts, he concludes — “Knowing about such nuances of aesthetic response — if they are knowable at all — might give us a more subtle understanding of human nature, but it will make little differences to the larger picture of beauty and the arts and their permanent place in human life. Homo sapiens remains a species with insatiable tastes for music, pictures, dance and storytelling. The unity of the arts emerges from the unity of mankind.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nelson Zagalo

    A masterpiece, and a mind-bending work. Denis Dutton faced criticism from the entire continent of art theorists to research and publish his work. As evolution theory continues to be doubted and critiqued by sceptics, trying to extend its rules and naturalism to the arts, is not only an act of bravery, but also of pure scientific curiosity. Humanities have lacked for too long a scientific foundation, Dutton opened here a new avenue for critical thinking. As Steven Pinker states in the back cover A masterpiece, and a mind-bending work. Denis Dutton faced criticism from the entire continent of art theorists to research and publish his work. As evolution theory continues to be doubted and critiqued by sceptics, trying to extend its rules and naturalism to the arts, is not only an act of bravery, but also of pure scientific curiosity. Humanities have lacked for too long a scientific foundation, Dutton opened here a new avenue for critical thinking. As Steven Pinker states in the back cover "This book marks out the future of the humanities..." More in my blog (portuguese): "A Ciência por detrás da Arte" - https://virtual-illusion.blogspot.pt/...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I began this book with unbounded optimism, excited to hear a Darwinian take on the human drive for creativity. I liked some of the information, like Dutton's ideas on how storytelling helped our Pleistocene ancestors survive their hunter/gatherer lifestyle or the ways our ancestors may have come to enjoy certain types of landscapes over others. I was slightly less excited about Dutton's take on postmodern ethnography and his weird repetition of the physical characteristics of women as they apply I began this book with unbounded optimism, excited to hear a Darwinian take on the human drive for creativity. I liked some of the information, like Dutton's ideas on how storytelling helped our Pleistocene ancestors survive their hunter/gatherer lifestyle or the ways our ancestors may have come to enjoy certain types of landscapes over others. I was slightly less excited about Dutton's take on postmodern ethnography and his weird repetition of the physical characteristics of women as they apply to the notion of evolutionary beauty. As I approached the middle of the book, I couldn't help but notice that, while Dutton pays lip service to art from other cultures in his discussion of ethnography, his examples of great art and literature are overwhelmingly old, white, European, and (above all) linear, whether he's discussing music, visual arts, or literature. I love Middlemarch and Hard Times, but I wish Dutton could also cite great works of literature in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Finally, my enamor with the book completely dissipated as the discussion shifted from Darwin toward criticism -- with a decidedly anti-postmodern flavor. Throughout the book, for example, Dutton states that pleasure and representation are two of the chief aims of art. He goes so far as to say that these are two of twelve qualities that define art (Dutton 51-55). This seems a narrow classification, leaving out the sense of wonder we can get from tragedy, ugliness, the non-linear, and the abstract. At the end of the book, Dutton also asserts that the greatest arts are created with "a belief that real beauty exists, there is objective truth, and the good is a genuine value independent of human cultures and choices" (239). Objective truth? Oh Dutton, that's so 19th Century! Maybe I'm a product of my own postmodern education, but in the end, despite my optimism for his subject, I just don't like Dutton's take on art. I can't help but wonder if he would like to rewind to the early 1900s and freeze our views of art and beauty in a pre-Modern, perhaps Pleistocene era.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Flynn Evans

    A compelling case for the necessity of art and beauty from a purely Darwinian perspective. While I’m still not fully convinced, Dutton’s work does well in explaining the utilitarian aspects to aesthetics that many too readily neglect.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Duncan Berry

    A modestly competent popularization of the evolutionary psychology of artistic expression. While there is a fairly decent representation of more recent speculations on the topic — the survival-, fitness- and sexual selection-value of artistic "activity — Dutton completely ignores the notion that the idea of an "art instinct" has a long and glorious pedigree outside the Darwinian intellectual trajectory. When I was first thinking about these matters as an undergrad in the late-70s, there was only o A modestly competent popularization of the evolutionary psychology of artistic expression. While there is a fairly decent representation of more recent speculations on the topic — the survival-, fitness- and sexual selection-value of artistic "activity — Dutton completely ignores the notion that the idea of an "art instinct" has a long and glorious pedigree outside the Darwinian intellectual trajectory. When I was first thinking about these matters as an undergrad in the late-70s, there was only one author who had raised this issue. To write an entire volume with this title and NOT include a single reference to Alois Riegl (1858-1905) is simply unconscionable and irresponsible. Back then, and until the mid- to late-80s, there was only a handful of esoteric passages from Riegl available in English translation. Now, with almost his entire corpus available not only in English but in paperback, no less, there was simply no excuse to ignore this seminal thinker on the emergence, psychology, biology and history of art. Of course, Riegl, coined the term Kunstwollen for this "art instinct," and because of its shimmering, neo-Nietzschean lexical resonances, it has been something of a lightening rod for art historians and critics since Meyer Schapiro lanced the intellectual boil that centered on its use (see Schapiro's devastating critique of the so-called "New Vienna School" of 1936, which closes the anthology published by Christopher Wood under the title The Vienna School Reader. Politics and Art Historical Method in the 1930s in 2000, over a decade before Dutton undertook his discussion). So, while I find it to be a useful source for locating themes in the secondary and scholarly literature, this is definitely NOT a book to savor — from an aesthetic, literary or intellectual point of view.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Billy

    I suspect that portions of this work were written while drunk, given the blazing confidence of some of its assertions. Dutton's exploration of what primitive, evolutionarily-derived characteristics of the human species drive our interest in making and appreciating art today is built on two premises that permeate (to the point of stifling the analysis, in my view) the exercise: (1) that there is a definable, intrinsic and essential human nature; and that (2) there is a definable, intrinsic essenc I suspect that portions of this work were written while drunk, given the blazing confidence of some of its assertions. Dutton's exploration of what primitive, evolutionarily-derived characteristics of the human species drive our interest in making and appreciating art today is built on two premises that permeate (to the point of stifling the analysis, in my view) the exercise: (1) that there is a definable, intrinsic and essential human nature; and that (2) there is a definable, intrinsic essence of what is Art. He believes that as long as you buy (1), marketed with purportedly an appeal to scientific authority based on evolution (rather than religious dogma), he can get away with (2) and pretend that he's doing something other than shoring up orthodox assumptions about what artistic endeavors are and mean. The surface discussion of evolutionary science married to what is really a collection of philosophy of aesthetics musings seems a little gimmicky. It's old wine in a new bottle (probably labeled 'biodynamic'). He's at his most insufferable in the chapter fretting over Duchamp's Fountain, admitting finally that it does count as Art by his own criteria, but still sore about it. That said, I'll acknowledge I was delighted by the chapter on why we love fictional narratives (although even there, I think he for the convenience of his argument elides the difference between storyteller and audience). The analysis was often stimulating in its individual parts, but overall disorganized. I suspect Dutton privately intended this book to be taken as a work of Art as he defines it, (in part) as a singularly arresting window into individual genius. I pass no judgement on whether the author is himself a genius, but this work is not that - it will not end conversations (or suspend them, at least, with dazzled reverence), but it may start them. In that sense, it is like much great art - but so are a lot of other things.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    For the past 50 years or so, most discussions about art and its meanings have been based in either semiotics or phenomenology. Discourse either focused on how art (in whatever medium) functioned as a language, or it focused not on the construction of art but rather the experience of the perceiver. Denis Dutton's book is part of a new trend (particularly popular in the UK, Australia & New Zealand it seems) to examine the notion that artmaking and art enjoying are part of a deeply ingrained ancest For the past 50 years or so, most discussions about art and its meanings have been based in either semiotics or phenomenology. Discourse either focused on how art (in whatever medium) functioned as a language, or it focused not on the construction of art but rather the experience of the perceiver. Denis Dutton's book is part of a new trend (particularly popular in the UK, Australia & New Zealand it seems) to examine the notion that artmaking and art enjoying are part of a deeply ingrained ancestry that evolved in humans over the past 50,000 years or so. We can debate the speculative nature of this "science," but the viewpoint on the arts is refreshing, simply because it poses a "third path," if you will, to semiotics and phenomenology. Dutton is a persuasive writer. found this an enjoyable, provocative read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

    So why are the best selling calendars in Africa made up from scenes in the foothills of North America? Why are snake statues placed on buildings to frighten away birds in New Zealand when there are no snakes in the country? What makes us like art? Dutton brings several almost unconnected elements together to build his theory. I'm not sure he answers everything he brings up (or I buy it) but he made me stop to ponder quite a few things about art and culture. Sadly he passed away recently. A wise m So why are the best selling calendars in Africa made up from scenes in the foothills of North America? Why are snake statues placed on buildings to frighten away birds in New Zealand when there are no snakes in the country? What makes us like art? Dutton brings several almost unconnected elements together to build his theory. I'm not sure he answers everything he brings up (or I buy it) but he made me stop to ponder quite a few things about art and culture. Sadly he passed away recently. A wise man.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Wall

    Art, as a subject of awe, wonder, revelation, emotion, appreciation, and more, has been with us since we developed sentience. This book traces with support from evolution as explained by Darwin and others how the appreciation of a landscape vista or a well sung song or well played musical instrument, follows an evolutionary path. Book subtitle -- Beauty, Pleasure and human evolution is telling and compelling. Children "grow" language as a natural extension of mental life. p. 30 And along the way t Art, as a subject of awe, wonder, revelation, emotion, appreciation, and more, has been with us since we developed sentience. This book traces with support from evolution as explained by Darwin and others how the appreciation of a landscape vista or a well sung song or well played musical instrument, follows an evolutionary path. Book subtitle -- Beauty, Pleasure and human evolution is telling and compelling. Children "grow" language as a natural extension of mental life. p. 30 And along the way the arts were born. p.46 [law] The judge is obliged, however, to be a disinterested observer with no vested interests in the outcome of the case. p. 104 The mind uses fiction to explore and solve life problems in the imagination. p. 110 [Geoffrey Miller] Language puts minds on public display. p. 161 !!!!!! Laurent Stern has claimed that if we agree that a text is a work of art, "then among two competing interpretations that may equally fit the text, the one which assigns greater value and significanc to the text will be preferred." p. 17 Pride and Prejudice is play, make-believe for grown-ups. p. 174 Speech performances, especially artistic speech performances, are Darwinian fitness indicators: ways of judging the wit, originality, or general cleverness of a person. p. 175 . . . art-saturated ceremonies * * * They may be designed to impress the gods and convey messages about order and meaning in the cosmos, but they build stronger societies along the way. * * * Leo Tolstoy's What is Art? provides a hilarious eyewitness account of an opera rehearsal. p. 224 . . . true arts, which by his definition must tie together the human community. p. 225 The ultimate reference point for kitsch is always me: my needs, my tastes, my deep feelings, my worthy interests, my admirable morality. * * * (Authentic literary sophistication would be better evidenced by a shelf of dog-eared, broken spine paperbacks of Moby-Dick, Middlemarch, and the like, But that would require reading the books. p. 241 We forget how close wee remain to the prehistoric women and men who first found beauty in the world. p. 243

  12. 4 out of 5

    James Hill

    This book has given me a desire to read classical literature again. I was an English major in college before I dropped out, which I did in part because of the experience of being an English major. It was not because of the realization that there are no jobs for English majors, because nobody goes into that field expecting to make money and I certainly wasn't expecting to. It was because I could not stand the approach to reading literature that English programs promote. They teach you nothing abo This book has given me a desire to read classical literature again. I was an English major in college before I dropped out, which I did in part because of the experience of being an English major. It was not because of the realization that there are no jobs for English majors, because nobody goes into that field expecting to make money and I certainly wasn't expecting to. It was because I could not stand the approach to reading literature that English programs promote. They teach you nothing about literary aesthetics when you are an undergraduate, and when you get to graduate school, it’s just ideologically motivated readings of texts grounded in postmodernist conceptions of power. So I left, and have had little desire to read any literature since. However, when I read this book, for the first time in ten years, I felt as I did when I first became interested in literature when I was in high school, especially in the later chapters, "The Uses of Fiction", "Intention, Forgery, Dada: Three Aesthetic Problems", and "Greatness in the Arts". The Atlantic's review of the book said that it is "a hard-hitting amalgamation of critical theory and evolutionary science." I would disagree; I think it is instead an extension of the aesthetic sentimentalism of David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Immanuel Kant that dovetails their theories of aesthetics with the modern understanding of human psychology through the lens of Darwinian evolution. By doing so, I would argue that it puts formalism and its emphasis on aesthetics, rather than critical theory and its emphasis on social and political themes, on a more solid intellectual foundation by giving it a more rigorous understanding of the psychology that underlies aesthetics in the first place. I certainly hope that Steven Pinker's assessment of the book, that it "marks out the future of the humanities", turns out to be true. Although I don't know if it will, considering how long it took me to find out about it, and since friends of mine who stuck it out in art and film programs through graduate school haven't heard about it either.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aldo Ojeda

    There are two main ways in which evolution works: natural selection and sexual selection. Dutton argues that our sense of aesthetics and our apreciation of art come from the later (in the afterword, he points out that it also comes from group selection, but that's a contentious theory and not everyone agrees, myself included, that group selection even exists). Art, the author says, is fitness signaling, in the same way a colourful bird is saying 1) "I'm healthy, look at my feathers!" and 2) "eve There are two main ways in which evolution works: natural selection and sexual selection. Dutton argues that our sense of aesthetics and our apreciation of art come from the later (in the afterword, he points out that it also comes from group selection, but that's a contentious theory and not everyone agrees, myself included, that group selection even exists). Art, the author says, is fitness signaling, in the same way a colourful bird is saying 1) "I'm healthy, look at my feathers!" and 2) "even with all these colours, I can outlive my predators." We admire artists because they are demostrating a skill useless for survival: "look, I have lots of energy to produce all these stuff that doesn't work for anything." Even modern works of art as Duchamp's Fountain are signaling the cleverness of the author. He also describes how storytelling, as theater, opera and novels, was debeloped as a mean to survival. Of our ancestors, those who had the capacity to tell stories had a survival advantage over those who didn't. I agree with most of the arguments by the author, though I wish they where developed a little bit further and in greater depth.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Zo

    Overlaps with other stuff I've read recently, but still a fair amount of good unique information (especially in way it applies concepts to particular art examples). Many of the most important arguments for aesthetic grounds and ways we should talk about the arts I agree with, but I think the book more served to clarify my thoughts on topics than to introduce me to new ones. Furthermore, I think Dutton is profoundly wrong that "evolutionary psychology" can be the bedrock of study of the arts. Wha Overlaps with other stuff I've read recently, but still a fair amount of good unique information (especially in way it applies concepts to particular art examples). Many of the most important arguments for aesthetic grounds and ways we should talk about the arts I agree with, but I think the book more served to clarify my thoughts on topics than to introduce me to new ones. Furthermore, I think Dutton is profoundly wrong that "evolutionary psychology" can be the bedrock of study of the arts. What more is there to say after this book? I'm sure there are new studies/findings that could reveal things on the margins, but the sheer comprehensiveness of this work indicates the insufficiency of evolutionary language for discussing the arts. But it is definitely a useful/interesting tool to have, and one that should likely serve as a reference point more than it typically does. (Also this book was plagued by Augustinian conception thinking which bothered me a lot, probably only because I'm also simultaneously reading Wittgenstein.)

  15. 5 out of 5

    BrieLikeTheCheese

    Frankly I found this book borderline offensive in a myriad of ways. You’d be better off reading some armchair theories on reddit. This is just a long one that got published somehow. I kept starting and stopping this book until finally I dnfed roughly half way through when it became clear to me that there’s not much substance here, academically. Most of what I got is women bad (seriously wtf is his problem?) and the western concepts of art are the universal benchmark....which is asinine. Save you Frankly I found this book borderline offensive in a myriad of ways. You’d be better off reading some armchair theories on reddit. This is just a long one that got published somehow. I kept starting and stopping this book until finally I dnfed roughly half way through when it became clear to me that there’s not much substance here, academically. Most of what I got is women bad (seriously wtf is his problem?) and the western concepts of art are the universal benchmark....which is asinine. Save yourself the time and the money. It’s not worth it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Smith

    This book presented a really interesting idea, and while I largely followed the argument, there were little to no citations or explanations of scientific articles, studies, or hypotheses, just artistic ones. I think this book would have been a lot stronger if it rested less on speculation and more on demonstrating scientific theories.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josh Eckert

    I've read it multiple times. It's the best, most comprehensive book on the psychology of art (and I've read them all). It stands alone--it makes sense if you haven't read anything of the psychology or philosophy of art. I've read it multiple times. It's the best, most comprehensive book on the psychology of art (and I've read them all). It stands alone--it makes sense if you haven't read anything of the psychology or philosophy of art.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James Earle

    It's arrogant and cliche at times, but overall good. It's arrogant and cliche at times, but overall good.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Prewitt

    Really thought-provoking, gets the gears turning about the place of art in our lives as physiological beings. Especially liked the parts about fiction.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    The most popular favorite color in the world is blue (14)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aye

    I’ve created a review on my podcast. Please go check out my podcast: Influential Creative Minds. You can find it on Spotify and most other podcast platforms.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simone

    While Dutton's theories are interesting, I find he relies to often on singular sources of knowledge, specifically Steven Pinker. While I understand Dutton is modelling his theory loosely on Pinker's developments in linguistics as an evolutionary adaptation/instinct, I think the subject matter of art as a human instinct and not a culturally infused by-product of evolution demands a wider array of sources and scientific research. Dutton also takes a significantly long-winded approach to his explan While Dutton's theories are interesting, I find he relies to often on singular sources of knowledge, specifically Steven Pinker. While I understand Dutton is modelling his theory loosely on Pinker's developments in linguistics as an evolutionary adaptation/instinct, I think the subject matter of art as a human instinct and not a culturally infused by-product of evolution demands a wider array of sources and scientific research. Dutton also takes a significantly long-winded approach to his explanations. I did not always find his explanations or examples on target, and they were often unnecessarily repetitive, rather than adding new information. Therefore, once Dutton had come back to his point I was left wanting more sources and examples to back up the theory. Dutton makes a good start, but his examples and follow through is lacking. Take for example chapter 5. He argues that art is not an adaptation, but also it is not a by-product. But he never really clearly defines what it is. It seems he has spent the whole chapter defining the way in which we should approach the chapter, while never really giving an explanation for how art is related to natural selection. Dutton explains that each individual piece of art gives us a unique experience that excites an intrinsic emotional reaction therefore it is not acting as a convenient replacement for going out and experiencing the same thing (ex. climbing a mountain) - meaning it is not a by-product. Well, that's all and good if you're talking about landscapes and still-lifes, but how does this apply to Suprematist, Constructivist, Neo-plastic, or Pop art? While I can theorize as to what he means - obviously the black square being the ideal "universal" form that would allow for a "universal" art means it has intrinsic value to us a human beings, if it is intrinsic it must relate to our evolution from our Pleistocene ancestors, but what Dutton should explain is exactly where this "intrinsic, emotional reaction" comes from. In my opinion, he fails to do so. I find Dutton's arguments for fiction's evolutionary basis compelling. However, I don't think this was a very innovative take on the subject. Common sense tells us that fictional literature is still a didactic tool used to assess possible situations of conflict that may occur in our own lives, and to "deepen our grasp of human social and emotional experience." This would have been of use to our hunter-gather ancestors in forming societies, relationships, and for surviving threats. I also feel that Dutton tries to tackle too many forms of art in his analysis. In such a short book he is unable to give each topic the detail and attention it deserves. So, I finally got to the crux of his argument. Art is the result of sexual selection. I think it best if I allow Dutton to speak for himself on this subject. What I think his ideas pare down to is that language, music, eventually the visual arts developed from a need to demonstrate to the opposite sex our fitness levels. When choosing a "mate" females look for someone who possesses the ability to provide for us - first, by being physically strong and able to protect us, and second by having considerable resources for us to live comfortably, which also suggests fitness, since these people will survive over those without resources. Men (again this is only the basic element of Dutton's arguments) look for women who will be able to give birth and carry on strong genes for the survival of the species - ie. women with wide childbearing hips - which explains the number of tiny-waisted, large hipped women in "beautiful" art. Leaving out some of the sexists implications in his arguments for present-day sexual selection, the idea that art forms represent early courtship "calls" seems a bit of a stretch. Dutton's claim that because most art shows a waste of resources leading to the assumptions that this potential mate has resources to waste (money, time, skills and knowledge that could be put to other more practical uses, but instead is applied to the relatively useless form of artistic creation) also seems ... well out-to-lunch. I slightly agree with the argument that art forms (music, literature and visual) give us a glimpse into the imaginative mind of the creator/author a response to the intrinsic desire to intimately know and understand our fellow human beings. I think that Dutton claims this also as a pursuit of fitness - understanding each other leads to strong ability to survive. But I felt he did not explain or pursue it well enough. His comparison of art to a peacock's tail feathers - an attractive feature, but unnecessary except for indicating fitness for sexual selection - also seems slightly absurd. There was plenty of interesting facts in the book. And I feel I did learn a few things. But I don't really agree with Dutton's conclusions. It's not hard to believe we have an art instinct. Explaining it well and convincingly is the challenge. I would like someone with a strong knowledge of Darwin, evolution, and human biology to take a crack at it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    I am at war with myself. The feminist in me, who has been taking philosophy courses and reading books that challenge contemporary notions about gender, regards much of culture as a construction, something abstract and even arbitrary that we should alter to improve the status of various groups of people. The scientist in me, who reads books about genetics and ponders how amazing it is that we're programmed to learn how to talk but have developed writing as a skill, not an innate ability. These tw I am at war with myself. The feminist in me, who has been taking philosophy courses and reading books that challenge contemporary notions about gender, regards much of culture as a construction, something abstract and even arbitrary that we should alter to improve the status of various groups of people. The scientist in me, who reads books about genetics and ponders how amazing it is that we're programmed to learn how to talk but have developed writing as a skill, not an innate ability. These two selves often conflict, as biological determinism clashes with cultural relativism, and I find myself forced to walk carefully the line between the two. I never thought I would have to do this for art! In The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton challenges the commonplace assertion that our notions of what constitutes art and what we find aesthetically pleasing are entirely constructs of our culture. Rather, his thesis is that evolution plays a large role in our tastes. We prefer savanna-like landscapes because it hearkens to our homes of the past; we place a value on skill and creativity because these are useful traits in a mate. Overall, Dutton insists that art criticism must be rooted in an evolutionary perspective (he seems to like using evolutionary psychology as a poster-child) rather than any particular school of thought based only on culture. And that's the book, right there. Now you don't have to read it. Happy? You should be. The Art Instinct has such a great premise, but, like so many books, the execution fails to fulfil that potential. Dutton's writing is stultifying at best, arrogant at worst, and always more loquacious than necessary. It takes him forever to get to the point—he loves lists in which each point is several paragraphs long. And for such a short book, Dutton spends remarkably little of it discussing art itself. Many pages he devotes to explanations of evolution—helpful, yes, but sometimes tangential. And unlike his evolutionary asides, he seldom goes into detail about the theories of art criticism he debunks for us, so much of that went over my head. Dutton does some things right. He does not focus exclusively on Old Master paintings (although they are there). He talks about literature and music as well. I really enjoyed chapter 6, "The Uses of Fiction," in which Dutton makes a strong case for fiction being a product of natural selection (rather than mere by-products). Also in this chapter is the best glimpse at the argument Dutton tries to make, the idea that art (or the eponymous "art instinct") is an innate concept universal to every culture. In that respect, I agree with Dutton's assertion that cultural relativism should not dismiss other cultures' creative works because "they don't have our concept of art." So if that is what Dutton set out to achieve with this book, then perhaps he has succeeded. But I didn't enjoy it. This is not even a very academic book, despite constant name-dropping and enough quotations of Steven Pinker to qualify him for co-authorship. Seldom do I read a book which is just written in such an unsatisfactory way that I dislike following the author's arguments. Thus, even if Dutton has managed to convince me of his thesis, he has achieved the even greater feat of doing it while boring me too. The Art Instinct is successful, then, in showing evolution's role in the arts. I won't dismiss all of art as stemming from evolutionary roots (and I don't think Dutton is trying to argue this, but it could easily be seen that way). Culture still has a role to play—evolution might influence the desirably body types, but fads and fashions contribute to changing representations throughout history. Even so, the way Dutton advances his argument leaves me with a distinctly apathetic attitude toward the entire book. It is very "ho-hum." Books should not just seek to convince or to move; they need to shake, to challenge, to galvanize new directions of exploration. The Art Instinct does not do this. It sort of loafs around in the lobby of one's critical cortex, half-heartedly attempting to hand leaflets to passing neurons. I have a passing interest in aesthetics, in the sense that I have taken enough philosophy to know I need to read more about it sometime soon, lest I have a vast gap in my philosophical knowledge. Unfortunately, The Art Instinct does little to fill this gap; and while it held my aesthetic interest, it did not stoke the fire like I had hoped. Dutton's just not charismatic enough, not compelling enough, to make this book great.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Liviania

    If you can't tell, I don't read much non-fiction for pleasure. I love learning about things, but I usually save that for school and use my reading time for other pursuits. However, THE ART INSTINCT appeared to combine two of my favorite things, genetics and the arts. Unfortunately it is not friendly to casual reading. Denis Dutton's authorial voice is rather dry and unengaging. Various ideas caught my attention, but I didn't really get into his argument until the 8th chapter (Intention, Forgery, If you can't tell, I don't read much non-fiction for pleasure. I love learning about things, but I usually save that for school and use my reading time for other pursuits. However, THE ART INSTINCT appeared to combine two of my favorite things, genetics and the arts. Unfortunately it is not friendly to casual reading. Denis Dutton's authorial voice is rather dry and unengaging. Various ideas caught my attention, but I didn't really get into his argument until the 8th chapter (Intention, Forgery, Dada: Three Aesthetic Problems). Of course, this may be my personal interests talking. I often work at reconciling modern interpretation of text with its contemporary interpretation and possible authoritorial intent. And who doesn't find Dada fun? But there were many points before that where I thought the text should hit its stride, particularly Chapter 5: Art and Natural Selection. Instead it felt like the argument just wasn't coming together. Dutton sets out to prove a rather large thesis, but at the end I feel like I'm still not sure what he's saying the connection between art and evolution is. He sometimes contradicts himself (especially in one terrible argument about a pill vs. a Salvador Rosa landscape) and he's far more familiar with art than the science aspects. The book's best parts are the smaller arguments. He combats the extreme lengths academics go to to avoid ethnocentricism which only exoticize other cultures in the end through interesting thought experiments and examples of genres that may compare though they're done with different mediums. It's when he tries to connect the science and art that I often feel a disconnect. For instance, Dutton explores why smell is not used more often as an artistic medium. He settles on memory being a large part of the problem, as building on a basic theme (as in music or fiction) cannot be done with smells as it would be hard to remember a specific sequence. Another problem would be lack of emotional impact. Yet smell is the best sense for bringing about instaneous memory. Smells triggering memory is an important survival instinct and an important part of human evolution. Research being done now with the human sense of smell is both incredibly weird and fascinating. Why write an entire passage about smell and art that seems to ignore this work? I don't want to sound like I hated the work. (Although I did hate that his go-to example was Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes. He just kept mentioning them and it was driving me insane.) THE ART INSTINCT contains many interesting passages, but they're put together towards a shaky whole. I think a less provocative thesis might have served Dutton better. People interested in the philosophy of art will probably enjoy THE ART INSTINCT quite well.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    There are basic logic problems here but I think Dutton's book is worth reading even if you don't agree with his theories. I like books that give me something to think about. I tend to be a Dantonian (to coin a term)--I mostly agree with Danto's institutional theory of art. To give an example, Dutton uses his 12 criteria of "art" to look at Duchamp's readymades and to "decide" if they are truly art. He writes, "On a numerical calculation of items on the cluster criteria list, not to mention the o There are basic logic problems here but I think Dutton's book is worth reading even if you don't agree with his theories. I like books that give me something to think about. I tend to be a Dantonian (to coin a term)--I mostly agree with Danto's institutional theory of art. To give an example, Dutton uses his 12 criteria of "art" to look at Duchamp's readymades and to "decide" if they are truly art. He writes, "On a numerical calculation of items on the cluster criteria list, not to mention the overwhelming agreement of generations of art theorists and art historians, the answer is a resounding "Yes, [Duchamp's:] Fountain is a work of art." His "numerical calculation" shows that Fountain fits MOST of the 12 criteria. So, I ask, just how many criteria does a work have to fit in order to qualify as art? 9? 10? 11? What happens if one person says that 9 criteria are enough and another refuses to recognize a work as art if it has fulfilled less than 10? And, then, of course, we are back to the "who decides what is art" problem if we ask "And who gets to decide whether a work fits the criteria in question?" Who decides if a work reflects "skill and virtuosity" (#2), "novelty and creativity" (#4) or provides "intellectual challenge" (#10)? All of this brings us back to art's institutional being. Have we evolved in search a way that we are likely to make and/or enjoy art? It would be silly to say no--whether or not there was "intent" behind evolution, our ears (among other things) enable us to enjoy music, our eyes, the visual arts. But I think it is a not very relevant subject. Will we find high pitched screeching sounds enjoyable? Not in a strictly auditory-aesthetic way. But as Dutton himself points out, art is capable of giving other, more intellectual pleasures. I can certainly imagine a scenario in which someone would enjoy such painful sounds. Anyone who has been to a John Cage concert knows that music can and has been defined in ways that don't consider a traditional feature like harmony. "Contingent facts about human nature," writes Dutton, "ensure not only that some things in the arts will be difficult to appreciate but that appreciation of them may be impossible." That "may" says everything. Since we can't imagine ourselves totally out of our own limited experience, there are some things that we can never imagine enjoying. But how can we ever claim that something will never be enjoyed by anyone? To do so would be to express an extreme ignorance of the amazingly diverse and ever-changing world of human artistic experience.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    My main interest in reading this was to try to figure out at what point art becomes too much. Or to put it another way, how much cultural fluff needs to be stripped away for us to be sustainable? The author doesn't focus on this too much, and I wasn't really expecting him to. This is mostly just him trying to make a case for artistic interests being innate to humanity rather than just a result of cultural values. While he does spend a lot of time in bullshit territory, I do at least agree with t My main interest in reading this was to try to figure out at what point art becomes too much. Or to put it another way, how much cultural fluff needs to be stripped away for us to be sustainable? The author doesn't focus on this too much, and I wasn't really expecting him to. This is mostly just him trying to make a case for artistic interests being innate to humanity rather than just a result of cultural values. While he does spend a lot of time in bullshit territory, I do at least agree with the general idea. It's kind of hard to deny that we create things to impress each other, particularly those we want to sleep with, and certain aesthetics are gene deep. And he does briefly mention how strange it is for something that's basically just a waste of resources and energy to be so prevalent and therefore counter-intuitively beneficial to our survival. Maybe it's not. Maybe it's just a flaw that hasn't proved fatal yet. Sexual selection doesn't follow the same rules as natural selection, so we see some destructive behaviors outcompete others that should technically be more fit. The example he uses is a peacock, which shouldn't benefit from a big flamboyant tail. I just kept thinking of all the past empires that sacrificed the stability of their environments to produce pointless monuments and how much of a role art is playing in our global environmental crisis. If we switch to solar panels and even a degrowth/steady-state economic model will our culture necessarily stop erecting moai? That would be much more important to discuss, and probably more relevant to the main topic, than things like whether or not Duchamp's urinal prank should be considered fine art. It might sound like I'm totally against all art but I spent much of my life as an aspiring artist and realizing how much crap I was wasting to make this stuff I had to question whether people like Michelangelo and Walt Disney are really the ones most deserving of admiration. I don't blame art per se, but I have to question the sustainability of art as a business, so much specialization, etc. Anyway, there are a lot of interesting ideas in this book but there's also a lot of pedantry and questionable analysis, and in my opinion he should have put more focus in other areas.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a well written work, accessible to a general audience, on the linkage between art and evolution. Up front, Dutton contends that (Page 1): "It is time to look at the arts in the light of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution--to talk about instinct and art." The book begins with reference to a study that found that humans across many cultures seemed to prefer a very similar type of painting--a landscape with people, animals, water, with a preference for the color blue being a part of the w This is a well written work, accessible to a general audience, on the linkage between art and evolution. Up front, Dutton contends that (Page 1): "It is time to look at the arts in the light of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution--to talk about instinct and art." The book begins with reference to a study that found that humans across many cultures seemed to prefer a very similar type of painting--a landscape with people, animals, water, with a preference for the color blue being a part of the work. This serves as the starting point for asking the question if there are certain "universals" in people's views of art. He discusses various theorists of art following his examination of landscapes. We get to Chapter 3 before he actually defines art (and does it saying that it is something that has many from among 12 characteristics (examples of which are direct pleasure, style, representation, and intellectual challenge). No single piece of art needs all 12. The heart of his argument is that art is a human characteristic that has been subject to natural selection over time. Here, Darwin and art are wed. He discusses the wicked evolutionary question (Page 86) ". . .[A:]re the arts in their various forms adaptations in their own right, or are they better understood as modern by-products of evolution?" The discussion is interesting, although the final argument is not wholly satisfactory. Indeed, it is a weakness of the book that the author does not serve up a very strong case. In essence, humans love beauty, as portrayed in art, as a product of the evolutionary process. This is an interesting case study in human evolutionary psychology. In the end, not fully satisfying, but it is provocative. For a more formal, academic view of a similar point, the reader might examine Nancy Aiken's "The Biological Origins of Art."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    The thesis of Dutton's The Art Instinct is that aesthetics can be understood in very rational terms as a product of human evolution. He uses the muscular prose of a good, strong-minded, confident scientific/intellectual argument, while also remaining crystal clear and (somehow) delicate. Still, the book never completely coalesces into an effective work. I admire the audacity and provocation at the core of an argument like his -- marrying the seemingly cloudy and subjective (what is beautiful, int The thesis of Dutton's The Art Instinct is that aesthetics can be understood in very rational terms as a product of human evolution. He uses the muscular prose of a good, strong-minded, confident scientific/intellectual argument, while also remaining crystal clear and (somehow) delicate. Still, the book never completely coalesces into an effective work. I admire the audacity and provocation at the core of an argument like his -- marrying the seemingly cloudy and subjective (what is beautiful, interesting, worthy of analysis) with the seemingly very ground-level and self-contained disciplines of biology and anthropology (the mechanics by which natural selection worked to evolve such-and-such a trait). Dutton sets himself a tough challenge: tearing down a lot of knee-jerk misperceptions, while also building an alternative understanding of a particular facet of the human intellect. I don't have the scientific background to raise any complex objections to that basic idea, but the structure of his argument never hit me quite as hard as was probably intended. In spite of a lot of intricate waltzing around the foundations of art appreciation and criticism and thought, Dutton never really provides a distinct, solid example that I could sink my teeth into, and so I was never committed fully to his premise. The forward is very compelling, considering as it does the breadth of his argument, but the first several chapters are contrarily depth-focused, focusing on modest, minor corners of art.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bill Gusky

    OK I bagged this about 4/5 through. By that time I felt as though I'd gotten all I was going to get out of it. The author spends an inordinate amount of time correcting what he views as the mistakes of other anthropologists, mistakes that are not in the forefront of consideration for anyone who isn't also an anthropologist. Meanwhile the author's intense focus on Darwin for pretty much every reference to adaptation is exhausting, considering that biologists have advanced so far beyond the basic i OK I bagged this about 4/5 through. By that time I felt as though I'd gotten all I was going to get out of it. The author spends an inordinate amount of time correcting what he views as the mistakes of other anthropologists, mistakes that are not in the forefront of consideration for anyone who isn't also an anthropologist. Meanwhile the author's intense focus on Darwin for pretty much every reference to adaptation is exhausting, considering that biologists have advanced so far beyond the basic ideas Darwin presented, building on his work. It begins to feel like Creationist arguments against evolution, which also focus intensively on Darwin to the ignorance of every great advance in evolution since the 19th century. If EO Wilson is to be taken seriously, the author's Darwin-centered focus derives partly at least from what Wilson describes as the scattered and unfocused nature of anthropology as a field. If this is the case the author would have done well to approach this study more from a biological viewpoint. As it stands the author draws a number of interesting and plausible connections between evolution and art near the beginning of the book, some of them fairly obvious. Then he pretty much riffs on those ideas throughout the remainder of the book in the portions he did not devote to beating his fellow anthropologists about the face and neck.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nat

    Dutton wants to turn attention away from marginal artistic "hard cases" like Duchamp's readymades that dominate contemporary aesthetic debates back to central features of art. He argues that art is a "cluster concept", meaning that it isn't defined by a single set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but that central, canonical art works satisfy twelve different criteria, from the demonstration of skill to the production of "imaginative experience", and less central examples (like the readyma Dutton wants to turn attention away from marginal artistic "hard cases" like Duchamp's readymades that dominate contemporary aesthetic debates back to central features of art. He argues that art is a "cluster concept", meaning that it isn't defined by a single set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but that central, canonical art works satisfy twelve different criteria, from the demonstration of skill to the production of "imaginative experience", and less central examples (like the readymades) satisfy fewer of the criteria. There is some more or less plausible evolutionary speculation about the origin of human artistic activity and appreciation, and forceful advocacy of Dutton's unreservedly traditional aesthetic tastes, sometimes backed up with evolutionary justifications. Anyone who is primarily attracted to modernist or postmodernist artwork will probably find Dutton's tastes quaint or annoying (or most likely, both). My tastes incline away from Dutton's, but reading this book did make me wonder whether I genuinely like art or, more probably, just abstract ideas, philosophical puzzles, and easy-to-like kitsch dressed up as high art.

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