Sunday, June 24, 2012

We Have Met The Artist and She/He is Us

Ellen Dissanayake has been saying very wise things for decades about why we humans make art. As I stir my coffee this morning and contemplate Deep History and the Big Picture, I am happy to read her words: "Paleo-archaeologists and ethnographers tell us that from as early as a hundred thousand years ago (some say much earlier) until very recently, in many parts of the world, members of our species have spent enormous resources of time, metabolic energy, and costly materials (such as feathers and ivory from rare and powerful creatures or shells and minerals from far distances) to mount complex ceremonies in which the elaboration of bodies, surroundings, and paraphernalia is joined with vigorous and intricate dancing, dramatic performances, and complex songs, chants, and drumming. In other words, although they lacked money, they nevertheless invested their human capital in the arts. [...] To an evolutionist, devoting time, effort, and resources to apparently non-utilitarian pursuits should have made people less rather than more likely to survive. Yet the fact that they occur so extravagantly, universally, requires an opposite conclusion: the arts must have enabled their practitioners to better survive than humans who did not go to such extensive and expensive extremes. Their “value” had to be not only cultural but biological." Excerpted from an essay, "What Is The (Adaptive) Value of Art?," published August 16, 2011 on the NEA website. You can click here for the full text plus much more about Dissanayake and her work.

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