Darwinian aesthetics


Dutton has evidently spent plenty of time wrestling with the theories of art propounded by thinkers from Aristotle and Kant to Clive Bell and Michel Foucault. He touches on all the major issues of aesthetics in this fairly short book and invariably illuminates them. There are also treatments of such lesser riddles as why we have art of sounds and colors, but not of smells. Of particular value is his discussion of three heated controversies: the role of artists’ intentions; the implications of forgery and plagiarism; and the status of Dadaist provocations, like Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” — a urinal put forward for exhibition in 1917. He tests these cases against a cluster of 12 characteristics that he argues are collectively definitive of art and finds that the difficulties stem from conflicts or tensions among these characteristics. Thus a perfect forgery may succeed in producing the same pleasure the original was designed to elicit, but we nevertheless feel cheated because it does not demonstrate the originality of mind we expect to find expressed in art. For Dutton, this expectation of originality derives from art’s ancient function of demonstrating that the artist would make a desirable mate. But it seems to me that his analyses work just as well without such sexual speculations.

more from the NY Times here.