The Artful Species explores the idea that our aesthetic responses and art behaviors are connected to our evolved human nature. Our humanoid forerunners displayed aesthetic sensibilities hundreds of thousands of years ago and the art standing of prehistoric cave paintings is virtually uncontested.
In Part One, Stephen Davies analyses the key concepts of the aesthetic, art, and evolution, and explores how they might be related. He considers a range of issues, including the consideration of whether animals have aesthetic tastes and whether art is not only universal but cross-culturally comprehensible.
Part Two examines the many aesthetic interests humans take in animals and how these reflect our biological interests, and the idea that our environmental and landscape preferences are rooted in the experiences of our distant ancestors. In considering the controversial subject of human beauty, evolutionary psychologists have traditionally focused on female physical attractiveness in the context of mate selection, but Davies presents a broader view which decouples human beauty from mate choice and explains why it goes more with social performance and self-presentation.
Part Three asks if the arts, together or singly, are biological adaptations, incidental byproducts of nonart adaptations, or so removed from biology that they rate as purely cultural technologies. Davies does not conclusively support any one of the many positions considered here, but argues that there are grounds, nevertheless, for seeing art as part of human nature. Art serves as a powerful and complex signal of human fitness, and so cannot be incidental to biology. Indeed, aesthetic responses and art behaviors are the touchstones of our humanity.
"this book will appeal to those interested in a well-argued, multidisciplinary examination of the role of art in human evolution."
– J. R. Couch, Choice
"Davies book represents a rare achievement of lucid explanation and fair-minded analysis in an interdisciplinary field too often entrenched within dogmatic camps."
– Denny Kinlaw, Transpositions
"In a field dense with hobby-horses and portentous musings, philosopher Stephen Davies does sterling work for clarity as he outlines the concepts, the problems and the difficulties with all the available explanations."
– Marek Kohn, The Independent
"comprehensive, well-organized, and cogently argued"
– Troy Jollimore, Boston Globe
"This spare and elegant treatise by philosopher of aesthetics Stephen Davies posits that art is part of human nature, and is tied in a number of ways to human evolution."
Introduction to Part One
1: The aesthetic
2: The nature of art
3: The theory of evolution
4: How might the aesthetic, art, and evolution be related?
Introduction to Part Two - The Aesthetic
5: Humans' aesthetic appreciation of nonhuman animals
6: Landscape aesthetics
7: The aesthetics of human beauty
Introduction to Part Three - The Arts
8: General theories of art as an adaptation and the origins of art
9: Art as a spandrel
10: Art as a technology
11: Arts as adaptations
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Stephen Davies teaches philosophy at the University of Auckland. He writes mainly about aesthetics and the philosophy of art, and has written extensively on the definition of art, the ontological character of artworks, cross-cultural aesthetics, the expression of emotion in art, and the interpretation and evaluation of art. His books include Musical Works and Performances (Clarendon, 2001), Themes in the Philosophy of Music (OUP, 2003), The Philosophy of Art (Blackwell, 2006), Philosophical Perspectives on Art (OUP, 2007), and Musical Understandings (OUP, 2011).