ART and INTIMACY:

HOW THE ARTS BEGAN

 

By Ellen Dissanayake

 

University of Washington Press

Seattle

2000

 

PREFACE 

Page . . . xi

Book in two sentences: The biological phenomenon of love is originally manifested – expressed and exchanged – by means of emotionally meaningful ‘rhythms and modes’ that are jointly created and sustained by mothers in ritualized involved interactions.  From these beginnings grow expressions of love, both sexual and generally affiliative, and the arts.

 

Xiii She will not get into intra-disciplinary squabbles unless they impact her argument.  But she recognizes that she is taking sides here and there breezily. 

 

She will also say the arts matter and have applications.

Xiv – Consilience and biosocial or evolutionary psych are often accused of saying the obvious. 

 

Xv – Yes.  But it is not the observations that the explanations that are novel and important herein.

 

She will step outside of this framework a bit and show how it can make our life more fulfilling.

 

INTRODUCTION: LOVE AND ART

Page . . . 3

 

3 – Orchestras seemed strange to Aldous Huxley.

 

6 – In the pages that follow, she will explore the bodily origins and interconnections felt in rhythms and modes of love and art.

 

Rhythm derives from the Greek word “rhein” to flow.  In the dictionary, “An ordered, recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech [or music].  She’ll use this. 

 

‘Mode” comes from the Latin word for measure. 

 

7 – We are predisposed to mutuality, the sharing of emotional states in patterned sequences with others.

 

In the first chapter she describes how rhythms and modes became a means of coordinating and expressing emotional states of mutuality, eventually becoming ‘enculturaltion,’ and participation in everyday life. 

 

Chapter two – belonging to a group.

Chapter three – finding meaning in life.

Chapter four – a feeling of competence

Chapter five – the elaborating of experience we call the arts.

 

This book is also about ‘human nature’ what we’re like under the veils of our genders, ethnicities, religions and ways of life.

 

8 – The biosocial or evolutionary psychology method recognizes that humans have evolved to require culture.

 

Evolutionary psychologists often emphasize the competitive behavioral strategies – high status and good reputation, abundant food.

 

9 – In this way, love and art themselves are strategies or tactics that some individuals employ competitively.

 

She wants to look at the mother – child relationship as not being selfish.

 

Survival required competitiveness, but also social bonding.

 

11 – She spent a year in Sri Lanka 30 years ago and came to think we’re all the same. And, engaging in arts and love are universal [but, not the beheading part].

 

12 – But innate does not mean inevitable. 

 

13 – Modern children suffer from neglect, social vulgarity, social abuse.  The teen suicide rate is 95% higher today than it was in 1970s.

 

How did mutuality originate?

 

Over 4 million years ago, hominid brains more than doubled.

 

14 – Between birth and the 4th year, the brain size triples.

 

Mothers and infants who found ways to develop and sustain intense affective bonds would have been at an advantage over those who didn’t.

 

15 – While instinctive mother love seems to be enough for most mammals, it may not be for higher primates.  Chimp mothers in captivity have a hard time unless they see others caring for babies.

 

16 – This relationship, or emotional communion is so crucial that infants are born ready to respond.  And they are emotionally tuned in with others.

 

17 - At three weeks an infant orients to his mother’s face and displays a variety of facial and hand movements.

 

CHAPTER ONE:  MUTUALITY

Page . . . 19

19 – Love and mutuality are not the same thing. Mutuality is being directed at someone else; having the same feelings; intimacy.  Love can be one sided, not mutuality.

 

20 - Let’s look at the standard evolutionary view of love.

 

Although people in many other societies certainly compose and listen to love songs and love poetry, they are frequently even more interested in tales of adventure and valor with built-in object lessons about correct behavior.

 

Evolutionary psychologists (EP) make love stories primarily about sex, with the ultimate goal being reproduction.

 

21 – And, yes, as nature attests , you are here to make small copies of yourself.

 

For males this usually also includes finding territory and defending it. As well as displaying vigor and virility.

 

24 – And sex differences persist. Males masturbate more, timing and causes of arousal are different, females do and males don’t find dominance attractive, men disassociate coitus from emotional attachment more easily. 

 

Females have 9 months of gestation. 

 

25 – This all explains why females are often attracted to older, even less physically attractive men if they have money or power. Kissinger said power is an aphrodisiac

 

26 – But many recent EP books ignore maternal care as a necessary biological fact.

 

26 – Harlow’s study of closeness being more important than food.

 

27 – Going bipedal made human infants more helpless; ‘altricial,’ meaning they cannot feed themselves.  

 

28 – Like pets, we love those who feed us.

 

29 – Colwyn Trevarthen says we have ‘innate intersubjectivty,’ a fundamental inborn readiness of the baby to seek, respond to, and affect the mother’s provision of not only physical protection and care, but also emotional regulation and support, that is companionship. 

 

30 – Baby talk happens, and after about 4 weeks, eye contact and a deliberate smile happen. 

 

30 – Only humans have a social smile linked to sustained eye contact.

 

31 – Ethologists suppose smiles derive from appeasement expressions.  They deflect hostility.

 

32 – Adults in every culture make exaggerated expressions when they interact with infants.

 

33 – It seems plausible that the rounded breast was adaptive because it permitted mothers and infants to look into each other’s eyes during breast feeding.   No nonhuman primate female has enlarged breasts.

 

Until 8 weeks, baby talk is soothing and affectionate, like a lullaby.  After that new patterns emerge to get the child’s attention.  Stops and starts.  A mother and infant tango.

 

34 – There is engagement and disengagement.

 

35 – Three week olds match their behavior to strong stimuli.   Loud voices, strong arm movement, downward fall of voice, head goes down. 

 

At 4 or five months, the mother matches songs and head movements and exaggerated expressions. Rather than soothing, she is now entertaining. 

 

38 – Building up to climaxes as in This little piggy.  6 month olds anticipate these climaxes breathlessly.  When the tickle end happens they chortle.  They will protodance if moved.

 

Interestingly, the three and a half to five second segmental length of a typical utterance in baby talk corresponds to the temporal length of a poetic line, a musical phrase, and a phrase of speech in adults.

 

39 – Making smiles and affiliative gestures creates bonding feelings and oxytocin.

 

41 – The Gusii of Kenya avoid looking directly at infants.  Still there is a high degree of matching in interactive behaviors so a cyclical pattern is achieved.

 

The head bobbing and facial gestures mothers and infants use in baby talk are also used in friendly nonverbal communication among adults.  We send eyebrows up, to say hi.

 

43 – Ethology and sociobiology books emphasize sex.  But bonding is important.

 

Let’s look at some inborn mother-infant mutuality capacities:

 

45 – Again baby talk and smiles and emotive expressions.

 

Contemporary psycholinguists and philosophers and literary theorists, though, often talk as if verbal symbols were all.

 

47 – Infants (even newborns) babies, and small children, imitate others.  They not only want to be pleased, but to please others. Imitation remains an unconscious way to please.  Mirroring folks creates positive feelings.

 

As children grow older, they spontaneously imitate the activities of their elders – pretend cooking, shopping and driving happen. 

 

Play looks and is competitive, but it also teaches how to fit into the group and provides opportunities for pleasing others and getting attention; it makes them feel valued and allows the use of imagination.

 

48 – Long-term studies have shown that children who turn out to be leaders are friendly in play groups as children, not aggressive.

 

49 – In chapter five, she’ll suggest feelings of transcendental oneness can arise while making art and that this build on our innate propensity for mutuality.

 

In the following chapters, she shows that in small-scale societies expressions are transformed into feelings of belonging to a group and sharing its ideals.

 

50 – She wonders if the excessive amount of time some take making and recovering from love affairs is not driven by the desperate attempt to fill the social void that pervaded ancestral society.

 

Bonding became a popular word when real bonds were dissolving; we send our kids to day-care; and we may need more constant contact, as infants, than this allows.

 

CHAPTER TWO: BELONGING

Page . . . 51

 

Humans are not biologically or psychologically prepared for being unloved and unwanted.

Bull elephants, orangutans, and leopards of both sexes prefer to live entirely alone, except when they come together to mate.

 

52 – In societies, people use the same mother / infant bonding mechanisms to bond with others of their tribe.

 

53 – We go from mother bond to bond with other children to being embedded in the same society with these kids as adults.

 

In some tribes infants spend lots of time with other adults very early in life.

 

54 – This happens in lots of societies.

 

55 – Even when not spoken to, infants are patted, stroked, and bounced up and down.

 

56 – Infants have stimulating social lives, usually.  This gives them a secure sense of belonging.

 

57 – Ancestrally, the hunter-gatherer way of life evolved to suit mobile cooperative bands of around 25 individuals, many or most (but not necessarily all) of them blood relations.

 

Seasonally, bands came together for meetings that could lead to intermarriage.

 

58 - This required mechanisms for getting along, such as signs of appeasement.  These usually involve making yourself look smaller, such as lowering or bowing the head, reducing movement and sound, averting the gaze and saying submissive things like, I’m sorry.

 

These in animals involve signals that recall infancy.   Dogs roll on their backs and squeal like puppies.  We speak in softer high pitch tones. 

 

Chimps smack their lips and smile.  They use touch, embracing and kissing. 

 

59 – Courtship sometimes uses infantile or parental cues; sparrows shake their wings like a juvenile asking for food.  Bonobos copulate face-to-face with prolonged gazing into each other’s eyes.

 

We say, cuddle up or baby I want you.  Or speak in soft undulating voices.

 

In bonobos sex is tension reducing and casual. 

 

Both sexual and mother-infant interactions use similar rhythms and modes: matching and turn-taking of voice, gesture, and movement, and building to a climax.    This also resembles ritualized dances and performances. 

 

Foreplay works because it is rhythmic and modal. 

 

60 – Rituals literally bring people together, unifying and coordinating them in common purpose. 

 

61 – This rhythm and modes of mutuality performance reinforces the individual’s identity within the group and instills cultural norms. 

 

Just as the mother infant bond is necessary for survival, members of groups needed to work together in confidence and harmony rather than individually and selfishly. 

 

If they didn’t bond us, they wouldn’t exist, we’d dance alone. 

 

Four examples of ceremonial reinforcements of bonding follow:

 

Finnish / Russian group had ritual emotive folks for weddings and such.  This was done in formulaic ways  

 

62 – This was done with emotive vocal expressions, not so much words.

 

63 – The Kalapalo of central Brazil cannot sing without moving the body. Music is considered a way to control and channel aggression.

 

64 – Cultures all over the world have developed these nodes of ceremonial rituals that do for the members what mothers naturally do for babies: engage their interested in shared rhythmic pulses.

 

65 – Human selfhood varies as dependent, interdependent, independent.    Regardless, there is always the biological self or ‘central core’ too. 

 

The core human self is both ‘individually biological’ and ‘biologically social.’

 

Alongside individual and kin affiliation are lots of other categories.

 

66 – But we used to be automatically fit into roles and now we must fashion and identity, find a niche.

 

Freedom has replaced obligation; we express our individuality rather than seeking to belong.

 

67 – People who do not have any sense of belonging can become selfish, insecure and even self-destructive and violent.   Conversely, those who have such needs met are more easily generous, sociable, sympathetic and secure.

 

68 – In small scale societies (many) the group calls itself by its word for ‘human’ or ‘people’ and not other people.

 

Racism too, thus, flows from the need to belong. We do this with class, religion, and political party too.

 

Military drill accomplishes itself via shared rhythmic movement.  Civil and tribal wars show the potential destructiveness of such mechanisms.

 

69 – Yet Somali clans unite in Seattle.

 

70 – “Although humans are certainly born with the potential to be xenophobic and racist, we are not thereby destined to be unregenerately selfish or even fundamentally self-centered.”

 

[The word should be predisposed, not potential.  And, selfish has nothing to do with sacrificing yourself for the group.]

 

CHAPTER THREE: FINDING AND MAKING MEANING

Page . . . 72

 

Meaning is an overly bandied about word, but . . .

 

In the infancy of the individual, as in the infancy of the species, “meaning” is equivalent to biological importance – that is survival.

 

73 – An infant does not create meaning so much as recognize what is meaningful – security, warmth physical and emotional nourishment.

 

And things that feel right “a full stomach, safety, nearness, are recognized and sought. 

 

Over the millennia the mind has become a sense-making organ. We impose order on the world, giving it cultural meaning.

 

What cultures systematize and value derives from the basic biological requirements for survival and well-being – such as finding, preparing food; rearing children; social relationships; social practices and competence.  We have an emotional investment in these things. 

 

“Cultural knowledge and practices direct our attention to particular biologically significant things and help us know what to think and do about them.”

 

74 – The biological significance of any cultural practice tends to keep it viable, even though many seem strange.

 

What to do and how to live are not instinctive. But the predispositions of mutuality and belonging, are the predispositions for acquiring the cultural meanings of those among whom we grow up and share our lives.

 

75 – Tribal peoples groups were very intertwined, communally shared, integrated wholes.

 

76, 77, 78 – She profiles the Yekuana of Venezuela who took prepared drugs and lived in a communal round structure that represented the cosmos for them.  The house and body paralleled each other. 

 

Their epic story was like a sleeve holding the culture together.

 

The story was not a discreet entity, but manifest in every activity.

 

79 – Along with metaphysical systems come rules that regulate social, familial and sexual relations: there are rules and roles for weaning, first menstruation, circumcision, marriage, graduation, inauguration and more.

 

80 – In such a way social roles regulated behaviors within hierarchies.

 

There is no requirement to rebel against society in such communities.  There is no choice of identity.

 

“Far from being born free or created equal, humans evolved to require the restraints of custom and authority which, within a small-scale society, provided psychological security and satisfaction. 

 

All human groups develop systems of social organizations that include principles of governing, settling disputes, dealing with deviants, etc.

 

81 – Small scale societies have right ways to make and preserve fire, make tools, heal, etc.

 

We evolved to think in terms of resemblance or correspondence, continuity, contiguity, coherence, duality, and cause and effect.

 

82 – As we are natural system-builders, we are also natural story-tellers.  It is a part of everyday interaction.  They may be informative, but they are more than that.  If told well, they engage the hearer and get empathy and interaction.

 

Children at 2 ½ recognize that to tell a story is different from other uses of language.  Children notoriously like to hear the same story over and over. 

 

83 – Russian Folklorist, Vladimir Propp identified 31 constant or recurring structural or narrative elements of plots in folk tales. 

 

This outline includes things that happen to heroes on quests.  This pattern follows the program for action and finding food and solves problems. 

 

84 – Herbert Cole has identified 5 major images in African art:

the female – male couple; the woman and child; the forceful male (hunters, warriors, and heroes); the mounted leader (riders of power); and the stranger (ambiguous aliens).

 

85 – These are the themes of popular TV too.

 

In ancestral societies, uncertainty and misfortune were usually men by ceremonies, charms, and imprecations – emotional, rhythm – modal stuff.

 

86 – We live in a scientific world. 

 

The need for story explains why science and technology have been so attractive and why they are not enough.   We need the stability that stories or categories of science can bring.   Yet, we need meaning too.  And, science often doesn’t provide this.

 

87 – And, as sure as we’re predisposed to make categories or have narrative, we are receptive to structural and performative elements too: imagery, musical and poetic devices.

 

Pre-literacy, we couldn’t hold that many stories in our heads.

 

88 – Merlin Donald created a list of analytic thought that are absent in preliterate folks: formal arguments, systematic taxonomies, deductions, verification, differentiation, quantification, idealization, and formal methods of measurement.

 

89 – Word exactness and disinterested / objective information are also new.

 

90 – The printing press was also needed for science.

 

91 – When we learn language in school, we no longer learn speaking skills / rhetoric, it is reading and writing.

 

Earlier people didn’t lack these abilities, they just didn’t need them.

 

92 – And many young men seem as though they’d rather live in the pre-literate, hyper logical world – many young males.

 

And meaning is still sought in cooking, socializing, gardening, sports and other pre-literate enterprises.

 

Cynicism is a new idea.

 

93 – What of meaning today?  The more science we have the more questions we have.

 

94 – Stories that keep society orderly and individuals secure work best when they are vividly presented as a part of a compelling belief system.

 

What we call ‘religion’ and ‘art’ were integral to our minds and societies and order of ordinary life for countless centuries. They answered all the why questions well.

 

Our minds evolved, like those of other animals to pursue and find meaning in their interests – and those near them.

 

95 – We like stories with heroes, villains, good and evil, transgressions and retribution. 

 

We consider religious ideas ignorant and enslaving.  And suicide bombers have an idea of meaning that is not true.  

 

96 – But for millennia it has been adaptive to be vulnerable and receptive to the appeal of meanings – testable and verifiable or not.

 

97 – And accelerating change is odd.  We have long taken refuge in the eternal verities our elders have passed down.

 

98 – As other animals, we have a need to reduce uncertainty.  Our constant new can provoke anxiety and aggressiveness.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: “HANDS – ON” COMPETENCE

Page . . . 99

 

Mothers often touch newborn’s hands, this says ‘you’re one of us’ and reminds the author of Michelangelo’s God and Adam.  Hands are beautiful.

 

Homo habilis is the earliest ‘homo.’

 

For millennia all was hand made.

 

100 – This given, evolution being what it is, we must have found making stuff satisfying.  Manual involvement and material interaction are multisensory and multimodal.

 

101 – Upright folks have free hands.  Persuasive theories have suggested that human language began with gestures.

 

We have been dependent on tools for 1.8 million years.

 

102 – By 4 weeks, babies hand movements resemble conversational gestures.    By two months they move in rhythm with other’s speech and voice. 

 

103 – Once they can, they grab items and bring them to their mouths.  At 28 weeks, this is efficiently done.  The mouth area of the cerebral cortex develops early and quickly.  The face and mouth areas are near the arm and hand areas.

 

104 – Babies first take action and manipulate by purposefully dropping things.  At 6 months babies do rhythmic banging with syllable babbling.

 

107 – Today, when you’ve ‘made it,’ you act cool.  ‘You’ve got it made’ is an interesting metaphor.

 

We make jokes about majoring in ‘basket weaving,’ but it is complex. And bakets are used in many ways. 

 

108 – Basket completion is part of  initiation rites and has a spiritual meaning.

 

109 – Our ancestors must have lived more like animals that we can imagine today.  But, today we don’t do physical work.

 

110 – Much physical work was accompanied by chants or songs to make labor more enjoyable.

 

111 – Children learn the names for animals (she says presumably) more easily than inanimate objects.   She thinks kids still like climbing trees.  [Herein she is starting her lift off into nonsense.  This is very pre-smart phone.  I will grant that many smart phone games simulate action].

 

People like camping and horticulture therapy is big in Seattle [say no more].

 

112 – We like savannah landscapes. 

 

We find nature fascinating and have nature gods. 

 

114 – 115 She profiles modifications of stones and yet notes that we also modify ourselves via ornaments. 

 

116 – She is not just romanticizing making things – as is easy to do – from an armchair.  It is a fact that our bodies and minds are designed for physical engagement.  And, people find it rewarding.

 

118 – Kids say look at me and my achievements.  They do this in the West in part because they make nothing and so have  zero to show for their efforts, to demonstrate their worth with.

 

119 – We prize analytical and literate skills and so denigrate making objects.

 

120 – Like an oval next to a duck triggering rolling into the nest, we are attached to the idea of movement in video games. It is hands on competence, without the competence.

 

121 – This doesn’t equal the joy Wordsworth felt in nature.

 

122 – The first modern value is that self-fulfillment is the natural pursuit.  This means freedom from constraint.   And, related to this is an intolerance for tradition.

 

All is throw away and transient. But, you’d think we would need a sense of belonging and a shared belief system.

 

123 – And while many find repetitive tasks boring, there are many knitting societies and crafts people.

 

124 – Repetitive work makes for a contemplative state. Makes people feel ‘grounded.’

 

127 – Emerson distinguished between ‘job work’ and the ‘main design’ of life.  The latter related to a connection to a meta-narrative, purpose.  Now work is just a means to purchasing goods.   [OK what of the West as a narrative?]

 

CHAPTER FIVE: ELABORATING

Page . . . 129

 

The previous 4 chapters described these inborn needs: we respond to mutuality; to belong to a group; to find and make meaning; to handle and make things with our hands from the natural world and thereby gain a sense of competence.

 

In this chapter she’ll argue that rhythm and modes have predisposed us to make and respond to the arts.  The arts have given us a sense of belonging and competence.

 

130 – What rhythms and modes of mutuality, ceremony and art have in common is ‘elaboration.’  Beyond the survival level, we make and communicate.

 

Other animals don’t elaborate.

 

We do good and bad things and can imagine them happening again.  We stack the odds in our favor. 

 

131 – We do this via religion. She imagines this co-emerged with art 40 – 60,000 years ago.  Both are in every known society.  Neither the USSR or China could eradicate religion.  

 

Walter Burkert notes that early religion 1) dealt with non – tangible objects that 2) were communicated with. And, 3rd, it is a matter of ‘ultimate concern.’ 

 

The author ads a 4th: they were accompanied by rituals and ceremony with rhythmic – modal behavior called the arts.

 

132 – Early hand axes were elaborated upon. 

 

133 - Claude Levi – Strauss titled an essay “the Raw and the Cooked” to highlight our turning usable objects into ‘culture.’

 

134 – Her use of ‘elaborating’ herein is the same as her earlier use of ‘making special.’   It must be adaptive or we wouldn’t spend so much time doing it.   Why?

 

135 – For competitive males to get noticed and sexual access?  Geoffrey Miller says so.   But burial sites coordinate the actions of many.  And this theory cannot account for the art of (136) females or the fact that these are often undertaken in a group.

 

137 – The items that get made special are almost always involved with biologically important or ‘meaningful’ life concerns.

 

138 – These include safety, prosperity, health, victory or avoiding misfortune. These are attention-getting, emotion-affecting, memorable activities.

 

139 – It is as if those involved thought they needed to get non-human beings to notice.

 

This would have strengthened group feeling and allowed survival.  Here she is adding that the arts contributed to this unity.

 

140 – “It is indisputable that a society’s arts are integral to its moral order, for when they are lost or replaced by foreign arts (as happened in so many aboriginal societies around the world), the entire culture breaks down.  Throughout human history, a group’s ceremonial elaborations (that is, its arts) have encapsulated the meanings that animate and perpetuate it.”

 

These pass down positive dispositions.

 

141 – These ceremonies speak to individual and cultural changes, ‘liminal’ moments.  They get the group to cooperate non-selfishly. They attack uncertainties and increase the feeling of competence.

 

142 - We see this in OCD’s ritualistic behaviors used to reduce anxiety.

 

143 – Fear and terror, Burkett notes, have biological functions.  Ritual controls them.  Just having something to do is reassuring. 

 

The psychological rewards of social interchange also makes us more emotionally robust.  Dancing too.

 

144 – Winning in sports and hunting increases testosterone, doing nothing and losing lowers it.

 

Dancing still feels good, although shorn of its cultural meaning and bonding. This, though they still have the repetition, accentuation, theme and variation, anticipation, surprise, and building up to a climax.

 

144 – Arts are said to have boomed during the Paleolithic 40,000 – 30,000 years ago.  These are seen in symbolic beads and cave paintings.  Symbolic indicating an ability to think abstractly.

 

146 – Rather than symbolic, she’ would like to think of the arts as the impetus to elaborate.  But tools and clothes and our bodies were elaborated long before that.

 

147 – And these rituals would have suffused the culture and many activities.  Unfortunately, dancing and singing leave no physical traces. (we may have a flute from 82,000 years ago and definitely do from 22,000 years ago).

 

This may have been even before language proper and symbols proper. Babies do rhythm. 

 

148 – Decorative markings on bodies could have been pre-verbal. Beads and ochre.  Animal colors indicate age and status and availability.

 

At some point wishing to succeed at a venture such as hunting or placating a powerful spirit, we made an image of it.  And, we took great care of the image, putting it in a special place.

 

149 – They were rarely made idly or in isolation, “art for art’s sake” or to while away the time.  The vast majority were made for use in larger ceremonies designed to bring prosperity and avoid misfortune.

 

This creates an emotional investment in the venture.

 

Art did not evolve to make symbols.  It is used in initiation ceremonies to tame the next generation.

 

To this end they used stories, objects, events, ideas and even symbols.  It is the elaboration, the multisensory elaboration, not the symbolism that is key.

 

150 – She likes to say the arts were commensurate with, rather than symbolic of the importance of their occasions.   It underscored the importance of events biology had already made important.

 

Just as we moderns often think of the arts as inherently symbolic we also mistakenly think of them as individualistic and separate. It is likely always the case that music and movement went together.

 

151 – She sees a reemergence of this in modern art’s tangible awareness of the movement of paints. This is not just an attempt to copy that which it sees.  The sense of touch is present.

 

In both Pollack and Rembrandt you can see the paint choices.


152 - She sees it in the cross modal poem about music she profiles.

 

“In Radcliffe-Brown’s important observation, ceremonies are intended to produce changes in feelings or to structure them in order to maintain and transmit from one generation to another the emotional dispositions on which a society depends for its existence.”

 

153 – 154 – She describes the elaborate ritual of the Mbari people. They create elaborate structures and paintings and leave it all to rot.  But, while it seems wasteful, it reinforces their ‘evolved psychobiological needs of belonging, meaning, and competence.”

 

They decide upon the ceremony as a group, and while there are artists, they all participate in its making.

 

155 – The figures involved speak to Mbari concerns, and emphasize their communal significance.   The characters painted include, hard work, prosperity, productivity, and fertility.  There are also humorous and sexual images.  And the preparation lasts for over 2 years.

 

156 – The Temiar of Malaysia do their rituals too with rhythms and modes that extend from that of mother and infant.

 

In these songs, the animals, plants and mountains and humans have detachable souls that can be liberated as unbound spirit.  

 

157 - Songs are a path that gets them there.

 

158 – Although mothers singing to their baby is simple, it can also be described as elaborated with head movements and pats.

 

Emotions largely happen in relation to other people.

 

160 – And in mother’s play we have emotions for their own sake.  These lead to transcendent consciousness. 

 

161 -  85% of societies have these transcendental experiences and a means to institutionalize them.

 

161 – Alondra Oubre contends that such out of mind experiences, going back millions of years ago, may have contributed to the evolution of consciousness.

 

162 – Songs and rhythm and drums happening together may have predated speech as a form of emotional heightening.

 

163 – These were said to release chemicals that promote affiliative emotions and brain states conducive to accepting and incorporating collective values.   It seems that emotions are thus aroused and interpreted in culturally specific ways.

 

164 – We have charismatic evangelicals that evoke the same sorts of feelings.  And, working in groups does create such great collective feeling.

 

She suspects that love today is very different from earlier love as is our appreciation of ‘art.’   Both have become surrogates for the psychological satisfactions that once inhered naturally in human existence but are now much less reliably met.

 

166 – We were born susceptible to attaining self-transcendence via rhythm and mode. 

 

CHAPTER SIX: TAKING THE ARTS SERIOUSLY

Page . . . 167

 

A Congressman suggested less funding for the arts.  And, she condemns our technology for wiping out indigenous folks.

 

168 - But, art, she argues is important for shared social meaning.

 

[The problem with her argument is that arts today are totally destructive of any sense of American community; they largely assault our values].

 

169 – In some societies artists are considered shamans and they’re seen as special.   In others the arts are not restricted and every normal person engages in them (Her admitting there are societies where arts are restricted seems problematic for her argument].

 

169 – Since the Enlightenment we’ve considered artists outsiders and for over 100 years we’ve accused them of not being able to draw.

 

173 – The arts are often seen as excessive and dangerous.  But horrific sights, loss of blood, feelings of pain, exhaustion, fear were in traditional art.  And the excess has usually be manifest as extraordinary or ideal standards of beauty, purity, perfection, sacredness and seriousness.

 

But today the excess aims at shock.

 

174 – But when we see the negative excess we must remember that the real negative stuff “global economic trends, proliferating technology, geopolitics, weapons manufactures, media conglomerates, polluters of the environments – are more uncaring and heedless of human suffering and desire than any tribal ancestors or gods ever were.”

 

175 – If the arts are elite, they are superfluous.  But, women have decorated objects forever.

 

176 – Whereas our arts are elite, among hunter-gatherers arts have been much more democratic.

 

177 – Now “European cultural dominance and superiority have been challenged . . . in university departments.”  The move towards visual culture has been a positive step away from cultural elitism.

 

179 – Children naturally love to draw and their efforts progress with ‘orderly growing complexity.’   Their scribbles evolve into spirals and geometric shapes.

 

180 – At 3 or 4 their first animals and humans are drawn.

 

182 – This innate propensity is paralleled in other modes, vocal sound become substantial and have trills and squeaking by 4 to 6 months.

 

Just as children naturally draw, sign, dance, and play with words, they also naturally make believe, dress up in costumes, and adorn their surroundings.

 

183 – Today’s Western children feel embarrassment about singing or dancing spontaneously.

 

In Papua New Guinea strong, tough, adult men wear body paint and feathers. Our grown men only play in sports.


Art is a behavior, which is interactive, hands on, emotionally rewarding and psychologically meaningful, communal and supportive of identity.

 

185 - A survey of 27 artists found they get anxious and depressed if they don’t work.  And, they struggle financially and with the idea that arts aren’t respected.  She says we need more money for the arts.

 

187 – Contemporary society has traded group identity for the excitement and possibilities of unfixed identities.  

 

188 - In sports we get identities, but in arts all win.

 

189 – There are many collaborative community arts projects people can take on. Decorating playgrounds, for example.  These projects promote a less individualistic view of the ‘arts.’  And more communal.

 

190 – Though the world is complex, we’re still the same underneath.  And, people still, she suspects, hunger for a more profound life.  Our arts treat the inner life seriously.  People die every day from a lack of poetry, Robert Hass said.

 

Arts can supply meaning.

 

192 – Arts hands on nature can give us a sense of competence.

 

Traditional western art was important for people in Sarajevo during their war.

 

195 – Arts must be defended against our leaders’ dismissive sneers.” (if art is so wanted why is it dependent on leaders?]  But, it can also help our economic standing.

 

196 – Arts can give us the experience of meeting challenges, solving problems, thinking through new thoughts and ‘recognizing deeper feelings’ – so it can help us with other subjects.

 

197 – The arts can save us from ‘hyperverbality.’

 

198 – Awash in the deluge of ceaseless and unrelated superabundance of images and messages . . the arts help to shape and control, thereby reducing anxieties and uncertainties.

 

200 – “Though in extremes they can be repressive and oppressive, it is well to remember that the old and duller principles have characterized human societies far longer.”  We have traded family and community for sins.

 

201 – The collective excesses that most engage us today are the elaborations and spectacles of rock concerts, blockbuster films, tv extravaganzas and athletic concerts. 

 

202 - Arts traditionally could not afford to be minimalist. But they spoke to the human quality of life. They ensured our betterment.  Today we have it backwards.

 

203 – Some current arts have put us more in touch with our origins and fundamental nature.  For example our “emphasis on cultural diversity has wisely expanded the study of art to include its manifestations in all societies.”

 

Next paragraph, “It is, I believe, more important to learn what we have in common than to show one another what our particular culture does differently or better.”

 

APPENDIX – TOWARDS A NATURALISTIC AESTHETICS

Page . . . 205

 

206 – Here she wants to carve out a naturalistic basis for judgments about experiences of art.

 

Hatred of elitism and multiculturalism have made the very idea of objective standards distasteful in the academy.

 

207 – And evolutionists, like Thornhill, find beauty and quality only too easy to explain.

 

And, from a cultural constructivist point of view, all have their own arts and we cannot judge. 

 

However, if art is not an accidental by-product of big brains but the active human capacity to elaborate and respond to elaborations, we can see art as more than an enticement to our adaptive instincts – making us want sex and food.

 

208 – There is a difference between lovemaking and copulation, dining and feeding, killing game with and without respect. Humans universally make such distinctions.

 

Why do we want the more psychically elevated version?  In their more elevated forms, aesthetic experiences transcend simple short-term self-interest, making us aware of our embeddedness or participation in an expanded frame of reference that is larger than ourselves.

 

209 – Greek aisthetikos “of sense perception” shows appreciation begins with sensation. 

 

A naturalistic aesthetics will call ‘good’ that which addresses and satisfies human psychobiology as it evolved to live and prosper in the world.

 

4 parts, separated for analytic convenience:

 

1)     Accessibility coupled with strikingness.

They must be relevant to matters of important biological concern: male-female relationships, life transitions, the mortal body, feelings of hope, and so on.

 

Movements that are strong and vigorous and controlled or graceful and fluent are associated with vitality, youth, health and competence, as are vibrant tones and entraining rhythm.

 

210 – These are part, as Nancy Aiken argued, connected to our emotional reaction to the piece.

 

211 – Yet these are ingredients of great art, not great art itself.  Herein they highlight a painting made on pure popularity polls.

 

212 – When strikingness is deliberately added by intentional emphasis, the aesthetic enterprise begins.  There must be a conscious exaggeration or emphasis, not just a cold rendering.

 

2)     Tangible relevance.

 

A connection to our vital interests.  

 

214 – And without appreciating a work’s tangible relevance to the cultural tradition in which it exists, we cannot expect to experience fully its emotional power. 

 

215 - Items only referring to private maudlin revelations will have limited relevance and appreciation.

 

3)     Evocative Resonance.

 

This indicates relevance to other icons in culture and so the piece has more  than insular resonance.

 

Video game effects may be engaging to senses, but they fail to engage much in the culture.

 

4)     Satisfying fullness:

216 - At the highest level, the audience feels something has been accomplished by the work or activity. 

 

217 – Those who carve spears must believe the work will protect them or help them in the hunt.  They must be that good. 

 

Psychologist Gerald Clore (1994) suggests that the felt intensity of an emotional response (to anything) may be directly correlated with the amount of cognitive restructuring that the experience engenders.  

 

The example herein is the death of a spouse. But we can strength leading to change in art too.  Careful structuring can make this happen – impact and statement = change.

 

219 – Distinctions in ranking art are important   It is important to point out once again that the earliest exercising and developing of infants’ discriminatory sensitivities occur in what are essentially aesthetic contexts. That is, co-created imrovisatory interactions with caretakers, full of rhythmic and dynamic changes.

 

220 – We learn to see differences between teapots. We distinguish best between things we’re repeatedly exposed to.  

 

221 – As such we learn that loudness and shock are not the be and end all of good, but subtle distinctions.   And, import is rapture.  So repeating thrillers isn’t high art, aesthetically by her definition.

 

223 – The more you see the more you distinguish.  So for many maturity is required for good taste to get nobility, beauty, handsomeness, elegance, charm, grace good manners, kindness.

 

From this vantage point we can tell trash from value and make value judgments.

 

224 – History shows an appreciation for craftsmanship.   These societies are not subject to market pressures.  For standards to exist, we must care about beauty and standards, not just fun and money.

 

And some ads and public entertainment have value, but to what purpose.

 

225 – But the ultimate ends are not just biological, but, in a sense, religious.  They convey a sense of belonging, meaning and competence.

 

We can’t go back to hunter gatherers.  But, we don’t want to forget the taste for the profound. The lack of which gnaws at us.