Vol. 4 No. 2 (2015) Evolution and Aesthetics

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Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Editorial.  Evolution and Aesthetics (pp. 1-19)

Evolution and Aesthetics

Stephen Davies

How Ancient is Art? (pp. 22-45)

In this paper I suggest that music and dance of an artful kind could pre-date the emergence of our species by several hundred thousand years. Our progenitor, H. heidelbergensis, had the necessary physiological resources and social capacities. And she inherited older modes of moving and vocalizing that could have laid the foundations for dance and music. Admittedly, for her, these artistic activities would have been more about sharing and expressing emotions than about symbolizing abstract ideas or conveying complex thoughts. But that is something for which song and dance are ideally suited. Accordingly, the common assumption made by many paleoarchaeologists in discussions of the origins of art and of psychological modernity — that art is a distinctively sapiens attribute presupposing the kind of complex mentality that may be unique to our species — is mistaken. As well, there are some philosophical morals about the nature of art to be teased from the facts of its ancient origin.

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Mariagrazia Portera and Mauro Mandrioli

Tastes of the Parents:  Epigenetics and its Role in Evolutionary Aesthetics (pp. 46-76)

Evolutionary Aesthetics is a bourgeoning and thriving sub-field of Aesthetics, the main aim of which is “the importation of aesthetics into natural sciences, and especially its integration into the heuristic of Darwin’s evolutionary theory.” Scholars working in the field attempt to determine through the adoption of an interdisciplinary research methodology whether and to what extent Darwinian evolution can shed light on our capacity to have aesthetic experiences, make aesthetic judgments (both of art and natural beauty), and produce literary, visual, and musical artworks. Notwithstanding Evolutionary Aesthetics’ growing popularity in the past two decades, a look into the state of current research suggests a significant degree of haziness in the field from both epistemological-methodological and theoretical points of view. The main aim of the present paper is to make a first step towards a revision and extension of the discipline by assessing the role and potential of epigenetics in evolutionarily inspired aesthetic research. Epigenetics is among the youngest and most fascinating research fields in contemporary biology. But one of the most significant occurrences of the word “epigenesis” (the closest “ancestor” of contemporary “epigenetics”) is in Immanuel Kant’s third Critique, his aesthetic masterpiece. What might be the relationship between epigenetics and aesthetics? What is the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the development and functioning of aesthetic behavior in humans?

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Trevor Mowchun

A Machine’s First Glimpse in Time and Space (pp. 77-112)

The primary objective of this two-part essay is to theorize the relationships between religious disenchantment, the autonomy of art, and the phenomenon of contingency. These connections are held to be vital for an understanding of modern aesthetics in general, and the possibility is put forth that they come to a head in the most modern of all the arts: cinema. In the first part, an account of the contemporary rift between the immanence of art and the transcendence of the divine announces the end of the absolute and the beginning of the reign of contingency –– a liberating yet catastrophic turning point where artists are responsible for creating meaning with the full knowledge that all meaning is a creation. In the second part, the secular autonomy of art is fully realized in the medium of film, particularly in the camera machine whose first glimpse in time and space reveals a disenchanted world or “contingency in the flesh.” The medium of the moving image and its modes of experience at the turn of the century are here understood as ontologically determined or overdetermined by the great symbolic threat against the powers of human agency –– the world in its own image as opposed to the world in our image. However, at the same time this material threat against our will to power is counteracted by the desire to control the shock and indeterminacy of cinematic contingency, a desire fulfilled at the expense of acknowledging the implications of the new anti-absolute.

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Aesthetic Inquiries

Christina M. Colvin

Collision.  Bass Pro Shops, Environmental Thought, and the Anima(l)tronic Dead (pp. 105-115)

This essay collides with the aesthetic of wilderness cultivated by the North American retail chain Bass Pro Shops. Through elaborate displays and décor that render each store part rustic lodge, aquarium, amusement park, natural history museum, and hunting simulator, the stores represent the natural world and its inhabitants as abundant resources for human consumption. The stores’ aesthetic is primarily wrought through the arrangement of taxidermied animals. These animals include both traditional wildlife mounts posed in lifelike attitudes as well as animatronic taxidermy that becomes “alive” in response to players’ achievements in a shooting range game. By exploring the stores’ traditional and animatronic taxidermy as well as its conflation of animal and machine, this essay explores the conception of environmental conservation and animal ontology upheld by Bass Pro Shops.

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Eoin O’Connell

Can We Wrong a Work of Art? (pp. 116-137)

If we can wrong a work of art, then it has moral status. This paper considers two examples of putative wrongings of works of art, but in both cases, the claim that the work of art itself is wronged cannot be vindicated. The sense that a work of art has been wronged arises when that work has a special meaning for us or has a special standing in a cultural context. There is nothing intrinsic to works of art that can confer moral status upon them, and so they are not moral patients.

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Dominic Smith

On Technological Ground:  The Art of Torsten Lauschmann (pp. 138-170)

This essay considers the relationship between the work of contemporary artist Torsten Lauschmann and themes in a growing area of research: philosophy of technology. Themes considered include relations between technology and contemporary urban dwelling, technology and the “everyday,” and Heidegger’s problematic but canonical understanding of technology not as a set of “mere means” but as a “way of revealing.” I argue that Lauschmann’s art renders these themes relevant for our increasingly technologically mediated forms of everyday experience by engaging in a paradoxical practice of creating what McLuhan called “anti-environments.” Part One relates Lauschmann’s art to three concepts surfacing in McLuhan’s late work: “figure,” “ground,” and “anti-environment.” Part Two relates Lauschmann’s art to Merleau-Ponty’s critique of photography in terms of the ontology of dynamic movement. Part Three relates Lauschmann’s art to Heidegger, implying a form of “affective critique” that — by questioning the environmental conditions that constitute works of art — points beyond vexed aspects of Heidegger’s approach, such as its apparent pessimism and tendency to homogenize disparate technologies. The essay’s broader argument is that Lauschmann’s art, like the philosophical reflections to which it is related, is engaged in a practice of challenging settled common-sense notions regarding technologically mediated experience.

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