Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Same as it ever was

From Dennis Dutton, "Hardwired to seek beauty":

Throughout history and across cultures, the arts of homo sapiens have demonstrated universal features. These aesthetic inclinations and patterns have evolved as part of our hardwired psychological nature, ingrained in the human species over the 80,000 generations lived out by our ancestors in the 1.6 million years of the Pleistocene.

The existence of a universal aesthetic psychology has been suggested, not only experimentally, but by the fact that the arts travel outside their local contexts so easily: Beethoven is loved in Japan, Aboriginal art in Paris, Korean ceramics in Brazil, and Hollywood movies all over the globe.

Our aesthetic psychology has remained unchanged since the building of cities and the advent of writing some 10,000 years ago, which explains why The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, remain good reading today.
Read the rest by clicking here. Link via Arts & Letters Daily.

comments: 2

Eustace Bright said...

Intresting subject.

I've often wondered how to account for variations in aesthetic taste and perception among groups of individuals or sub-cultures. My experience in music leads me to believe that people who do not like a certain style of music are disinterested or repulsed by that music because they do not know how to listen to this type of music. They try to listen to it as they would their own music, trying to pull the same experience or feeling they would expect to get from their music. In the process of "understanding" or receiving a musical experience, humans interpret various more or less basic musical elements as symbols of meaning -- e.g. dotted rhythms, tonality, chord progressions, harmonic rhythm (biggie), levels of dissonance, clarity of melody, etc. When we listen to music, these thousands of elements are what we use to interpret the message. Obviously, when this new music does not use the same symbols exactly the same way, or if the music does not attempt to fulfill the same "need" of the listener (most often the case), the listener is let down and dissatisfied.

My tendency is to believe that cultural influence is stronger than genetic in producing most of the aethetic variances we observe. Moreover, I have a hunch that 1) early exposure to music and 2) music's role in life (structure/function relation) will prove to be the largest factors influencing aesthetics.

Why does a minor chord mean one thing to a Jew and another to a Christian?

Michael Leddy said...

Good points. I'd guess that Dennis Dutton might argue that music from Christian and Jewish traditions can appeal to people from outside one or both -- the same person can love klezmer music, Gregorian chant, Mississippi blues, and Bach.

I liked Dutton's observations in light of teaching Homer and other ancient texts to students who again and again find them meaningful and moving in ways they never imagined. That always suggests to me that in some way we're all living in one human world, though with plenty of local differences, to be sure.