Tuesday, November 27, 2007

art & evolution

I guess there was (is?), according to a NYT Op-Ed, a "free-wheeling conference" at U of M on art and evolution. A month long conference, it seems. I felt intrigued until I read this:

"In the main presentation at the conference, Ellen Dissanayake, an independent scholar affiliated with the University of Washington, Seattle, offered her sweeping thesis of the evolution of art, nimbly blending familiar themes with the radically new. By her reckoning, the artistic impulse is a human birthright, a trait so ancient, universal and persistent that it is almost surely innate. But while some researchers have suggested that our artiness arose accidentally, as a byproduct of large brains that evolved to solve problems and were easily bored, Ms. Dissanayake argues that the creative drive has all the earmarks of being an adaptation on its own. The making of art consumes enormous amounts of time and resources, she observed, an extravagance you wouldn’t expect of an evolutionary afterthought. Art also gives us pleasure, she said, and activities that feel good tend to be those that evolution deems too important to leave to chance."

So art is "too important to leave to chance? Huh? Evolution, then, is deliberate? I mean, what's the opposite of chance here? I'm sure the article is doing a bad job but I *hate* it when folks try to make art seem more meaningful or interesting by explaining it in evolutionary terms, especially when they don't know jack shit about theories of evolution. And what exactly might that explanation really tell us? I don't care if Martians landed on earth a billion trillion years ago and implanted a DNA code for artistic production or that plants and ticks and monkeys and birds make art too and thus the whole world is one big art project. Ok, the latter example is a jab at Elizabeth Grosz who I greatly admire but who gave a stunningly silly lecture on art and evolution last year at Wayne' English dept. According to Grosz, after a long explanation of environment and something about ticks, it all adds up to--are you ready for this?--art equals "vibrations." Please. Come on...I mean, duh, whatever. *Everything* equals vibrations. The whole fucking universe. It's like a more boring version of string theory. I get it, it's just... so what? What, as a critic, are you supposed to do with that? The meaning of Jackson Pollack's drip paintings? Vibrations. Motorhead's super fast bad ass punk rock metal? Vibrations. Bach's Mass in B Minor? Vibrations. Foghat's crappy rock songs? Vibrations,. Tyree Guyton's urban detritus installations and legendary dots? Vibrations. Please. Kill. Me. Evolutionary explanations for art like Grosz's say nothing *interesting* or specific about art practices--their history, their form, their politics, their pleasure. Evolution, on the other hand, is fascinating.

Well, you know, maybe the article just sucks but it really annoyed me. End of today's rant.

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