Brown, S., & Dissanayake, E. (2009). The arts are more than aesthetics: Neuroaesthetics as narrow aesthetics. In M. Skov & O. Vartanian (Eds.), Neuroaesthetics (pp. 43–57). Baywood Publishing Co.
Neuroaesthetics as Narrow Aesthetics
Steven Brown and Ellen Dissanayake
BUT tremendous ambiguities inherent in the terms “aesthetics” and “art,” ones that limit a proper understanding of human art
It is only during the last two centuries that the terms “Art” (with an implied
capital A, connoting an independent realm of prestigious and revelatory works)
and “aesthetics” (as a unique, and even reverential, mode of attention toward such
works) have taken on their present elitist meanings and become unavoidably intertwined
(Davies, 2006; Shiner, 2001
Evolutionary aesthetics investigates
sensory preferences in animals and humans that promote selective attention and
positive emotional responses toward objects in the environment that lead to adaptive
decision making and problem solving (Orians, 2001). Objects perceived in this
manner are considered to be beautiful (Thornhill, 1998).
Although workers in evolutionary aesthetics do not overtly adhere to the elitist
philosophical connotations of aesthetics, some nevertheless write as though their
findings are applicable to an understanding of human responses to art and beauty
(e.g., Thornhill, 1998).
we suggest that present-day neuroaesthetics is limited in three
important respects by a narrow, culture-bound sense of aesthetics/art
FIRST Neuroaesthetics, like evolutionary aesthetics and
other scientific notions of aesthetics, is predicated on a class of emotions whose
biological function is to generate an appraisal of the properties of objects
for assessing a wide variety of objects
important for biological survival, as in evolutionary aesthetics, where they include
landscapes, food quality, the appearance and behaviors of conspecifics,
So the aesthetic data used in neuroaesthetics apply to a fat bigger category of objects than art objects
‘Strictly speaking, it is this broad area—not works of art alone—that defines the
domain of neuroaesthetics’
conceived, neuroaesthetics has no way of distinguishing art from nonart.
we present a view of art as a behavior of “artification,” a neologism that allows us to
think of art as an activity, in other words as something that people do (to “artify”).
……..The realm of human experience of the arts is far wider than aesthetic response to individual features……..
A focus on such responses and preferences, even in individual artworks, reduces the arts to the level of receiver psychology and social functionlessness, as presupposed in many philosophical approaches to the fine arts based on Enlightenment principles.’
…..complex behaviours eg making art include an aesthetic dimension but they are not reducible to the aesthetic dimension……..
THIRD ……….art deals with the emotions so a neuroaesthiec study of art needs a basilisks of a theory of emotion. BUT th BET theory of emotion is inadequate to cope with emotions produced by art and saestheric response………..
………..art is a fuzzy category – mixed up with eurocentric conceptions……
a comprehensive scientific understanding
of art must include its manifestations in all human cultures
…..art in other cultures is not the ‘disinterested’ thing that is western fine art and also may not be connected with beauty………
A foray into
the arts of non-Western cultures not only compels us to confront art practices that
are removed from the “disinterested” aesthetic practices of Western fine art, but also
forces us to consider the arts as behaviors that may have no necessary connection
with beauty (Dissanayake, 2007
……art in premodern society is ritual:…….
THE ARTS ARE MORE THAN AESTHETICS / 45
ceremonies, as behavioral manifestations of cognitive belief systems about the
way the world works (Alcorta & Sosis, 2005), have some common characteristics.
They are performed at times of perceived uncertainty, when individuals and groups
wish to influence the outcomes of circumstances that they perceive as vital to their
livelihood and survival (Dissanayake 1992, in press; Rappaport, 1999; Turner,
1969). They are typically multimodal, combining singing, instrument playing,
dancing, literary language, dramatic spectacle, and the decoration of bodies, surroundings,
and paraphernalia. In addition, they are typically participative: even
when an audience observes specialists performing, they join in by clapping, moving,
shouting, singing, and so forth. As John Chernoff, a scholar of West African
drumming, has observed: “the most fundamental aesthetic in Africa is that without
participation, there is no meaning” (Chernoff, 1979, p. 23).
……the arts in ceremonial contexts have very many functions identity feasibility life cycles, relief of stress foster cooperation maintain social harmony etc etc…..
………so they question a neuroaesthetic approach to art….
…….they suggest instead a not in of the arts as ‘things that people do’……..
We suggest that it is profitable to consider the arts not as objects (paintings,
songs), qualities of objects (beauty, consonance), cues to sensory-cognitive preferences,
or passive registrations of sensory/cognitive stimuli, but as behaviors of
artification—things that people do. Over several decades, one of us [ED] has gradually
refined such a concept (Dissanayake, 1988, 1992, 2000, in press). Artification
(originally called “making special”) refers to the universally observed penchant
of human individuals (and groups) to “make ordinary reality extraordinary”
(Dissanayake, 1992, p. 49).
ritualisation as part of art
…..ritualisation and artification……….
behaviors are communicative displays that take ordinary, unremarkable behaviors
drawn from everyday life (e.g., preening, nest building, pecking for food) and use
them in an altered manner and novel context in order to communicate something
entirely different from their original source
…altered by a)simplified – formalised stereotyped or patterned b)repeated c) exaggerated d) elaborated e) manipulation of expectation
These alterations or operations
serve to attract attention to and sustain interest in the new message, which is often
concerned with aggression or courtship.
……….they make the point that artification (the things enumerated above) has not only an aesthetic effect but also a cognitive one………
mainly to generate a new signification for something compared with
its ordinary meaning or use. For example, ornamentation of objects like weapons or
vessels is a way of giving them special power: the placement of a crucifix in a new
church is a way of sanctifying and protecting it, and the utterance of special texts like
prayers or incantations is a way of making contact with remote deities. Hence, the
emphases that underlie the “alterations” of artification involve not only changes
in context or performance properties such as repetition and exaggeration but include
cognitive changes in the signification and function of an object or event. Arts
behaviors are among the most important mechanisms that link ritual practices with
cognitive belief systems
note that interactions between mother and child rely on features of ratification mothers
….diss says that this coordinated dibasic behaviour evolved because od ‘the obstetric dilemma’ of 2 million years ago with bipedalism = narrower pelvis conflicted with enlarged brains and skulls……..
(2000; in press) suggests that human sensitivity to and competence for the operations
of artification originated phylogenetically in evolved interactions between ancestral
mothers and their immature infants.
…..need for a theory of emotion……
……….brown/diss define emotions….:
responses to events or objects in the environment,
driven by appraisals of goodness or badness
strongly tied to goaldriven
motivational states important for survival,
….also focus and BET….
….ALSO CLORE/ORTONY SCHEME;
……….four foci outcomes objects agency social interaction
2) Objects. The second category deals with valenced reactions to the aspects of
objects and events. Importantly for this volume, it is this category that comprises the
aesthetic emotions, spanning the range from liking/attraction to disliking/disgust.
This is also the category that is invoked when people discuss preferences and taste.
Hence, feelings of aesthetic attraction, whether for a face, a food item, a melody, or a
building, fall into this category, as do negative-valenced counterparts such as hate
and disgust. Regarding neuroaesthetics, it is telling that the basic emotion theory
does not contain a positive-valenced aesthetic term (e.g., attraction, liking, love),
only the negative-valenced emotion of disgust.
Aesthetic emotions are unquestionably an integral part of the arts, but they are
neither necessary nor sufficient to characterize them. Thus, a narrow focus on
aesthetic responses is ultimately a distraction from the larger picture of what the arts
are about. Finally, to the extent that the arts are perceived as rewarding, this is not so
only because artworks are appealing objects. There is a wide variety of rewarding
emotions that occur when people create and experience art apart from simply
object-based emotions, including the pleasure of social communion and the moral
zeal of common cause.