Ellen Dissanayake  

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-'''Ellen Dissanayake'''{{Pronunciation needed}} (born '''Ellen Franzen'''), an independent scholar focusing on "the anthropological exploration of art and culture".+'''Ellen Dissanayake''' (born '''Ellen Franzen'''), an independent scholar focusing on "the anthropological exploration of art and culture".
== Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why == == Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why ==

Revision as of 18:45, 2 April 2018

"It was Ellen Dissanayake (1998) who first saw the connection between the Komar and Melamid paintings and prehistoric landscape tastes—yet another debt Darwinian aesthetics owes to her." --The Art Instinct

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Ellen Dissanayake (born Ellen Franzen), an independent scholar focusing on "the anthropological exploration of art and culture".


Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why

In Homo Aestheticus (1992, paperback 1995, 1996, 1999, 2004), Dissanayake argues that art was central to the emergence, adaptation and survival of the human species, that aesthetic ability is innate in every human being, and that art is a need as fundamental to our species as food, warmth or shelter.

She views art as the product of “making things special”, and these things may be objects as well as behaviors. That is to say, art evolved to make certain events, tentatively important for survival or social cohesion, more salient, pleasurable, and memorable. Artifacts of art are also said to result from efforts to deal with uncertainties of nature by exerting control over it.

It is claimed that art experiences are physically pleasurable, and distinctively so because one appreciates how the creators of art have shaped the raw materials. However, Dissanayake also contends that some of these raw materials may be pleasurable in themselves, i.e. “protoaesthetic“ (p. 54), as may be the process of creation or some percepts in themselves without symbolic meaning, e.g. by means of obeying the Gestalt Principles. In general, the process of “making things special” is described as drawing on those aspects of the world that evolution had led us to find attractive: visual signs of health, youth and vitality, as well as a balance between uniformity and asymmetries.

The chapter The Arts as Means of Enhancement is a collection of cross-cultural evidence for instances that fall under Dissanayake's definition of art; a criticism of narrow European-centered notions of art in the 19th and 20th century. This criticism is developed further in the books' last chapter that advocates the necessity to promote art in education and everyday life, as it is said to be a universal, biologically rooted human behavior.

The book has been favorably reviewed by Denis Dutton in 1994 who states that it "calls for a counter-revolution in our thinking about art. Its message is timely, provocative, and immensely valuable.″<ref>Philosophy and Literature 18 (1994) also available here.</ref>



  • What is Art For? (1988)
  • Homo Aestheticus (1992, 1995)
  • Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began (2000)


  • "Art as a human behavior: Toward an ethological view of art", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38/4, 397-404. (1980)
  • "Aesthetic experience and human evolution", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 41/2, 145-55. (1982)
  • "Does art have selective value?" Empirical Studies of the Arts II, 1:35-49. (1984)
  • "Art for life’s sake", Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 9/4, 169-178. (1992)
  • "Chimera, spandrel, or adaptation: Conceptualizing art in human evolution". Human Nature 6:2, 99-118. (1995)
  • "The pleasure and meaning of making", American Craft 55,2: 40-45. (1995)
  • "Reflecting on the past: Implications of prehistory and infancy for art therapy", ARTherapy 12, 1: 17-23. (1995)
  • "Darwin meets literary theory: Critical discussion", Philosophy and Literature 20:1, 229- 239. (1996)
  • "Komar and Melamid discover Pleistocene taste". Philosophy and Literature 22, 2: 486- 496. (1998)
  • "The beginnings of artful form", Surface Design Journal 22:2, 4-5. (1998)
  • "Aesthetic Incunabula", Philosophy and Literature 25:2, 335-346. (2001)
  • "Art in Global Context: An Evolutionary/Functionalist Perspective for the 21st Century", International Journal of Anthropology 18:4, 245-258. (2003)
  • "If music is the food of love, what about survival and reproductive success?", Musicae Scientiae, Special issue, 169-195. (2008)
  • "The Artification Hypothesis and Its Relevance to Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Neuroaesthetics", Cognitive Semiotics 5:148-173. (2008)
  • "The Deep Structure of Pleistocene Rock Art: The 'Artification Hypothesis'". Papers from IFRAO Congress, September 2010 – Symposium: Signs, symbols, myth, ideology… (Pre-Acts) http://www.ellendissanayake.com/publications/index.php#journals (2010)
  • "Doing Without the Ideology of Art", New Literary History, 42: 71–79. (2011)

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