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Homo Aestheticus
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Preface to the 1995 EditionPreface to the Original EditionAcknowledgments1. Introduction: Why Species-Centrism?2. Biology and Art: The Implications of Feeling Good3. The Core of Art: Making Special4. Dromena, or "Things Done": Reconciling Culture and Nature5. The Arts as Means of Enhancement6. "Empathy Theory" Reconsidered: The Psychobiology of Aesthetic Responses7. Does Writing Erase Art?NotesReferencesIndex of NamesIndex of SubjectsCredits

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Discusses the place of art in human evolution and in the future

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Making art is a biologically innate need as fundamental as the need for food, warmth or shelter, asserts Dissanayake, who teaches at Manhattan's New School for Social Research. In a provocative manifesto that extends the thesis of her previous book What Is Art For? she argues that art was central to human evolutionary adaptation and that the aesthetic faculty is a basic psychological component of every human being. In her view, art is intimately linked to the origins of religious practices and to ceremonies of birth, death, transition and transcendence. Drawing on her years in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, she gives examples of painting, song, dance and drama as behaviors that enable participants to grasp and reinforce what is important to their cognitive world. Her illustrated treatise sets forth a plausible Darwinian perspective on art as a primal, indispensable activity. (May)

"Dissanayake argues that art was central to human evolutionary adaptation and that the aesthetic faculty is a basic psychological component of every human being. In her view, art is intimately linked to the origins of religious practices and to ceremonies of birth, death, transition, and transcendence. Drawing on her years in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea, she gives examples of painting, song, dance, and drama as behaviors that enable participants to grasp and reinforce what is important to their cognitive world." -Publishers Weekly "A wide-ranging essay on the place of art in human evolution and in the future, at once learned and spirited."-Howard Gardner, Harvard University "Ellen Dissanayake's book is the most forceful rejoinder I've read so far to the trivializing pessimism of postmodernist art theory."-Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle "Affirm[s] the idea that art is for life's sake, for the fulfillment of fundamental human needs, and for human survival... She gives us a coherent rationale for funding broadly based arts programs." Art Therapy "Homo Aestheticus offers a wealth of original and critical thinking. It will inform and irritate specialist, student, and lay reader alike."-American Anthropologist "Homo Aestheticus calls for a counterrevolution in our thinking about art. It is timely, provocative, and immensely valuable."-Philosophy and Literature

This book is an expanded discussion of the views Dissanayake put forth in her earlier work What Is Art For? ( LJ 10/1/88). Her central thesis is that the arts are universally present in human societies because play and ritual were essential to the adaptation and survival of our species. Utilizing the findings of anthropology and ethology--the study of animal (including human) behavior--she concludes that the arts have allowed us to differentiate the special from the mundane, thus enabling us to cope with unusual or inexplicable occurrences and to gain a communal focus that enhances our ability to flourish and survive. The author offers her theory as an alternative to the enlightenment/modernist and postmodernist views of art that grow out of overdependence on the written word. While Dissanayake may not have accounted entirely for art's unique role in contemporary Western society, viz. ritual and play, her discussion of the idea of ``making special'' offers many insights into human cultures. For specialized collections in the arts and anthropology.-- David B. Hegeman, King's Coll. Lib., Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.

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