Art: The replicable unit-An inquiry into the possible origin of art as a social behavior

Kathryn Coe

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    10 Scopus citations


    Most scholars of art have assumed, since Darwin published his theory of evolution by natural selection, that at one point humans had no art, for some reason they began to produce it, and since that time this behavior has persisted and often flourished. Attempts to identify the origin of art, however, have generated acrimonious debate. There is no agreement about which of various objects, produced in widely separated times by a variety of our early ancestors, are the original art objects; and no widely accepted general model for the origin of art has emerged. Much of me acrimony surrounding attempts to identify the origin of art or to increase our understanding about this apparently ancient and universal human behavior stems from our failure to define the term "art" explicitly and empirically. Towards that end, a theoretical definition of the visual arts will be proposed and then used in an attempt to identify the origin of art behavior in a population of our early ancestors. The first solid evidence of art appears to be the modification of the appearance of the human body-occurring, apparently, during the transition between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. An assumption underlying this article is that humans, like some other species, respond to color and form and that this responsiveness can influence choices. Following from the above, this article argues that art involves the intentional use of color and form to attract attention to a body, object, or message. Artists have used this tendency of humans to respond to color and form to influence social behavior. Social effects of art which may have led to reproductive advantages for the individual will be discussed.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)217-234
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Social and Evolutionary Systems
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 1992

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
    • Social Sciences(all)

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