Christianity and the Rise of the Art Instinct

I think there’s a book by the title of “The Art Instinct.” I haven’t read it.If anyone knows of any good sources re human genetics, art, and history, I’d be grateful.

As far as I know, some kind of art exists in all human populations–even Neanderthals and other non-AM primates like homo Erectus, I think, appear to have had occasional instances of some form of art. (I am skeptical of claims that dolphins, elephants, and chimps have any real ability to do art, as they do not to my knowledge produce art on their own in their natural habitats; you can also teach a gorilla to speak in sign language, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that this is something that gorillas naturally do.)

However, artistic production is clearly not evenly distributed throughout the planet. Even when we only consider societies that had good access to other societies’ inventions and climates that didn’t destroy the majority of art within a few years of creation, there’s still a big difference in output. Europe and China are an obvious comparison; both regions have created a ton of beautiful art over the years, and we are lucky enough that much of it has been preserved. But near as I can tell, Europeans have produced more. (People in the Americas, Australia, etc., did not have historical access to Eurasian trade routes and so had no access to the pigments and paints Europeans were using, but people in the Middle East and China did.)

Europeans did not start out with a lot of talent; Medieval art is pretty shitty. European art was dominated by pictures of Jesus and Mary to an extent that whole centuries of it are boring as fuck. Even so, they produced a lot of it–far more than the arguably more advanced cultures of the Middle East, where drawing people was frowned upon, and so painting and sculpture had a difficult time getting a foothold.

I speculate that during this thousand years or so of shitty art, the Catholic Church and other buyers of religious paintings effectively created a market that otherwise wouldn’t have existed otherwise (especially via their extensive taxation scheme that meant all of Europe was paying for the Pope to have more paintings. The (apparently insatiable) demand for religious paintings meant employment for a lot of artists, which in turn meant the propagation of whatever genes make people good at art (as well as whatever cultural traits.) After 700 or a thousand years or so, we finally see the development of art that is actually good–art that suggests some extraordinary talent on the part of the artist.

I further speculate that Chinese art has been through a similar but slightly less extensive process, due to less historical demand, due to the historical absence of an enormous organization with lots of money interested in buying lots of art. Modern life may provide very different incentives, of course.

Thus the long period of tons of boring art may have been a necessary precursor to the development of actually good art.

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5 thoughts on “Christianity and the Rise of the Art Instinct

  1. […] The Rise of Atheism, Without Ceremony, Religion is Meaningless (part 1), Without Children, Religion is Pointless (Part 2), Without ethnicity, religious identity disappears (part 3), The Decline of Religion (part 4), The Incompatibility of Christian Morality and Evolutionary Morality? Has Christianity Selected for an Atheistic Upper Class? Christianity and the Rise of the Art Instinct […]

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  2. ”Thus the long period of tons of boring art may have been a necessary precursor to the development of actually good art.”

    And it seems that the recent abortion of art that the soviets(perhaps influenced by the ugliness of the products of the beginning of the industrial revolution) and modernists like them pioneered end up being even worse than prehistoric and primitive art.

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