The evolutionary turn has so far mostly taken place in the individual disciplines, i.e. musicologists discuss biopsychological foundations of making and perceiving music, the scholars dealing with works of literature study Darwinian building blocks of written texts etc. Still rare, therefore, are works like that of Gregor Paul (1988) who stresses, from a philosophical and historic point of view, the “universal validity of aesthetic judgements on beauty” or that of Ellen Dissanayake who argues (1995) that the sense for beauty is an integral part of the human condition, whether expressed in ritual, visual, verbal or musical art. The planned work is designed to contribute to the incipient interdisciplinarity in the field of evolutionary art research. This, we hope, will be achieved by having representatives of various backgrounds around one table, discussing the possibilities and also the problems connected to an ethological approach to understand art.

Internationally recognised scholars who utilise this novel and promising approach or are interested in it will be invited to the symposium which will, thereby, provide one of the rare fora for discussion across the four fields and facilitate the development of a more encompassing evolutionary paradigm to understand motivations, forms and functions connected to producing the various works of art. One of the key questions which will be addressed (see also below) is whether the four forms of art can be traced to one evolved principle of aesthetic perception or whether different types of representation should be seen as outcomes of more specific adaptations which occurred, independently, throughout the stages of hominisation and the shaping of our own species. Possibly both play a role. 

Whereas evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists usually focus their studies on “ultimate” functions of behaviour, in this case artistic behaviour, human ethology centres on real behaviour in real, naturalistic situations and, of particular importance, also on the repercussions of such behaviour on the group and the group’s reaction. The planned symposium will thus combine the discussion of possible “ultimate” benefits of producing art (how does it contribute to the artist’s survival and, in the additional framework of sexual selection, to reproductive success?), of “proximate” (physiological, neurobiological, psychological) mechanisms and of group effects.