Why Art? The Psychology of Taste.
As an artist myself, this is a question I’ve thought over and did a lot of research on. Why do human beings of all places and ages like art and music? Why do we all find certain types of aesthetics in art, certain sounds in music attractive and beautiful, while others not?
There is a designer who goes around schools asking students this same stupid question “How many artists are there in the room, raise your hands”.
The responds are always the same. In kindergarten, everyone raised their hands. Second grade class, about three-fourths of the kids raised their hands. In the third grade, only a few students raised their hands. Sadly, nobody in the sixth grade held up their hands.
It’s human nature to produce art and enjoy art. Everyone is born an artist.
It is through bad education and discouragement from society that people shy away from their inborn artistic sensibilities. Despite this, painting, sculpture, music, body makeup and jewelry go back a million years. And regardless of the emergence of modernism post-modernism where freaky distortions, abstract shapes and splashes are consider high art, and where blank canvases are sold for more than $400,000 a piece, I think human beings seem to enjoy certain forms of aesthetics and as a species, we have a universal taste for certain types art and music.
If you look around, you can still find images of works of art and music or their variations from thousands, or even millions of years ago at local malls and bookstores.
Faces of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Botticelli’s Venus could be part of our T-shirt designs and grace the covers of modern fashion magazines such as Vogue.
Ancient story plots and patterns transformed themselves into most modern day fictions, as themes of traditional hero myths are found over and over again in action and superhero movies.
I think Batman would have done alright in ancient greek theaters
Cave paintings and sculptures made from our ancestors in the Stone Age continue to be Googled on the internet.
Popular song writers still adapt motifs and themes from Mozart and Beethoven’s.
Bodybuilders still workout to look like Greek statues.
So the question is why have art? Why do people like to look at art? And despite the biological uselessness of art, why do we still have it?
Art is biologically useless. Humans don’t really it to survive or reproduce. But evolutionary psychologists think that art is by-product of other adaptations.
Art doesn’t benefit our chances of survival in a direct sense, but they do sort of help, and when it comes down to it, art has three major adaptation roots.
IN other words, there are three reasons why we like art and that art is useful:
1. Aesthetic pleasure.
2. Drive for status
3. Our intrinsic needs to make things.
1. AESTHETIC PLEASURE
I think everyone can roughly agree with me and everybody else what they find beautiful or ugly. The recurring motifs and clichés in art, photography, and films seem to be common and universal all over the world. We all like to look at pictures or paintings with colorful flowers, nature habitats like safari and the ocean, beautiful models, babies, and certain visual patterns and motifs such as straight and perpendicular lines.
Everyone enjoy looking at these things, but nobody asks why. Why we have photgraphs of oceans as our wallpapers, screensavers?? Why do we buy calenders with flowers? Why do we like to look at babies? Why do we put up posters of naked women?? Yeah, they look good to us. But why do they look good?
Straight, perpendicular, and symmetrical lines.
Organisms derive pleasure from things that help them survive and reproduce. We love sex, food, having children is pleasurable for our senses because they promote fitness and reproduction.
Now, there are visual stimuli, or visual symbols or patterns that all of us like to look because it gives us pleasure, and the reason for that is because those patterns help us make explore our environment and make sense of our surroundings so we don’t fall off cliffs, bump into walls when we walk, so that we recognize predators and so on.
Visual patterns and motifs like perpendicular, parallel, and symmetrical lines help us organize, categorize objects and navigate ourselves through space. We distinguish between different objects and planes by the lines of their edges, intersections and so on. So overtime, our brains are evolved in a way that we not just recognize, but seek out these shapes and patterns and motifs. And since recognizing these patterns could be essential to our survival, the pleasure circuits of the brain gets triggered every time we see them. So it’s no accident that some of these patterns are the reoccurring motifs in architectures, designs, and serve as the compositional bases for framing movie shots, photography, and paintings.
Symmetrical, straight, and perpendiculr lines please the sense because they helped us locate the enviornment.
Nature habitats, flowers, sunsets, and oceans.
People enjoy looking at green open grasslands and safaris, clear sky, sunsets, large bodies of water, bright colored flowers and animals.
Why? Because those scenes helped our ancestors locate favorable habitats. Since areas with large bodies of water and abundance of trees, flowers, animals and fruits almost guarantee our fitness and survival in the wild, the pleasure circuits in our brains get triggered every time we look at these images.
Take our visual fascination with large bodies of water for example. In the world which we evolve, you can’t just go to the bathroom and turn on the faucet whenever you are thirsty. You actually had to find water, and if you don’t find it, you die. You had to know where there was water, and find them attractive enough to not stray too far from the sources. So it’s no wonder people like to photograph, paint or just stare at the beach and waterfalls and that people pay more money for houses that are near water… I mean, who doesn’t want a beach house?
IT’s the same reason why people, especially women find the color red, or flowers of bright colors in general in so fascinating. An area where flowers are blooming and bright in colors usually have rich soils, and it’s a signal for our female ancestors who were gatherers of fruits, vegetables and plants that it’s a place where a lot of food sources could be gathered. Tropical fruits that are high in calorie usually come in bright colors of red, pink and yellow. No wonder you can never go wrong buying girls flowers and red and pink stuff. Their brains are hardwired by evolution to focus on flowers and bright colors of red and pink. Studies even show that female eyes are more sensitive to the color red compared to their male counterparts.
ideal enviornment for survival.
Babies, naked bodies and beautiful people.
We also like looking at are images of babies and attractive people. More often than not, beautiful people tend to have bodies or facial features that serve as cues and signals for health, fertility, fitness and vigor.
We are evolved to rely on visual signals that are correlated with gene propagation for seeking out the best mates, and our brains have circuits that encourage us to seek out sex partners with beautiful faces and fit physiques. Whatever we see or do that are essential to our survival, we get rewarded by having the reward circuits in the brain triggered. The reward? It feels good! And if it feels good to us, then it means it gives as an advantage in the struggle to survive, and we seek more of it and so on. This is the way genes propagate themselves.
Our fascination with babies is the same idea. You know how girls love babies, it doesn’t matter if its their own babies or their cousins or just a picture of it, they just love it. They want to eat their faces. it’s incentive for our brains, especially the female brains to want to look at babies, particularly healthy, smiling babies with large round eyes and fat cheeks.
If we just follow these incentives a million years ago in a world without adoption or contraception, our genes would propagate themselves. so it only makes sense that the majority of art portraits are photos of naked bodies, that Hollywood cast actors who are attractive, and that the iconic image of Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus is the most reoccurring, reproduced, and recognized one in the history of Western Arts.
beautiful mother, healthy baby. Very fertile. Very fit.
Muscles are signs of testosterone. Very fertile. Very fit. Very attractive.
2. DRIVE FOR STATUS.
Another psychological element engaged by the arts is our appetite and drive for status. Like I said, art is pretty much useless and impractical. But useless and wasteful things are useful when you want to show off how much money you have, how high up in the pyramid you are.
What better way to show off and size up your wealth, impress your potential mates and make your competitors jealous and ook bad than to spend money on luxurious and rare, yet useless and impractical items like gold, jewelry, a $1000 dollar bag? Or to decorate your tires with $6000 rims? HOw about hanging a 80 million dollar painting on your wall?
Status symbols in our society are usually rare and useless objects and activities that are time-consuming and expensive. High art is the ultimate status symbol. It has no practical function, but it takes a lot of time to be good at art and music, and it takes a lot of money to buy expensive artworks.
Some psychologists even think that since artistic talent and virtuosity are rare and hard to fake, they are highly praised extensively prized. We suck up and are impressed by people who have talents, and it’s no coincidence that my tactics for getting girls have always been playing their favorite songs on the piano and drawing those pretty pictures of their favorite animals. Making art and playing music are great ways to impress potential partners because they show off the superiority of one’s brain and unique abilities, and indirectly, their genes.
Just look at nature for examples. Peacock’s tails are useless, but the ones with the most beautiful tales get laid the most, and so do birds that sing better or can build more beautiful nests
useless but good for picking up chicks.
78 million dollar Van Gogh = wasteful.
expensive Tiffany’s bracelet = useless but great for making other girls look bad.
Jay Chou using talent as mating stradegy.
3 THE INTRINSIC DESIRE TO CREATE AND TO DESIGN ARTIFACTS USING HANDS.
One of the things that separates humans from other animals is our ability to use our hands. We have extremely good hands compared to other animals and we are the only species that can manipulate the environment to suit our needs by using technology and not the other way around. Our hands are the reason why we branched off the evolutionary tree from other apes and began walking upright, so we could free them up and use them to make tools.
Now to make tools we not only need a good pair of hands, but we also have to be creative, to plan ahead, and do alot of problem solving. Over time we got smarter and more creative and our tools got better and better. And then we started talking, and with language we pass on information faster and became even smarter and made even better tools and artifacts.
So I think it’s possible that our impulses for creating objects and artifacts evolved as a by-product of tool-making skills and the need to be creative.
Along with the needs for aesthetic pleasure and our hunger for status, we are all nature born artists with a natural tendency and ability to be imaginative and design artifacts to achieve ends. We were all a part of that kindergartener class.