I’d like to start the post by thanking Madeline for her post The Standard of Beauty. After reading her mini post I was mid way crafting a response when I decided to search for a possible video concerning the changes in the standard of beauty overtime. Playing around with the search words, and replacing the word ‘change’ with evolution… of course Darwin pops up.  The TED talk above is worth viewing, but I’ll summarize below how it corresponds to our class discussions and readings to those not sparing the time.

Author, and once philosophy professor, Denis Dutton is a firm believer that “humans are hard-wired to seek beauty.”  He begins the TED Talk by asking “What is beauty?” He points out people will agree that certain paintings or movies are beautiful “because their cultures determine a uniformity of aesthetic taste.” Taste he points however, travels across cultures easily. With examples of “Peruvians loving Japanese woodblock prints,” or  Inca sculptures treasured by British museum curators he states “there are many differences among the arts, but there are also universal, cross-cultural aesthetic pleasures and values.”

The universality of these pleasures and values can be explained by a Darwinian evolutionary history of our tastes.  To do so, we have to trace back to our ancestors and understand how certain preferences became engraved in our minds.  Dutton goes as far as taking into account “what we know of the aesthetic interests of isolated hunter-gatherer bands that survived into the 19th and the 20th centuries.”

To prove the successful reflection of our values by a Darwinian evolutionary theory, Dutton provides the example of the so-called Acheulian hand axes, from two- to two and a half million years ago. These axes were not used to butcher animals, and had little wear when found in France. The blades formed a “symmetrical pointed leaf or teardrop form,” and Dutton associates them to being the earliest works of art.  These axes “indicated desirable personal qualities — intelligence, fine motor control, planning ability, conscientiousness and sometimes access to rare materials.” These axes were the equivalent to a male peacock’s tail, a fitness signal in Darwinian terms.

Dutton concludes his talk by telling the audience to not be so sure “it’s just your culture telling you that the beautifully cut teardrop-shaped stone you have just seen at the jewelry shop is beautiful;  your distant ancestors loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it, even before they could put their love into words. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No, it’s deep in our minds. It’s a gift handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors. Our powerful reaction to images, to the expression of emotion in art, to the beauty of music, to the night sky, will be with us and our descendants for as long as the human race exists.”