This article, presenting a subject that some might think heretical,
could be an exercise in futility. But, while it might be considered
useless to some, the subject might also be thought of as...at
least...curious and worth some speculation.
Where in the chain of human evolution did art-making begin? Or,
did art-making exist before human intellect began defining what
art could be? Was there, in the evolving processes of Nature,
an art-making before humans, and are humans only part of, an extension
of, a preexisting, perhaps eon old art-making?
For any reader who elevates Art and Art-Making to the level of
religion, and/or thinks of Art as among the highest achievements
of Humankind, it is likely that my considerations here will be
negatively judged. Also, for the reader who remains more or less
a fundamentalist in religious terms, even the idea of humans evolving
from more distant animal relatives will make the notion I propose
impossible to accept. However, I am not alone in these explorations.
Studies and persons could be cited from the days of Charles Darwin
to the contemporary Stephen Jay Gould, the literature filled with
credible research and publications, scientific discoveries and
basic reasonable observations, made by reknowed thinkers and scientists
for over 150 years. Even a review of everyday popular culture
presents accepted evidence which suggests that the general culture
has embraced evolutionary thought. One cannot even avoid reasoned
proof of evolution if one subscribes to cable TV, watching anything
from Arts and Entertainment to Animal Planet. (Again, I understand
fundamentalists have other beliefs, and they do have their own
channels). The reader will also probably recall mainstream news
reports over the years dealing with aspects of intelligence as
it applies to the skills and actions of certain animals, gorillas,
chimps, elephants, porpoise and parrots among them.
And at least one book has been written with a greater exploration
of the notion that art and aesthetics predates humankind, and
exists without humans. That book is Art as Revelation, by Frank
A. Wilson. (1981, Centaur Press Ltd. Fontwell, Sussex, England).
Briefly, while Wilson’s book might be considered more convoluted
and speculative than scientific, I include just one quote from
that book as he discusses a natural history of art. He states
on pg. 2: Human art could not have arisen without a long evolutionary
antecedent; indeed human sensitivity to music, and colour, as
well as to the beauty of the human form and face, suggest a prolonged
and elaborate evolutionary expertise which, in biological terms
indicates their importance in the process of humanization. Nature
does not waste such effort for inconsequential activities. Aesthetic
sensitivity is therefore likely to be as much a human characteristic
as our upright gait.
It so happens that Wilson’s reference to humans having a
response to the human face, acquired thru evolution, gets some
scientific support in an article in the magazine, Discover, February,
2000. This material titled Isn’t She Lovely? (The Science
of Beauty), by Brad Lemley, discusses human response to the form
of the human face, and how our response must be hard-wired thru
a long evolution. It is also mentions how there are learned societal
factors playing a role as well, especially considering the initial
often negative response of one race being exposed to an other.
This initial rejection response might also be the result of a
creature’s inbred genetic hard wiring directing away from
a look that is not the built in acceptable norm.
1. Did humans arrive instantaneously full blown from the mind
of a Creator?
2. Was there a probably slow rather linear process involved in
the evolution of humankind?
3. Were there ancestors of humans in the evolutionary process
leading to modern humans?
4. Over the centuries, particularly over the past century, has
human decision making broadened/expanded the definition of what
art can be, to include objects from all human cultures, the work
of the primitive and naive, the art of children, machine made
and mass produced objects, splashed and dripped paint, earth and
crop works, conceptual art?
5. Are humans generally egocentric, believing themselves at the
apex of creation, ascribing powers/abilities to themselves alone
thru self-proclamation? (This self proclaiming can also be derived
thru belief in religious scriptures and dogma...basically words
humans have written and sometimes ascribed as coming from a Greater
6. Is the place and intellectual achievement of humans threatened
if the definition of what art is can extend backward in time to
include evolutionary ancestors, or to include other species currently
existing on Earth?
7. Is it possible that there are such categories of art as Art
of the Chimpanzee, Art of the Parrot, Art of the Elephant, and
Art of the Birds? If we define what art is, why is that categorization
A good friend of mine, an artist, is fond of using the image of
an early human being picking up a stick or piece of charcoal and
making a mark on a surface. This event might be supposed as the
earliest recognition of some artistic expression, and a start
to the process of art-making. That early human, consciously or
unconsciously, found the activity somehow curious and/or pleasurable
and/or stimulating, even a means of expression, and art was therefore
born. My good friend, an artist of high intellect, talent, and
good nature, believes that art is among the highest achievements
of humankind alone and chuckles at what I suggest in this article.
Perhaps you, the reader, will merely chuckle as well, and put
down your stones...I come in peace.
IN SUPPORT OF ART-MAKING PREDATING HUMANKIND
This planet has existed for millions, yea billions of years, and
has been slowly transforming/evolving all of that time. Life has
existed on this world for many millions of those years, and has
likewise been slowly going thru a process of evolution. I suggest
that creatures on earth, earlier forms leading to humans, and
perhaps non-related creatures predating human existence, (as well
as other creatures currently existing on Earth) might have possessed
or possess at least rudimentary/elementary artistic and aesthetic
abilities. I am not suggesting some mystical or metaphysical background,
but something physiological, with a history to be judged by scientific
reasoning and principles.
Aesthetics refers to perception, to recognizing and finding appeal
in the appearance of objects and environment. The appealing, the
useful, the necessary...consciously or unconsciously recognized
and chosen above other existing options.
Is it possible that the ancestors of humans had sensitivity to
line and texture and color and balance and shapes, the stuff of
which art is made (especially known by humans who have taken ART
101)? You may ask just how could such creatures have gained such
sensitivity without training or by at least following example?
Well, awareness and abilities developed as a result of the creatures
interaction with the physical world, and was utilized in everyday
living, competition, food provision, breeding and sheltering.
The recognition and use of basic physical aesthetic principles
developed unconsciously in these creatures responding to the appearance
of things...those shapes, colors, textures, lines, arrangements
of space. Of course! The bodies of creatures take on visual, auditory,
tactile and olfactory clues thru the senses in order to live and
achieve...they load their senses and then respond. Living creatures
make choices, acting upon the input...that is how living things
survive, prosper and adapt. They utilize and interpret, thereafter
responding and acting, as if reading messages from the surroundings...line,
texture, color, shape, balance, movement and arrangements in the
Humans are advanced animals on Earth, currently the dominant and
most intelligent of beings (despite the negative ills we continue
to foist upon Earth). Humans are derived from earlier ancestors
who evolved over the course of millions of years, and these ancestors
interacted with the environment, responding to stimuli, and forming
a basically linear progression from simple organisms to complex
organisms. (Not without its twists and turns and branches). However,
because there is a basic step by step progression, one form building
upon and retaining elements of the earlier forms, does it continue
to make sense that the roots of art-making are only begun and
exclusive to the more recognizable human animal? Or, did at least
some of this process of making aesthetic judgments, using colors,
shapes, textures, patterns, arrangements...aspects of art-making,
begin in our preceding not quite human ancestors?
OUR BRIEF TIME AS RULERS
Humans have been recognizable as humans for an extremely short
time, compared to the whole time that life has been evolving on
this planet. Of course human thought/mind derives from the physical
processes of interaction of the human body (and its internal chemical,
electrical and mental makeup) with all elements of the environment...the
rocks, soil, plants, weather, magnetic field, electrical processes,
solar influences, other animals, humans, and unseen but detectable
universal elemental forces. This was going on with earlier life
forms as well...those earlier creatures experienced almost all
of what we experience in the environment and those earlier creatures
led to what we are today.
And of creatures currently on Earth, other than humans? It is
risky business to choose current examples which might prove that
some aspect of art-making and aesthetic choices exist in contemporary
animals, as humans can find it difficult to believe that humans
are not alone in their abilities. And, undoubtedly there is good
argument to expose animal abilities and motivations as being somehow
different from humans, and therefore not credibly art related.
However, here are a few things to consider and discuss.
We have only recently recognized that some animals indeed utilize
tools in their everyday lives, whether stick or stone, leaf, mud
or excretion. And, what of aesthetic judgment and some form of
art-making? How about actions and materials utilized during breeding
activities, especially in bird species...that response to the
look of plumage, the dance of a partner, the arrangement and materials
in the decorated nests of Bower Birds? What visually does a beaver
consider consciously or unconsciously when locating and then deciding
where to plant another stick in its lodge? Does it have to do
with balance, pattern, negative and positive space? What visually
motivates an eagle when pushing another branch into its nest?
Are the songs and movements of whales and dolphins a form of expression...an
art form? What has been ingrained in the genes of insects, the
brains of lizards, the minds of mammals and humans over the millennia?
What patterns are instilled genetically, and when a beast stares
at a horizon line, or views the sky, shadows and hills, or apparently
enjoys the sunshine and rain...perhaps even frolicking or singing
or roaring...is there something akin to an artistic act afoot?
How close are humans to their animal relatives?
Some will argue that I anthropomorphize and sentimentalize, imposing
human characteristics upon other living things. Balderdash! I
contend that such persons have their blinders on, fail to read
the record...and do not see from where we humans come. We cannot
escape from our lineage.
Human intelligence now studies and defines. Our abstract thought
is part of the evolutionary process. Indeed, some state that we
are the mind of Earth. I suggest that we are only part of the
mind of Earth, formed relatively recently in the progression to
consciousness. If art-making is considered only a human species
exclusive activity, then it is only because that this is what
our species decides.
Human sensibilities find admiration for shapes and processes in
Nature, and for objects of our own making. Humans determine if
there is beauty in a rock, a plant, an animal, the products of
other living creatures, and in the smile of a Mona Lisa or configuration
of a building. Stated simply, only humans decide...
Broadening acceptance for what art can be has been accelerating
during the 20th century. What was nonart decades ago is now accepted
as art. There is recent respect and inclusiveness for visual and
material products of all cultures, extant or extinct. We accept
the art of children, the primitive and naive, the outsiders/misfits
and insane. There is inclusion of new and formerly craft expressions
including furniture, posters, photographs, prints, industrial
design, cartoons, motion pictures, and emerging forms of expression
generated thru the use of computers. It is only for humans to
extend the boundaries of art to include the potential in ancestors
of humans, some mammals and primates at least. Perhaps such acceptance
could reach other Orders of Fauna as well.
Without question, preceding human presence, there were acts of
change, reorganization and creation. Natural forces of an evolving
physical world, selection, success and failure, recognized by
the human mind as part of our own past, can lead us to view our
art making as an extension of what has already been present. Yes!
Brains were already present, and I contend that art-making in
some elementary form was already present before humans made their
first artistic marks. Nature, thru slow evolutionary time consuming
steps created humans who continue the natural traditions begun
in the brains and acts of our antecedents.
While human sensibilities find admiration for the Natural Universe
around us, humans did not invent the naturally created elements
used in art-making. Humanity instead recognized those elements
and gave them a name, but the utilization of those elements was
going on before modern humans, and is going on around us today.
Humans built upon what was already started, and today define what
art can be, without objection from other living things.
Our sense of self-importance, our egotism, makes claim to art
as our sole achievement. Perhaps, if we could more sensitively
appreciate the interrelationships of living things, the status
of other less evolved intellects, of how we got to this point
in our own evolution, we might find a greater beauty and stimulation
than we now imagine. Perhaps we could discover fresh reasons to
create art objects, while finding kinship and beauty in other
creatures...being aligned, indeed, part of a larger aesthetically
aware community. Despite our dominant place on Earth, we are only
part of the process.
Where we saw a sharp line dividing human and animal, now that
difference is blurred
Back to Compositions