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Fourth York Summer Theory Institute in History of Art

Monday 21 May 2018, 1.30PM to 25th May 4.30pm

Speaker(s): Whitney Davis

Evolution, Ecology, and Art History

The theme of this year was Evolution, Ecology, and Art History and the 5-day workshop was led by Professor Whitney Davis,


A recent resurgence of interest in evolutionary-development and ecological aesthetics (in disciplines as diverse as cognitive anthropology, philosophy of art, and prehistoric archaeology) has reopened many questions about the “origins” of aesthetic consciousness and about the role and impact of the visual and spatial arts in human biocultural emergence in the Pleistocene, Holocene, and Anthropocene. Topics of YSTI sessions might include: A revived neo-Darwinian theory of the roots of aesthetic consciousness and art in sexual selection (D. Rothenberg, R. O. Prum), and a commensurate attentiveness to late nineteenth-century natural- and sexual-selectionist approaches in the theory of art (J. A. Symonds, Vernon Lee); models of the “art instinct” (D. Dutton) and the “aesthetic brain” (A. Chatterjee); new accounts of the utilitarian (evolutionary, adaptive) functions of “making things special” (E. Dissanayake) and of “striking visibility” (J. Stejksal); intersections between cognitive neuroscience and aesthetics/art history (J. Onians, E. Kandel); new ethological approaches to art (M. E. Dijkstra); investigations of the role of art-making in the emergence of “psychologically modern” Homo sapiens (T. Deacon, S. Davies); and new environmental materialisms in many subfields and area studies of art history (“eco-art history,” “green art studies,” “deep time” studies, etc.) (many participants, e.g., E. de Bièvre, N. Eaton, S. Ray; in this area, the students focused on contributions that deal with historical materials; issues in immediately contemporary art would require a different formulation).

Event archive

Location: Hosted by the History of Art department, University of York


Location: History of Art