The Inherent Need for Art Through the Ages: A Genetic Argument
Ellen Dissanayake is very much a pioneer in her approaches to the arts. Her undergrad degree was not in painting, sculpting, art education, or theater. She got her Bachelors of Science in biology, sparked by an interest from a required class in high school. She has a brilliant and inquisitive mind. Over the course of her life she has been encouraged to pursue various curiosities by her supportive husbands—she has had two. A major question she has spent her life chasing is whether or not creativity can be found in our genetics. I ask you, the reader, to stop for a second. If you have it, take a minute, and ponder your day-to-day existence. How creative are you? Is creativity in your genes? I would like to take you on a small journey of your own mind while also giving you a minor lesson about the fundamentals of the human mind from the perspective of various biologists.
Let’s turn back to Dissanayake and what her studies found. Ellen faced critics in the studies of sociobiology and evolutionary biology, who were more focused on a factual, non-fiction behaviors, did not favor the idea that humans thrived on “made-up” worlds. That is to say, Ellen suggests that humans are emotionally stimulated in a positive manner by art of various forms. In early times this was basic drawings on cave walls and oral stories passed down from one generation to the next. Now we have vast resources to tap into our creativity. However, some critics argue that drugs are a favored stimulant that trump the need for art because it’s faster acting yet dulls emotional receptors. So, we have the groundwork of argument against Ellen’s hypothesis.
Dissanayake is now critically acclaimed and published for a few reasons, including changing the minds of some nay-sayers. When you flip on the television, your mind enters a different world. The intent is to stop thinking about whether or not you’ll be getting that promotion and why your car brakes are squeaking. Cue the opening credits of your favorite show, and dive into the melodramatic yet comical love-triangles of fictional characters, suspending your life for a few hours. Dissanayake, who worked alongside American psychologist Leda Cosmides, made a connection to this form of storytelling and why it was a vital part of human evolution. When a person turns on the television, they subconsciously emotionally engage in the plot line and learn a lesson from what is occurring without literally taking part in the experience. They are emotionally engaged in the fictional scenarios because they have invested an interest in the fate of these characters. You return to the show weekly for a reason—to see whether or not Jim and Pam will finally get together. You are not physically present though. Your mind is simply engaging in a perceived reality outside of your own personal drama. Fiction is acting as an escape, or rather, art is acting as an escape. In other words, we are designed to experience fiction. We appreciate and grow from it. We are subconsciously learning lessons about ourselves and about the human condition through fictional engagement.
Creativity springs from many sources. For some people it is the simple act of daydreaming on the train while listening to music. For others, creativity is an entire lifestyle; the act of artistic engagement feeds their soul and fosters everlasting happiness. The important thing to recognize, and indeed what Dissanayake points to is that the arts keep the imagination churning. To remove art would be to remove color from the world. We would have a world void of music, dancing, painting, movies, books, and all that moves the soul to light up. This is why, for thousands of years and many generations, art has been a fundamental piece of our societies.