Sunday, March 3, 2013


82. Evolution in nature and art

Are nature, or much of it, and art, or some of it, beautiful, or appealing, for the same or for different reasons?

I propose to consider the following idea: they are both the outcome of evolution, but in different ways. Evolution is characterized by more or less random, chaotic generation of trials that are put up to forces of selection. What survives is in harmony with its environment, until it is pushed aside by new novelty. Suppose that it is this harmony that appeals to us. Then we have a common ground for appreciation of nature and art. How would that work?

In nature, of course, novelty arises from genetic mutations, copying errors, and novel combinations of genes in chromosomal cross-over, and the selection environment in terms of food, predators, climate, wars, and illnesses decides survival (If you don’t recall this from school biology, never mind).

In art, I propose, it is ideas, or views, images, shapes or musical scores that arise mysteriously, chaotically and next may or may not survive the test of ‘making it work’, in craftsmanship and the struggle with matter, until what survives is in harmony with the sense of the artist. The harmony of a work of art that is ‘just right’.

The artist has to ruthlessly pursue that outcome. And if it is liked by others that is a bonus. Here, I think, artists set an example for the good life. If he/she temporarily or intermittently makes likeable, saleable art in order to survive, that is fine, but if he does not keep his standards there he/she is temporarily not an artist. Rembrandt frequently painted for money, but I am sure that there also he had his standards to keep.  

Now why would we appreciate such harmony arising from selection, in nature and art? Because that has contributed to our survival in evolution. If we had not developed such sense we might no longer be here. In order to survive you have to admire what has survived.

But if that is the case, would not the disturbance of order, in novelty that does not fit, or in a shift of selection environment that causes misfits, be distasteful, abhorrent? Yes, and indeed it often is. Novel art forms encounter hostility. Until they have managed to twist the selection environment to their advantage.