melon vine

art as behavior

Ellen Dissanayake

Art as behavior is a theory that recognizes art, or more accurately, the desire to make some things special, is a biologically endowed need. The impetus to mark as "special" an expression or artifact, even our bodies, is deep seated and widespread. Quite naturally we exaggerate, pattern, and otherwise alter our movements or voices or words to indicate that what we are doing is set apart from ordinary movement, intonation and speech. Not all things are made special and those that are chosen are usually made special for a reason. That reason throughout our unrecorded evolutionary history, and also for most of recorded human history, was different, more serious and emotionally involving, than the reason or reasons involved with making special in the modern, industrialized, Western or Western-influenced world. The desire to make special was primarily in the service of human concerns engaging our feelings in profound ways, addressing or suggesting intimate serious and vital concerns. It thrived for most of history as a communal activity. (p79)

The ideas of beauty and love death memory, suffering, power, fear, loss, desire, hope have been the subject matter of and occasion for the arts throughout human history. Contemporary theory looks at art as dependent on our current social context: art is trivialized, disguised, denied, ignored or banished. It would be a mistake to assume that the arts have always been dependent on those same human concerns. In contrast, the species-centric view of art proclaims as valid the humans intrinsic grasp of art, manifestation of art and the reinforcing of the importance of making art.

We, not surprisingly, tend to choose what makes us feel positive. What we choose is generally what has had survival value for human evolution, so that behaviors are adaptations that have helped us to survive. A corollary of this view is that what feels good is also usually a clue concerning what we need. Without any special encouragement, humans take great pleasure and find positive reinforcement in performing activities and seeking out environments that are biologically essential to our survival: eating, resting, being in familiar and secure surroundings; having sex, children, intimate friends; talking; engaging in activity that is perceived as useful and appropriate; and noticeably also engaging in song, dance, poetic language, drama with costumes and masks, music, self-adornment, and embellishing personal and public artifacts. All over the world people enjoy making music, singing, dancing, reciting or listening to poetry recite, telling or hearing tales told, performing or watching performances, making beautiful things, and so forth. These activities unite participants with one another, performers with their audience, the community as a whole. They facilitate a mood in which attention is focused, aroused, moved, manipulated, satisfied. Whether as ritual or entertainment, the arts enjoin people to participate, join the flow, get in the groove, feel good. In modern society where working to earn money in order to consume perpetually novel goods and experiences has become for many the purpose of life, these more ancient satisfactions are perhaps less evident than in premodern or traditional societies.

Dissanayake, Ellen (1992). Homoaestheticus, where art comes from and why, Maxwell Macmillan Canada, Inc.

standards for art

Bernard Leach

We craftsmen, who have been called artists, have the whole world to draw upon for incentive beauty. It is difficult enough to keep one's head in this maelstrom, to live truly and work sanely without that sustaining and steadying power of tradition, which guided all applied art in the past.

Pots, like all other forms of art, are human expression:pleasure, pain or indifference before them depends upon their natures, and their natures are inevitably projections of the minds of their creators. It is unfortunate that as a consequence of its divorce from life, the applied no less that the fine art of our time, more than any other age, suffers from excessive self-consciousness, or what is often called pose, a very different thing from the unconscious, inherent, personal and race character which had distinguished all the great periods of creative art. It is also important to remember that, although pottery is made to be used, this fact in no wise simplifies the problem of artistic expression; there can be no fullness or complete realization of utility without beauty, refinement and charm, for the simple reason that their absence must in the long run be intolerable to both maker and consumer.

Our need for a criterion in pottery is apparent and seems to be provided by the work of the T'ang and Sung potters which during the last twenty years has been widely accepted as the noblest achievement in ceramics. But the successful assimilation of strange stimuli requires a healthy organism, and it remains to be seen whether there is enough vitality in Europe to absorb from early Chinese pottery even more than we did durng the eighteenth centuries from late Chinese porcelain. In the Tang period of Chinese art it is easy to recognize their genius for synthesis. They reinterpreted Greek and Buddhist ideology in terms of contemporary need, and combining these elements within the native framework of Taoist and Confucian concepts fundamentally modifying and extending the boundaries of the ideas of beauty and truth. In the greatest period, the Sung dynasty, all these different influences are welded together in one, for unification was then supreme.

Leach, Bernard (1973) The potter's handbook, 17th edition Transatlantic Arts Inc. Great Britian

the clay model

Edmund Burke Feldman

From an economic standpoint the divorce of art from industry is a scandal. It represents the breakdown of the organic relationship between artisans, consumers, and the design process. That relationship is what we celebrate in the model of art derived from craft. When that model lis abandoned, we get the proliferation of mass-produced ugliness due to the deterioration of quality in production. By "artistic controls" I mean the artisan's ability to respond to a user's needs while exercising the standards of making required by the craft tradition. The absence of such controls leads to the dehumanization of industrial work, the alienation of workers from their product, and the separation of function from appearance in the form of a debased art called styling. Styling represents the perversion of craft because it employs false signs of honest craft in order to sell things. There is nothing wrong with designing goods to sell, but it is wrong to misrepresent goods aesthetically. I believe this stricture about false signaling applies to painting as much as to pottery.

Feldman, Edmund Burke Clay: Arguments For and With, A Case For Clay in Secondary Schools, The Studio Potter, 16.2, June 1988 pg 18

close quotes