Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution

David Rothenberg. Bloomsbury Press, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60819-216-8
While many people are happy to simply appreciate nature’s beauty, Rothenberg seeks to understand why beauty exists in the first place, and what that means to our existence. Evolution and mutation determine what features are passed on in each species, but nature also offers “case after case of wild, untrammeled craziness,” patterns, colors, and behavior that are clearly not needed for survival. Rothenberg notes with amusement how Darwin thought ornamentation—colorful feathers, brilliant songs, mating dances—existed to “delight the mind” of potential mates, throwing evolutionary control into female hands, an idea that didn’t sit well with Victorians. Rothenberg goes on to discuss how animal patterns (animal art) have influenced human creativity in cubist and abstract art as well as military camouflage. Not many authors could find a way to interweave abstruse art theory with discussions of squid and their glorious “dynamic tattoos,” elephants who paint, and Paleolithic cave art, but Rothenberg succeeds, with this entertaining wander through the world of art and the places where it intersects science. 16 pages of color illus.; b&w illus. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/05/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
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