The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art

Anjan Chatterjee. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-199-81180-9
Is the appreciation of art instinctual in humans or is it socially determined? That’s the underlying question posed by University of Pennsylvania professor of neurology Chatterjee in his short and uneven book. While addressing that question, he presents some of the basics of neuroscience and investigates how we can define and observe the difference between pleasure and desire. He also describes how the brain responds to beauty, asking if there are some universal patterns that all humans agree are beautiful. Throughout, his analysis is consistent, for as he says, “I will gaze at beauty, pleasure, and art through the bifocal spectacle of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.” The work is not fully satisfying, however, because Chatterjee is unable to give a comprehensive definition of art, and his discussion of natural selection is misleading, placing too much emphasis on survival and not enough on reproduction. He makes it clear that there “is no art module in the brain,” and that art, however it is defined, is free to vary in response to environmental constraints. His main conclusion, though, is as simplistic as it is obvious: “The more the arts are released from selective pressures, whether they are state oppression or economic deprivation, the more the arts in that culture are free to vary.” (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/19/2013
Release date: 11/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 244 pages - 978-0-19-981187-8
Paperback - 248 pages - 978-0-19-026201-3
MP3 CD - 978-1-5226-7163-3
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