Art as a Spandrel

Stephen Davies

in The Artful Species

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199658541
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191746253 | DOI:
Art as a Spandrel

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A common view is that art is a by-product of adaptations whose biological significance lies elsewhere. The absence of art-specific neural circuits is sometimes cited as favoring the view, though some theorists think that such networks exist or that their absence does not rule out the behavior’s adaptiveness. Steven Pinker has argued that music is a by-product—“cheesecake for the mind”—as have others on different grounds. William Flesch has made the same argument for literature. Nonadaptationist positions like these are as hard to prove as adaptationist alternatives, and the arguments for the by-product position are often equally speculative. It is argued that, if art came as a spandrel, it would not remain biologically incidental. It is a costly but universal behavior that signals developmental normalcy and well-formedness. It serves as an informationally rich indicator of biological fitness.

Keywords: adaptation; art; by-product; fitness; music; signal; Spandrel

Chapter.  6182 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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