|About the Book|
In our society it has long been believed that art serves very little social purpose. Evolutionary anthropologists, however, are examining a potential role for art in human evolution. Kathryn Coe looks to the visual arts of traditional societies for clues. Because they are passed down from previous generations, traditional art forms such as body decoration, funeral ornaments, and ancestral paintings offer ways to promote social relationships among kin and codescendants of a common ancestor. Mothers used art forms to anchor themselves and their kin to the father and his kin, and to promote the survival and reproductive success of kin and descendants. Individuals who abided by this strategy, accompanied by its strict codes of cooperation, left more descendants than did individuals who did not. Over time, given this reproductive success, large numbers of individuals would be identified as codescendants of a common ancestor and would cooperate as if they were close kin. These cooperative codescendants were more likely to survive and leave descendants. With each new generation these clans propagated not only their genes but also their behavioral strategy, the replication or presence of art. The book concludes by examining the changing characteristics of visual art--including a higher value on creativity, competition, and cost--when traditional constraints on social behavior disappear.