The Survival of Beauty and Art develops a new theory of aesthetics and art based on up-to-date evolutionary and cognitive science. Art is embedded in what is called “the artifactual,” i.e., things (like beehives and churches) created by some of nature’s organisms, rather than by nature itself. Aesthetics, by contrast, is rooted in primordial susceptibilities like those of unicellular amoebas at the dawn of life, going in pursuit of what is nutritive or trying to avoid what is aversive. In their over three billion years of evolutionary development, these primitive, or what’s here called affective, aesthetic impulses were enriched by further natural, and finally cultural ones.
From its first chapter, Survival attempts to show how artworks, instead of removing themselves into ever more rarefied spheres of the cultural, for the most part continue to draw on its more natural roots. Wherever appropriate, it fleshes out theories by interpreting individual artworks, backed up by illustrations. In this, Faas draws not just on evolutionary and neuroscientific insights, but on the full arsenal (familiar to him from multiple previous publications) of older interpretive, iconographic, psychological and art historical approaches. Thus, his new theory of aesthetics/art, although grounded in the life sciences, fully incorporates whatever can be salvaged from traditional humanities disciplines. Hence, Survival should be of interest to readers looking for the unprecedented and unfamiliar as well as to those continuing to cherish the old.
The Survival of Beauty and Art is a direct follow-up to Faas’ The Genealogy of Aesthetics (Cambridge, 2002), his Nietzschean critique of the Idealist western tradition. Genealogy met with both lavish praise and fierce rebuttal. Professor D. Townsend, head of the American Society of Aesthetics, conceded that its thesis was “clearly and forcefully presented” (European Journal of Philosophy, 2004,4), but has since mounted The Genealogy of Aesthetics: An Attack (2010). More positively inclined reviewers called Genealogy “interesting and far-sighted,” “well-written, polemical, and thought-provoking” (K. Harries, Review of Metaphysics,61:2 Dec 2007) as well as “extensively researched and outspoken.” Ekbert Faas, writes A. J. Rindesbacher, “gives aesthetics theory a decisive push in its move from the head into the body” and “opens aesthetics to a wide array of new approaches, broadly speaking of the life sciences and neuroscience.” (European Legacy, 2005 10:5)