The Survival of Beauty and Art develops an unprecedented theory of aesthetics and art, based on up-to-date evolutionary and cognitive science. Rather than restricting its subject to one–line formulas like “art = significant form” or “art is or is not adaptive,” like traditional or evolutionary aesthetics, Survival casts its net as wide as possible. Art is embedded in what is called “the artefactual,” i.e., things (like beehives and churches) created by some of nature’s organisms, rather than by nature itself; aesthetics 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 sexual, perceptual, cognitive, 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 cognitive and cultural, for the most part continue to draw on the affective, sexual and perceptual. In turn, Survival focuses on each of these five major categories by invoking intriguing facts, colourful anecdotes, even just-so stories rather than by disentangling each and every scholarly conundrum. 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 firmly rooted 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 followup 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)
The Survival of Beauty and Art will probably meet with similarly divided responses. The study continues its polemics against traditional (formalist) aestheticians, especially by focusing on more recent ones (like Arthur C. Danto’s) with their Hegel/Heidegger-inspired prophecies about the imminent death of art. However, Faas also critiques the Darwinists’ obsession with trying to prove that art/aesthetics is, say, either an adaptation in its own right or merely a byproduct of more genuine adaptations, like the play instinct.