Expertise affects aesthetic evolution: Evidence from artistic fieldwork and psychological experiments

Jan Verpooten

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


An unmade bed. A cigarette glued to the wall. A replica of a soup can box. Drippings on a canvas. Can an evolutionary approach help us understand the production and appreciation of, sometimes perplexing, modern and contemporary art? This chapter attempts at this by investigating two hypotheses about the evolution of human aesthetics in the domain of art. The first hypothesis, commonly called evolutionary aesthetics, asserts that aesthetic preferences, such as those for particular faces, body shapes and animals, have evolved in our ancestors because they motivated adaptive behavior. Artworks (e.g., those depicting facial beauty) may exploit these ancestral aesthetic preferences. In contrast, the second hypothesis states that aesthetic preferences continuously coevolve with artworks, and that they are subject to learning from, especially prestigious, other individuals. We called this mechanism prestige driven coevolutionary aesthetics. Here I report artistic fieldwork and psychological experiments we conducted. We found that while exploitation of ancestral aesthetic preferences prevails among non-experts, prestige driven coevolutionary aesthetics dominates expert appreciation. I speculate that the latter mechanism can explain modern and contemporary art’s deviations from evolutionary aesthetics as well as the existence and persistence of its elusiveness. I also discuss the potential relevance of our findings to major fields studying aesthetics, that is, empirical aesthetics, and sociological and historical approaches to art.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExploring transdisciplinarity in art and sciences
EditorsZ. Kapoula, Z. Volle, J. Renoult, M. Andreatta
PublisherSpringer International
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-76054-4
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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