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The conundrum of modern art: Prestige driven coevolutionary aesthetics trumps evolutionary aesthetics among art experts

Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel

Two major mechanisms of aesthetic evolution have been suggested. One focuses on naturally selected preferences (Evolutionary Aesthetics), while the other implies coevolution between preferences and traits (Coevolutionary Aesthetics). Signaling theory suggests that expertise moderates these mechanisms. Here we verify this in the domain of art and employ it to elucidate Western modern art’s deviation from naturally selected preferences. We argue that the deviation is consistent with a Coevolutionary Aesthetics mechanism driven by prestige biased social learning among art experts. To test this hypothesis, we conducted two studies in which we assessed the effects of biological relevance of depicted content (facial beauty) and prestige of the context (MoMA) on lay and expert appreciation. We found that laypeople appreciate art based on depicted facial beauty, mediated by aesthetic pleasure, which is consistent with previous studies. In contrast, experts appreciate art based on the prestige of its context, mediated by admiration for the artist. Moreover, experts appreciate artworks depicting neutral faces more than those depicting attractive faces. These findings thus corroborate our contention that expertise moderates the Evolutionary and Coevolutionary Aesthetics mechanisms in the art domain. Furthermore, they provide initial support for our proposal that modern art deviates on account of prestige driven coevolution with expert evaluations. We discuss the limitations of our research and the relation of our results to cultural evolution theory and make suggestions for further research into the potential functions of deviating expert appreciation and into expertise as moderator of these mechanisms in other cultural domains as well.
Tijdschrift: Human Nature
ISSN: 1045-6767
Issue: 1
Volume: 28
Pagina's: 16 - 38
Jaar van publicatie:2017