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Page from the recent interview by Bob Bahr of The Artist's Road co-founder John Hulsey in Outdoor Painter (Plein Air Magazine). John shared with Bob his experiences this fall being filmed by PBS St. Louis while he demonstrated plein air paintiing high above the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois.
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Enjoy this week's free Artist's Road Perspectives
The Savannah Hypothesis
Perspectives No. 207
Arcadia 1830 Károly Markó
In his 2009 book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, Denis Dutton argues that human tastes in the arts are evolutionary traits, shaped by natural selection. His thoroughly-researched, thoughtful and well-reasoned arguments seem to overturn a century of art criticism and academic theory, which has often postulated that those tastes are determined solely by the surrounding culture.
“Our love of beauty is inborn, and many artistic tastes are universal across cultures - such as the preference for landscapes that feature water and distant trees, like the savannah where we first evolved.”
While Mr. Dutton examines all the arts, not just painting or landscape painting in particular, it is the concept of a universally admired landscape that we find most interesting. One of the statistical bases for the notion of a universal landscape came from a 1993 study by Soviet artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who created a detailed analysis of people’s artistic preferences in 10 countries worldwide. All participants were asked what they would like to see in a picture, interior or exterior scenes, what colors and shapes, what kind of animals, people, and so forth, on down the list. In extrapolating their results to the general populations of the countries polled, the authors claimed that their report represented the artistic preferences of “close to two billion people”: “People in almost all nations disliked abstract designs, especially jagged shapes created with a thick impasto in the commonly despised colors of gold, orange, yellow, and teal . . . almost without exception, the most wanted painting was a landscape with water, people, and animals.”
The overwhelmingly favorite color in the world turned out to be blue.
Mr. Dutton proceeds to analyze why this should be so, first debunking the notion that this universal preference has anything to do with the calendar or print industries. There is a large, deep body of literature and psychological research on how and why humans relate to certain types of landscape. By far the most often desired is the verdant African savannah - the same landscape preferred in the poll mentioned above. This green savannah landscape has all the elements necessary for human survival - food (both animal and vegetable), water, a clear vista (prospect) and shelter (refuge), and ease of navigation (walking). Mr. Dutton argues that this visual preference arose out of the evolution of early Pleistocene Age humans over a span of 80,000 generations, during which they developed all of the modern human traits, including language and art making. As he adroitly points out, “Habitat choice was a crucial, life-and-death matter for people (and proto-people) in the Pleistocene”. Those early humans were on a camping trip that lasted a lifetime and finding a camping spot that would provide all the necessary basics would have been high on the agenda, every day.
Food for thought, landscape painters!
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John Teaching in Provence, France
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