February 11, 2009

Dennis Dutton's "The Art Instinct"

Philosopher Denis Dutton, who runs the universally admired Arts & Letters Daily website that highlights three worthy highbrow articles each day, has an excellent new book out called The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution.

Dr. Dutton and I have similar tastes in art (although his are broader and better) -- the picture on the cover of his book, Frederick Edwin Church's landscape Heart of the Andes, is hanging (in reproduction, of course) on my living room wall -- and rather similar backgrounds. He pointed out to me that I used to shop at his parents' bookstore in North Hollywood when I was a teenager.

I am pleased to see how much my 2005 American Conservative article on golf course architecture (which Dr. Dutton highlighted on his website back then) influenced his new book's first chapter "Landscape and Longing," which you can read here. In an endnote for his first chapter in The Art Instinct, he was kind enough to call my golf course design article "wonderful."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

20 comments:

H. said...

As a reader of both isteve and Dutton's articles on the evolutionary foundations of aesthetics, I am happy to find this post. I believe that Dutton's insights into evolution and aesthetics--for instance, why people prefer the landscapes that they do--highly relevant to understanding the foundations of culture in general. And long live Arts & Letters Daily!

Anonymous said...

What happy memories the mention of Dutton's brings. My father used to take me that bookstore when I was a kid growing up in Valley.

Anonymous said...

Is that the famous Dutton's bookstore, or is the famous one in Santa Monica or something?

Was the San Fernando Valley an incubator for conservative thinking? I believe that historians have covered the Orange County conservatives; Iowa-by-the-Sea in Long Beach; the Yankees in Pasadena; and the movie colony -- but did the Valley resemble Long Beach or Orange County? Was the secession movement the last gasp of this culture before everyone left for Arizona or Colorado?

reviews of Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors:
The Orange Revolution
The Oranging of America

al fin said...

Very touching. Perhaps the two of you should "get a room."
;-)

albertosaurus said...

Maybe I'm wrong but I thoiught I read that the modern golf course derived from the geomorphological effects of Younger Dryas glaciers on Scotland.

Steve Sailer said...

There were several Dutton bookstores, one in the San Fernando Valley run by the parents and maybe a couple on the Westside run by Dennis Dutton's brothers (or something like that).

Anonymous said...

Well, may as well drop the J-word.
Why do so many Jews have such an aversion to this sort of art, nature and landscape? Almost a phobic reaction..did I just answer my own question?

I do NOT think that we like certain art 'because' of evolution.
What about the stark beauty of the desert? Gerogia o'keefe anyone?
Or snow? Or thunderstorms?
Turner's seascapes? What's so great about a sunset, from an evolutionary perspective...
Why should we like flowers that we can't eat? It seems to me that evolution is used to describe everything about human behavior to the point of absurdity.

Gulp, maybe it's just beauty?

Dennis Mangan said...

Steve: No need to post this comment, but Dutton spells his first name in the English style, with one 'n'.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, popular Evolution talk becomes like Freud- unfounded superstition of the chattering classes, which people weave all the most elaborate theories to describe 'everything', no matter how absurd.

Natural selection, yeah, I get it, using that explain out innate sense of beauty or good, degrades both.

Anonymous said...

Why do so many Jews have such an aversion
May just be urban legend, but I heard the kristols lived across from Central park and never went in it. Same with Ayn Rand.

Malcolm said...

Steve, if you're ever up near Hudson NY, you should visit Church's home, olema - its sort of a victorian middle eastern fantasia..

how big is your reproduction because to me the stunning effect of this painting is in its size and the frame meant to convey a sort of depth effect.

As a painter I have to stop and pitch for having real paintings in your home. A good one really has a 'presence' unlike a print, even though the quality of prints these days are fairly good.

Side note, one advantage of NY, is I can often compare photos of works in books with the real thing. It is amazing how even high priced coffee table books often have poor reproductions. Without a master artist sitting right next to the thing, its difficult to get the colors right now matter how sophisticated photoshop gets.

Anonymous said...

Why do so many Jews have such an aversion

They've been an urbanized group since way back when. Love of landscapes tends to be a European Gentile and Asian thing.

David said...

the kristols lived across from Central park and never went in it

What side of Central Park did they live on? What was the time period? (1960s, 70s?). Ya call yerself an HBD'er?

Reminds me of the anti-allergy prescription medicine national TV advert here in the states a few years back. (Jesus, that's a lot of qualifiers.) Remember it? Short, raven-haired, bespectacled intellectual New York type (ahem) female for some reason goes to live on a farm for a week. It's like she's visiting another planet. Scared to even touch a tractor. The much tanner, larger, healthy farm folks goodnaturedly ease her out of her clear phobias. (We're supposed to imagine her trouble is the sniffles, and the pill is curing her; the images are a bit different.) Then at the end she returns to NY and we see her back in her natural environment: some neon-soaked nightclub, happily eating sushi with her raven-haired friends after her terrifying alien-culture ordeal. LOL. The stereotyping was obvious to me: Jews are afraid of the countryside! Well, that is one Jewish stereotype that ain't very true at all. The Southern USA is full of Jews and although most cluster in downtowns and around synagogues, many own farms and root for (and sponsor) local football teams, etc. etc. etc. etc.

I have yet to see one milking a cow, but am assured that this occurs.

Anonymous said...

"compare photos of works in books with the real thing. It is amazing how even high priced coffee table books often have poor reproductions."

I'll say. It's very rare to find a print, even an expensive one, that comes close to the colors of the original painting. In artworks where draftsmanship is the overriding quality (usually pre-19th century), this isn't so bad; but 19th and 20th century painting suffers terribly in photo reproduction. There are some famous paintings I've never seen adequately reproduced.

David said...

There are some famous paintings I've never seen adequately reproduced.

Ditto. An area for a new technology. Geniuses to your workstations, seriously.

Having seen nought but reprods, I used to hate "Impressionist masterpieces" and thought they were smears. Then I went to see the actual paintings (on a national tour). Oh my God.

Even older paintings (e.g. Vermeers - 1600s) are often reproduced very poorly.

Never caught in a reproduction is the shininess of paint. It both reflects from without and glows from within. By contrast, even good reprods are flat like a computer program reproducing a musical score on a Midi or something. In the flesh, a painting incorporates the air around it; you breathe the same air. The same light goes into and out of it and you. All right, it's a mystical experience, but maybe somebody can computerize it.

David said...

In THIS reproduction, it looks as if the poster pumped the saturation and contrast controls on his computer's imaging program; nevertheless, its luminosity does convey a very faint sense of how the real painting strikes the eyes in person.

Of course the trouble with print reprods is that the quality of the ink and paper do not match that of the paints and canvas.

Big Bill said...

For truly inspiring art, visit Art Renewal (artrenewal.org) which has realistic paintings by hundreds of artists including Wm. Bouguereau (1825-1905), the most famous artist you have never heard of.

Try http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/image.asp?id=8869

which is one of perhaps thousands of exquisite paintings scanned and available online. They are as inspiring to the human soul as Pollock, Hockney, and Greenberg are sould destroying.

Malcolm said...

Big Bill, et al,

I forgot to add... the lighting, or lack or, or poor lighting on many of the academic works at the Metropolitan is appalling. Its almost a deliberate contempt...or perhaps its where you notice the lack of good lighting. The Clark Institute, in western mass, has a some nice academic work and my favorite sargent. the lighting and atmosphere of the museum in general is much more conducive to good viewing.

Anonymous said...

the lighting, or lack or, or poor lighting on many of the academic works at the Metropolitan is appalling

I was quite shocked to find how poor the placement and lighting were at the Louvre. Some paintings were placed so high on the wall that you couldn't see them clearly. Some were unviewable because, no matter where you stood, there was too much glare from the reflected light.

Figgy said...

Steve, I don't know if you have any golf knowledge but your grasp of golf course architecture is admirable. I really enjoyed your article re: The Golden Age, et al.

Particularly liked your mention of "the amateur", George Crump, the man behind Pine Valley. Amazing that his first and only course often tops the list of World's Greatest Courses. Then again, I believe it was CB McDonald who said about PV "here lies one of the world's great courses... if grass will grow." If I'm not mistaken, it was also visited by most of the great architects of that age, including Ross, McKenzie, Park and a few others and supposedly Crump gleaned a bunch of ideas from those legendary figures. Given the piece of land and the Olympian level of advice, maybe it's not that amazing such a great course eventuated.

But the course that was evolving in the Pittsburgh area around the same time also involved amateur designers, and a less remarkable piece of land. That would be Oakmont, the course that so befuddled the best in the world at the 2007 US Open, despite having 4 par fours under 350 yards. The Fownes, father and son, took 40 years or so to finish their course but what resulted was a gem of almost unparalled brilliance. That may be even more amazing than the masterpiece in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Almost makes one wonder if anyone, given time and a great piece of land, could create a great course. But one also has to appreciate that the golden age guys designed hundreds of courses (particularly in the case of Ross) and almost all are of a high standard.

Again, great article.