Fine Arts: An Evolutionary Advantage

Fine Arts are an integral part of our lives. They come in innumerable flavors and have a global appeal. Ever since the primitive man occupied the ancient rocky caves, where they created the first murals, to the masterpieces created during renaissance period, to the modern art forms, the man has always stepped up the gas for sharpening his creative skills. Surprising is the fact that, we the mankind, remain as the only species on this planet who have discovered, practiced and perfected the fine arts. No other life forms, not even our evolutionary cousins, the apes, have anything closely resembling an art form. We are by far the most successful species on this planet. And by far the most art conscious. Are these two facts, somehow inter-related? In this essay we shall investigate this very fact.

When I said that no other species have any art forms, many may object. Isn’t the beautiful nest weaved by the beaver an art form? Isn’t the spider web an art form? For that matter how about the exceptional geometric and architectural genius of honey bees, who create the articulate hives? The list is long. Personally speaking the best resume for a qualification as an art form does not come from terrestrial animals, but from the aquatic giant whales. Scientists have found out that whales do seem to have complicated subsonic ‘songs’ consisting of many notes, but they are not sure whether it has any specific meaning attached. Hence whether this sequence of notes can be termed a song or not, is under dispute.

The only way to lay the dispute to rest is by coining what do we mean by an art? Then we can examine the various claims by various species and categorize them as art forms or otherwise. So what is an art form?

Art can be generally referred to as a by product of creativity. However, let’s take a step further and push a new concept of creativity through acquired skills residing outside the realms of animal instincts. In simpler words, any work piece would be considered an art form, if and only if, the member of any species attains that skill through sustained practice and not through simple genetic inheritance and that, its not a crucial pier to the successful existence for the member. In other words it’s a manifestation of creativity solely devoted to the purpose of entertainment and expression.

The above definition would demote the otherwise considered articulate beaver’s nest or honey bee’s hive from an art to just a humble dwelling. Also the fact that all the beavers and bees can create the individual work pieces, because of their inheritance value, leaves us with no option but to consign their claim to the trashcan. One can argue that hunting is an acquired skill, thus lions are hunting artists. However the second rider clause of our definition, that it should not be an activity crucial to existence, nullifies the claim, as the lion is completely dependant on hunting for its living. The day we find a vegetarian lion which just hunts for entertainment value, probably we would have to regard it as an artiste. Till then, the definition above would invalidate all the animal kingdom’s membership forms to the artist groups. Only the claims from the humble Homo Sapiens will be passed. And we are the only members of this elite clan.

A quick sanity check vis-à-vis our definition of arts would confirm this proposition. Does any new born innate any painting, sculpturing, singing, dancing skill? No. So the first rider is cleared. Secondly, is painting, singing et al crucial to our existence or a part of our animal instincts of feed-fight-reproduce? No. Rider clause two is cleared as well. Hence painting, sculpturing, singing et al does qualify as fine arts.

The million dollar question is; if any of these art forms do not directly guarantee a successful existence, and that they do not arm us with any useful tangible paraphernalia that is potent enough for guaranteeing a long and safe life span for human beings, then why did it at all exist and thrive and became so widely practiced? What was the advantage of practicing fine arts? Were there any benefits to the persons practicing fine arts and to the whole mankind? But the first question is how did the art forms originate?

The answer to this issue of genesis could be found in any music store you choose to visit. Look around the music store that you are visiting. Most likely you are flanked by loves songs by artists from all across the globe from different genres. Why among all aspects of the human life, does the pair bonding exercise top the charts of all art forms? Simply because it is one of the strongest animal instincts and simply because this forms the backbone of the survival of any species, ours included. So no matter whether we lived in caves or super high-rise skyscrapers, as long as we live, love songs will sell, poets would compose sonnets professing the love, sculptures and painters would draw the artist’s view of the loved ones, dances would mandate a partner of the other sex, so on and so forth…..Time is immaterial, place is immaterial.

If we could unwind our clocks and probably go back many millennia, we might see, in the heart of a jungle the first Crow-Magnon man, who are credited of inventing the language in upper Pleistocene era some 35,000 years back, singing the first love song for his beloved. Sure, the other forms of ‘wooing the girl’ activities must have existed, but using the language as a tool with musical notes and thereby inventing songs does not predate the language formation. It is not impossible to guess that the first musical incantations must have been used to impress the prospective mate.

The animal kingdom is awash with mating calls from both the sexes and the activities that precede the pairing event. The croaking of the frogs, the noises of the cricket, the dance of the peacock, roar of the lion…..all embody the spirit of ‘wooing the mate’. But the difference is that almost all the frogs croak in the same frequency zone. Ditto for lions. There is no observable evidence of one peacock being a better dancer than the other. The distinction in animal kingdom is achieved by physical strength. Bigger the frog, better the chances that a female frog is attracted. Bigger the dung beetle, bigger the dung ball, better the chances of it attracting a female beetle for nesting. The female beetles don’t care that the smaller beetle has hitched a ride on the Toyota pick up truck and can tell better stories of the jungle. Big is the best bet in animal kingdom as it means better pack of genes which the offspring would inherit.

In animal kingdoms, many a times the herd is led by one dominant male. Other males just rally around till the time they pose no threat to the leader. If a male does stake claim, a fight would result and either the challenger wins to claim the lead role or leaves the herd. The dominant male has the first right of mating with all the females of the herd. Then the others get an opportunity.

There is a definite downside of this arrangement. The problem is purely mathematical and has its roots in genetics. We clearly understand that the success of any species’ survival depends on the total available genetic diversity. Thus it is of paramount importance that each member of the species does indulge in spreading its genetic code, which is exactly what happens during the sexual reproduction in all species. However, if there exists a concept of a dominating male, who stakes the claim for first mating rights with all the herd’s females, the genes of that dominating male gains an undue genetic advantage over other reticent males. Simply put, the dominating male has the highest probability of being the biological father of the herd’s progeny.

Since the mating strategy of the animal kingdom favors the strong, its all but natural that the strongest males get the maximum advantage of preserving their genetic heritage, as more and more females make a beeline for getting the ‘strong’ genes of the herd’s leader and not any other weak male’s. However, this stands directly in the path of genetic evolution. Thus the concept of physical domination and subjugation finally retards the genetic evolution of the species.

Compounded to this issue is the fact that most of the species have a breeding season. Thus mating is a seasonal issue. When all the members are experiencing the seasonal libido and fights break out, the most powerful wins and sustains the genes. The problem is that in such a way defective genes in the herd tend to stay along. Result: a poor genetic diversity, which is surely an evolutionary disadvantage.

Human race has a few very strange mating habits. One, we don’t have any fixed breeding season. Two, we are the only species in which the consent of the female is not mandatory for a biological union. The third rule makes us really unique. We are probably the only preferentially monogamous species on this planet. But the third rule is not natural, as the previous two are. It is an enforcement on the typical traditional animal instinct. That is why it is better to say that we are preferentially monogamous as it is the preferred breeding strategy.

So what would have happened had the human mating strategy been the same, always favoring the strongest? In that case, we would surely have been a much poorer species in terms of genetic diversity. Thankfully it did not happen. The agent which ensured that such a catastrophic situation is averted is the fine arts. So how did the fine arts help us in diversifying our genetic pool?

In all species the females are responsible bearing the progeny. The males are responsible for spreading out their genetic heritage to as many females as possible. However, the difference is great. A female has only one egg to achieve the target where as the males can spare millions of sperm cells. This difference makes the females very much choosier when it comes to reproductive attitude and mate selection. That is the biological reason for why women are ‘hard to get’. However, in animal kingdom because a strong bias towards strength exists, weak males seldom get the opportunity of pairing.

However, the human race is smarter than others The weak and physically not to strong males had to come up with an alternative mating strategy that would project them as attractive mating partners to the otherwise ‘attracted towards strong males’ type females. This new strategy would ensure that their genetic lines are carried forward, satisfying the personal interests and in turn enriching the genetic diversity. So a plan B was urgently needed.

Just as a peacock breaks into a dance and the frogs croak, quite the same way the comparatively weak individuals discovered the plan B. It was fine arts. The strategy was simple and smart. Impress the other sex with creative skills and win a mating opportunity. Suddenly, the game was different. The females had an alternative other than the dominating strong males. The alternative promised them of a progeny that would have superior creative skills. A melodious singer, a glib dancer, a nifty craftsman, a gifted painter, a smooth talker stated to get noticed.

As the society evolved just a bit more, where these skills were started getting appreciated, the mating equations changed. It made these primitive art practitioners look like attractive pairing prospects. Subsequently, they gained a great edge over the strong dominating types. As one physically weak individual saw the plan B succeed for another such physically weak individual, the task was cut out. This other individual, who also didn’t want to miss out, started a new branch or a new genre of art forms. This also got rewarded. Even though the traditional strong male still remained a good choice, these new art forms made new, not so strong, males a fine option as well. Next time when you look at a pop singer and worry why he has so much female fan following, blame it on their genetic urge to get a scoopful of his genes.

However, this new equation brought a few great benefits. First as more and more art forms were getting discovered and practiced, the evolution of body art forms were also not lagging behind. This allowed many not so creative members to acquire body art forms and all of a sudden they also started to look good, different and therefore more appealing as a potential partner. Tattooing, nail painting, lipstick at al, had their roots in this same philosophy. So the available pool of attractive mates and partners for pairing were infinitely increased.

This also did a great service to the humanity as a whole. As and when the new offspring emerged out of the union of these creative people, the overall concentration of genes that foster dominating and aggressive behavior started to decline. The society started to turn from savage animal like, towards more orderly and peaceful. Also this gave the weak individual the collective courage to stand up to the tyrannical individuals and paved the way for a peaceful existence. This greatly reduced the homicides and encouraged population growth; another evolutionary edge.

The collective diversity of the genetic pool of humans increased greatly as more and more productive individuals were copulating. However, our species has a strange mating habit which created new complications. Our is the only species, where a female can be led to biological union against her consent, blame it on our face to face mating style which is overpowering for the female species. In this changed pairing climate, the powerful males who were previously the favorites among females, found it rather tough sailing in this new climate. The only way out for them was to use force, which they did.

This barbaric act created serious problems in social stability and peace as it did to the genetic health of our species. To bar such non consented unions, the mankind came up with the third queerest strategy. This came as the pronouncement of preferential monogamy. In this new environment, one man was committed to one woman for their lifetime. This ensured that all members whether strong, weak, creative, intelligent or whatever were involved equally in extending their genetic heritage further.

Also fine arts influenced the culture of the existing societies. As the social groups grew nearer owing to common cultural heritage, which was by and large based on homogeneous or comparatively similar art forms, marriages resulted and this also diversified the genetic pool. Diversification of genetic pool meant that the disease resistance and harmful mutations arising out of faulty genetic copying were greatly attenuated. This ensured that the human species becomes healthier and stronger and lived longer as well.

Collating all the above facets, we can deduce that the discovery of art forms, which was primarily aimed at accentuating the mating potential of a member, gradually permeated into the cultural fabric of the society. Under the new influence of arts the human society transfigured from a savage strength dominated one to a peaceful and reproductively egalitarian one, with each member being wed to a spouse. By doing this, our genetic evolution received a youthful facelift and the available genetic diversity was heightened. This high genetic diversity decreased the probability of population loss owing to catastrophic diseases and genetic malfunctions. Result: human race received a great booster dose in their evolution.

It is true that science and technology are the strongest forces that catapulted the mankind to the pinnacle of animal kingdom in our planet. However, the art forms were the central peg which ensured that our species maintained a great genetic diversity which aided our evolutionary success. It also played pivotal role in formulation of social fabric. As long as we, the human beings, live on this planet, the fine arts will always be an important pier of our success story.

Next time when you see a cave painting, thank the creative genius of the unknown man for if not for his creativity, mankind could have well evolved as barbaric technological entity and probably went on to the path of self destruction or probably been wiped out of the face of this planet by a simple flu pandemic or a combination of both. Lucky aren’t we?

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2 Responses to “Fine Arts: An Evolutionary Advantage”

  1. ChrisJ Says:

    Wow! This line of thought can be used to write a thesis to get a Phd in Arts

  2. Bharat Says:

    Nice thesis. All though certain aspects can be disputed, but the importance of Fine Arts in Human evolution can not be denied. It reminded me of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel – Tarzan of the apes.
    Jai Ram Ji Ki.
    Satyajeet Shukla

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