“Art is our biological need to play.” Theories on mankind’s evolutionary need for creativity, starring Rodney Dangerfield.

February 2, 2010 — Leave a comment

Fig. 1 - Dangerfieldius Maximus

On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction (2009) Brian Boyd

This is why I love the internet: you can stumble across a new book that academia puts up there as a revolutionary creative tweak on Origin of the Species, cherry-pick the best of the best stuff from some smarty pants reviewers at Harvard Press, or American Scientist, and act like a smarty pants just by blogging about it.

David Bordwell, a film prof I once had at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said, “I have to go back to Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism for a work of comparable imaginative sweep and analytical precision. A monumental achievement.” This sucks, because I was going to say that. Bordwell = thief.

For your mind-blowing pleasure, here is a “greatest hits” of my in-depth 5 minute surfing of the reviews, and quotes from this cool book, with my translations conveniently added for the layperson.

“…the evolution of the brain…has slowly and fitfully managed to produce a species of primate whose members habitually try to entertain and edify one another by making stuff up.”

Translation: Rodney Dangerfield evolved from apes.

“Art and creativity is a human mutation necessary for our survival. It ‘develops in us habits of imaginative exploration, so that we take the world as not closed and given, but open and to be shaped on our terms…'”

Translation: You would not be here if Rodney Dangerfield had not evolved from apes.

“We do not know what other purposes life may eventually generate, but creativity offers us our best chance of reaching them.”

Translation: God wants you to like Rodney Dangerfield or you won’t get into heaven. (I’m open to other interpretations of this one, folks. But I’m pretty sure I’m spot on here.)

“If a work of art fails to earn attention, it dies.” And the related, “Works of art need to attract and arouse audiences before they mean.”

Translation: Rodney Dangerfield became famous because he had Marty Feldman’s freaky, googly eyes. (I love the implication this has to ad weenies like me: first, the ad must demand attention.)

“Art is our biological need to play.”

Translation: Play or die.

I’m certain I won’t read this book. It’d be cool, but oy, it’s a whopper. Clearly, from what I’ve plagiarized, it seems incredible. I’ve never heard of the idea of why we needed/need creativity and art to survive and evolve. But I think it’s fantastic, and am going to think on this one for a while. High five, Boyd.

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