What is evolutionary aesthetics for? This papers investigates whether and in what way it may be useful to develop a conception of artistic practices as culturally differentiated behaviors in response to our vital needs, without resorting to a reductionistic and substantial conception of human nature. Through an approach based on cultural naturalism, the suggested inquiry is also meant to verify whether in the debate on the evolutionary origins of the arts there are conceptual tools and theses which can help understand the present state of the arts and aesthetic consumption. Recognizing the historical, geographical and social conditioning that affects the traditional aesthetic stance and the conception of art as an autonomous sphere does not exclude the possibility of investigating the roles the arts play in human interactions with the world, the deep-seated anthropological needs they stem from, and the variety of ways in which they express these needs. In this light it seems more fruitful to conceive of the arts in terms of artyfing behaviors than to search for a more universal definition of art. The paper further suggests that the notion of “making special” – understood by Ellen Dissanayake as a shared anthropological attitude – makes it possible to recover those emotional and social dimensions in which artistic practices have their roots and which they in turn contribute to sustaining, arguing that a more critical evaluation is required of the structural ambivalence of these dimensions and of their consequences on artistic dynamics.
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