January 3, 2011

Hail & Fairwell: Denis Dutton


Over the break we learned via the Los Angeles Times that scholar, author, and founder of the wonderful Arts and Letters Daily Denis Dutton passed away at the age of 66 from prostate cancer.

Dutton’s most recent book The Art Instinct was a sort of exploration of art through evolutionary psychology–or “Darwinian aesthetics” as Dutton called it. In Anthony Gottlieb’s review in the New York Times Book Review, he said that “Darwinian aesthetics sheds light on literature, music and painting not by demonstrating them to be evolutionary adaptations, but by showing how their existence and character are connected to prehistoric preferences, interests and capacities,” and that the book “sheds light on the role art plays in our lives, whatever its ultimate origins.”

In addition to being a bit of a web pioneer, Dutton was also famous for his contrarian nature, something exhibited quite well by this quote from an interview he did with Salon back in 2000 which Carolyn Kellogg pulled for her writeup about his death on Jacket Copy: “A few years ago, Bill Gates was boasting that we’ll soon have sensors which will turn on the music that we like or show on the walls the paintings we like when we walk into a room. How boring! The hell with our preexisting likes; let’s expand ourselves intellectually.”

Galleycat embedded the following video of a talk he did for Ted back in February and it’s worth reposting here. The talk was remarkable enough on its own but enhancing the presentation is a sort of animation in real time by Andrew Park. Check it out.