A&O READING – Animal Signals to Art (De Tiège 2021 in QRB)

From Animal Signals to Art:

Manipulative Animal Signaling and

the Evolutionary Foundations of

Aesthetic Behavior and Art Production


Alexis De Tiège, Jan Verpooten, and Johan Braeckman


The Quarterly Review of Biology

Volume 96, Number 1March 2021



As humans are evolved animals, we propose a nonanthropocentric framework based on animal signaling
theory to understand the evolutionary foundations of human art, instead of a classical anthropocentric
approach based on sociocultural anthropology that may incorporate evolutionary thinking but
does not start with it.
First, we provide a concise review of the basics of the evolutionary theory of animal
communication or signaling.
Second, we apply this theory to specifically human aesthetic behavior and art and provide four empirical arguments or factors that reduce the conceptual gap between nonhuman animal signaling and human aesthetic-artistic behavior (two from the nonhuman and two from the human side) and that, as such, grant an implementation of human aesthetic behavior and art production within animal signaling theory. And,
third, we explore the theory’s explanatory power and value when applied to aesthetic behavior and art production through proposing four valuable insights or hypotheses that it may contribute or generate: on art’s operation within multiple functionally adaptive signaling contexts; on the basic evolutionary economics of art or what art is (for); on why art is functionally adaptive rather than a nonfunctional byproduct; and on how art is functionally rooted in competitive/manipulative animal signaling and—unlike language—only to a lesser extent in cooperative-informative signaling.
Overall, animal signaling theory offers a potentially integrating account of the arts because humans and their signaling behaviors are conceptually situated within a broader, transhuman field that also comprises nonhuman species and their behaviors, thus allowing for an identification of deeper commonalities (homologs, analogs) as well as unique differences. As such, we hope to increase insights into how acoustic, gestural/postural, visual, olfactory, and gustatory animal signaling evolved into music, dance, visual art, perfumery, and gastronomy, respectively.