Lecture: The Deep Structure of the Arts by Ellen Dissanayake

Date: 03.27.2014

Time: 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Location: Pauling Hall 216

Ellen DissanayakeLinguists describe the “deep structure” of language, referring to the innate rules that speakers of all languages follow, even though they may not realize that they are doing so.  Similarly, music theorists describe the underlying structure of music—the way certain tones or chords or rhythmic patterns imply and affect others.  The aim of my work for over thirty years has been to uncover some of the deep structure of the arts.  That is to say, there are underlying principles of our nature as humans that influence the making of our own arts and our responses to the works of others. Ellen Dissanayake will describe two sources for these underlying aesthetic principles.  One is our prehistoric past when all humans lived as hunter-gatherers and faced common existential problems; the other is our past as individuals who all begin life as helpless infants.  Universal emotional needs and artistic proclivities arise from our biological nature as humans and are intrinsic to who we are as individuals and as a species. 

Ellen Dissanayake, Affiliate Professor at the School of Music, University of Washington, is the author of three books, What Is Art For?, Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why, translated into Chinese and Korean, and Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began.  She has also published over seventy academic papers and general articles, as well as lecturing nationally and internationally to audiences in numerous fields, including art theory and criticism, philosophy of art, art therapy and arts in healthcare, art education, music education, anthropology, archaeology, human ethology, cognitive science, and neuroaesthetics.  Combining her interest in the arts with evolutionary biology, and using insights drawn from fifteen years of living and working in non-Western countries (Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, India, and Nigeria), she has developed a unique perspective that considers the arts to be normal, natural, and necessary components of human nature.  She has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and has held Distinguished Visiting Professorships at Ball State University in Indiana, the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and the University of Western Australia, Perth.  Additionally, she has taught at the National Arts School in Papua New Guinea, the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, Sarah Lawrence College, and the New School for Social Research in New York City.  In May 2013 she was awarded an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Humane Letters) from Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore.  A native of Washington State. USA, she currently resides in Seattle.  See also

Sponsored by:  Humanities Concentration of Soka University