The appreciation of art is not culturally learned, but is in fact an evolved trait, or at least that’s the view of Denis Dutton as elaborated in his latest book, The Art Instinct. In a generally positive review of the book, Newsweek points out the many limitations of Dutton’s conjecture as well as summarizing it’s main points:
Drawing on Charles Darwin’s second great book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Dutton argues that art, like broad shoulders in a man and a narrow waist in a woman, facilitates seduction. We tell stories, sing songs, invent tales, recount jokes and draw pictures in order to find a mate and, having found one, produce children. We value art because, Dutton claims, it may be made of rare and valuable materials and require much skill to produce. People value wealth and skill in choosing a mate. We can add to Dutton’s argument the fact that when 3-month-old infants are shown pictures of women who had been rated by adults as either attractive or unattractive, the babies looked much longer at the attractive ones.