The Artful Brain Conference: Bower birds, hominids and the art world - Greg Currie (York)
Art being a much disputed notion, I take as my starting point a simpler idea but one with—I hope—interesting relations to art: the idea of an aesthetic artifact. What does the history of aesthetic artifacts look like? I suggest it is a very long history, beginning much earlier than the supposed "dawn of art" 40,000 years ago. This much more ancient habit involved shaping stones, and raise two problems I want to confront. The first is whether these early hominid activities are different, in principled ways, from the activities of such creatures as bowerbirds, for if the answer is no, there does not seem to be much gain for understanding art by looking at stone tool industries. The second is whether there really are any grounds for thinking that the "cultural big bang" of 40,000 years ago marks a shift from mere aesthetic artifact-making to the production of something deserving of the title art.