The Deep Structure of the Arts

Ellen Dissanayake

Co-presented with Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) at the University of Sydney

22 March

The aim of Dissanayake's work over several decades has been to identify aspects 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. Dissanayake will propose 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.

Image for Anne Dissanayake lecture

Ellen Dissanayake is an independent scholar, author, and lecturer whose writings about the arts synthesise many disciplines, including evolutionary biology, ethology, cognitive and developmental psychology, cultural and physical anthropology, neuroscience, and the history, theory, and practice of the various arts. Combining her interests in the arts and evolutionary biology, and using insights drawn from fifteen years of living and working in nonwestern countries (Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, India, and Nigeria), she has developed a unique perspective that considers art to be a necessary component of our evolved nature as humans. She is the author of three books What Is Art For?, Homo Aestheticus and Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began as well as over seventy scholarly and popular articles and book chapters. She currently resides in Seattle where she is an Affiliate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Washington. See also:

Ellen Dissanayake’s visit to Australia is hosted by Australian Experimental Art Foundation and the International Visitors Program of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.