I am trained as a biologist and I am currently pursuing a PhD on what biology can learn us about behaviors and their products that we tend to classify as "art," such as visual art, architecture, fiction, dance, etc.
kunst is biologisch eigenaardig gedrag. waarom dat?
kunstegdrag tart de grenzen van evolutie
One of the revolutionizing consequences of Darwin's theory of evolution is that it makes us realize that humans are not like animals, we are animals. Darwin's insight of common descent of the living world implies humans differ gradually from other creatures on earth, not categorically.
This opens up the possibility for cross-species comparison, say: what does the multimedia spectacle displayed by a male bowerbird to court females (Fig 1) have in common with the sounds, movements and images created by a contemporary artist (Fig 2)? Such a comparison should operate in both directions. On the one hand, we may want to asses whether bowerbirds posses some kind of aesthetic sense - as Darwin assumed. On the other hand, we can make use of a rich source of models and concepts that have been developed to explain the biological function and evolution of animal structures and signals - like the ones used by male bowerbirds to court females - to formulate hypotheses about human art.
This may lead one to hypothesize that art evolved as a sexual display, but this does not need to be so, it is just one of many possibilities. The borrowed models and concepts allow other interpretations as well. One model from evolutionary biology that has been underexplored so far in relation to humans is sensory exploitation. It basically states that perceptual biases that are maintained (or have originated) in one context may become exploited in another one, without altering the original bias. It thus offers a parsimonious and simple model of the evolution of art as a complex set of signals triggering pre-existing biases in receivers.