NEW SAVANNA: Graffiti, Signaling, Evolution, and Art
NEW SAVANNA: Graffiti, Signaling, Evolution, and ArtFrom the first paragraph:
These days if you do much reading about cultural evolution and evolutionary psychology you’re likely to read attempts to explain art as a way of signaling something. In one version it’s the genetic fitness of the artist. The more elaborate the art, the fitter the artist and, so goes the theory, the more likely the artist is to bed all the hot babes. In another version the art signals allegiance to a group, with different groups favoring different motifs and styles.
I don’t think such notions get you very far. However, I go on to note:
Modern graffiti, however, does exhibit simple signaling dynamics. As far as we know, the practice started in Philadelphia and then New York City as a way for boys to signal their presence. They’d mark their names on walls, not their legal names, but their graffiti names, thus signifying their existence. In fact, the story goes that a Philly writer named Cornbread wanted to get the attention of a girl — score one for evolutionary psychology. The more a writer “got up” the more widely he would be known.
I then present a specific case of competitive signaling from my collection of graffiti photos and conclude with this addendum:
All of which is to say that the phenomenon of graffiti gives us a way of thinking how the relatively simple dynamics of competitive signaling can lead to something that’s beyond those dynamics. That doesn’t mean that those dynamics disappear, that they no longer have any force. They’re still operative. But something else is going on and it now dominates the activity.