Ellen Dissanayake

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Ellen Dissanayake (born Ellen Franzen), an independent scholar focusing on "the anthropological exploration of art and culture".[1] For work she received a Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, in 2013.


Dissanayake's birth name was Ellen Franzen; she was born in Illinois and raised in Walla Walla, Washington, where her father was an engineer and her mother a homemaker. She received a B.A. degree from Washington State University in 1957.[2] She lives in Seattle, and is affiliated[clarification needed] with the University of Washington.

She cites[citation needed][year needed] "lived experience" abroad where she observed first-hand the cultural differences and attitudes toward art and culture amongst this variety of peoples as the inspiration for her work. She spent time in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, India, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.[citation needed][year needed]

She has taught at the New School for Social Research in New York City, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Sarah Lawrence College, the National Arts School in Papua New Guinea, and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka.[citation needed] In 1997 she was a visiting professor[clarification needed] at Ball State University in Indiana, and the following year taught[clarification needed] at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.[citation needed]

Homo Aestheticus[edit]

In Homo Aestheticus (1992, paperback 1995, 1996, 1999, 2004), Dissanayake argues that art was central to the emergence, adaptation and survival of the human species, that aesthetic ability is innate in every human being, and that art is a need as fundamental to our species as food, warmth or shelter.

The book has been reviewed in 1994[according to whom?][clarification needed][3] and has also been mentioned elsewhere [4]



  • What is Art For? (1988)
  • Homo Aestheticus (1992, 1995)
  • Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began (2000)


  • "Art as a human behavior: Toward an ethological view of art", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38/4, 397-404. (1980)
  • "Aesthetic experience and human evolution", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 41/2, 145-55. (1982)
  • "Does art have selective value?" Empirical Studies of the Arts II, 1:35-49. (1984)
  • "Art for life’s sake", Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 9/4, 169-178. (1992)
  • "Chimera, spandrel, or adaptation: Conceptualizing art in human evolution". Human Nature 6:2, 99-118. (1995)
  • "The pleasure and meaning of making", American Craft 55,2: 40-45. (1995)
  • "Reflecting on the past: Implications of prehistory and infancy for art therapy", ARTherapy 12, 1: 17-23. (1995)
  • "Darwin meets literary theory: Critical discussion", Philosophy and Literature 20:1, 229- 239. (1996)
  • "Komar and Melamid discover Pleistocene taste". Philosophy and Literature 22, 2: 486- 496. (1998)
  • "The beginnings of artful form", Surface Design Journal 22:2, 4-5. (1998)
  • "Aesthetic Incunabula", Philosophy and Literature 25:2, 335-346. (2001)
  • "Art in Global Context: An Evolutionary/Functionalist Perspective for the 21st Century", International Journal of Anthropology 18:4, 245-258. (2003)
  • "If music is the food of love, what about survival and reproductive success?", Musicae Scientiae, Special issue, 169-195. (2008)
  • "The Artification Hypothesis and Its Relevance to Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Aesthetics, and Neuroaesthetics", Cognitive Semiotics 5:148-173. (2008)
  • "The Deep Structure of Pleistocene Rock Art: The 'Artification Hypothesis'". Papers from IFRAO Congress, September 2010 – Symposium: Signs, symbols, myth, ideology… (Pre-Acts) http://www.ellendissanayake.com/publications/index.php#journals (2010)
  • "Doing Without the Ideology of Art", New Literary History, 42: 71–79. (2011)


  1. ^ From the preface to 1995's edition of her 1992 Homo Aestheticus:"At first glance, the fact that the arts and related aesthetic attitudes vary so widely from one society to another would seem to suggest that they are wholly learned or "cultural" in origin rather than, as I will show, also biological or "natural". One can make an analogy with language: learning to speak is a universal, innate predisposition for all children even though individual children learn the particular language of the people among whom they are nurtured. Similarly, art can be regarded as a natural, general proclivity that manifests itself in culturally learned specifics such as dances, songs, performances, visual display, and poetic speech."
  2. ^ Crain, Caleb (2001). "The Artistic Animal" (a profile of Ellen Dissanayake and her work), Lingua Franca, October, 2001. Online version retrieved November 27, 2007.
  3. ^ Philosophy and Literature 18 (1994) also available here.
  4. ^
    The Chaucer Review 39.3 (2005) 225-233
    Philosophy of Music Education Review 11.1 (2003) 23-44
    Criticism 47.4 (2007) 421-450
    Journal of American Folklore 116.462 (2003) 444-464
    Leonardo - Volume 38, Number 3, June 2005, pp. 239-244
    Journal of the History of Ideas 64.4 (2003) 581-597
    The Journal of Aesthetic Education 41.1 (2007) 90-104
    Philosophy and Literature 23.2 ( 1999) 393-413
    Philosophy and Literature 25.2 (2001) 251-277
    The Journal of Aesthetic Education 39.2 (2005) 36-57

External links[edit]