Ellen Dissanayake

Author and Lecturer

Affiliate Professor
School of Music
University of Washington

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

Articles and Reviews

Professional Journals

2017 Ethology, interpersonal neurobiology, and play: insights into the evolutionary origin of the arts. American Journal of Play 9 (2): 143-168.
2015 “Aesthetic primitives”: Fundamental biological elements of a naturalistic aesthetics. Aisthesis: Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico 8(1): 6-24.
2014 The artful species engages in art behaviours. Commentary on Stephen Davies, The Artful Species. Estetika: the Central European Journal of Aesthetics 7(1): 101-104.
2014 Denis Dutton: Appreciation of the man and discussion of the work. Philosophy and Literature 38:1.
2013 Genesis and development of “Making Special”: Is the concept relevant to aesthetic philosophy? Special Issue: Aesthetic Experience in the Evolutionary Perspective, eds. L. Bartelesi and G. Consoli. Rivista di Estetica. 54:83-98.
2013 Globalism from the bottom up, rather than top down: a Darwinian framework encompasses both art history and rock art studies. Commentary on Oscar Moro Abadia, Rock art stories: standard narratives and their alternatives. Rock Art Research 30(2): 152-53.
2012 “Parasitic” is a lousy way to describe the active nature of art. Response to “The parasitic nature of ‘art’” by Derek Hodgson. Rock Art Research 29(2): 221-223.
2012 The earliest narratives were musical. Research in Music Education 34(1):3-14.
2011 “My glyph is more beautiful than yours,” but does it matter? Response to “Evolutionary aesthetics and sexual selection in the evolution of rock art aesthetics” by Marco Antônio Corrêa Varella, Altay Alves Lino de Souza and José Henrique Benedetti Piccoli Ferreira. Rock Art Research 28(2): 168-171. 
2011 Doing without the ideology of art. New Literary History 42(1), 71-79. 
2011 Prelinguistic and preliterate substrates of poetic narrative, Special Issue on Narrative and the Emotions, Poetics Today 32(1), 55-79. Download PDF
2011 In the beginning, evolution created religion and the arts, The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture 2, 64-81.
2010 The deep structure of Pleistocene rock art: The "artification hypothesis," Papers from the IFRAO (International Federation of Rock Art Organizations) conference on Pleistocene Art of the World, Symposium on Signs, Symbols, Myths, and Ideology, September. Download PDF
2010 Tracking musical chills, The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture 1, 64-68.
2009 The artification hypothesis and its relevance to cognitive science, evolutionary aesthetics, and neuroaesthetics. Special Issue on Aesthetic Cognition. Cognitive Semiotics 5, 148-173. Download PDF
2009 Sztuka jako ludzkie uniwersalium: spojrzenie adaptacjonistyczne, Estetyka i Krytyka 15/16 (2/2008-1/2009), Uniwersytet Jagielloñski-Krakow, pp. 247-263. Translation from chapter in Peter M. Hejl (see below, 2001).
2008 If music is the food of love, what about survival and reproductive success? Musicae Scientiae Special Issue: 169-195. Download PDF
2007 Comment on "Videophilia," Journal of Developmental Processes 2(1): 145-147. Download PDF
2004 Motherese is but one part of a ritualized, multimodal, temporally-organized, affiliative interaction. Commentary to Target Article, Prelinguistic evolution in early hominids: Whence motherese? by Dean Falk. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (4): 512-513.
2003 Retrospective on Homo Aestheticus. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies 1(2): 7-12 (online journal) Download PDF
2003 Art in global context: an evolutionary/functionalist perspective for the 21st century, International Journal of Anthropology 18(4):245-258. Special Issue “Conceptualizing World Art,” edited by Eric Venbrux and Pamela Rosi. Download PDF
2003 [with David Miall] The poetics of babytalk, Human Nature 14(4) 337-364. Download PDF
2001 Aesthetic Incunabula, Philosophy and Literature 25(2): 335-346. Download PDF
2001 An ethological view of music and its relevance for music therapy. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy 10(2):159-175.
2001 Becoming Homo aestheticus: sources of aesthetic imagination in mother-infant interactions, in H. Porter Abbott (ed.), On the Origin of Fictions: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. SubStance 94/95 (Vol. 30(1&2): 85-103). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
1998 Komar and Melamid discover Pleistocene taste, Philosophy and Literature 22(2):486-496. Download PDF
1996 Darwin meets literary theory: critical discussion, Philosophy and Literature 20(1): 229-239.
1996 Human nature, art, and ecological attitudes. Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, Visvanatha Kaviraja Institute, Orissa, India.
1995 Chimera, spandrel, or adaptation: conceptualizing art in human evolution, Human Nature 6(2): 99-117.
1984 Does art have selective value? Empirical Studies of the Arts 2(1):35-49.
1984 L’Arte ha un valore selettivo? Rivista di Psichologia dell’Arte Anno VI nn 10/11, 59-71.
1982 Aesthetic experience and human evolution. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 41(2): 145-55. Download PDF
1980 Art as a human behavior: toward an ethological view of art. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38(4): 397-406. Download PDF
1979 An ethological view of ritual and art in human evolutionary history. Leonardo 12(1): 27-31.
1974 An hypothesis of the evolution of art from play. Leonardo 7(3), 211-218.

Book Chapters and Other Scholarly Writing

(2018) Bodies make invisible marks in space and time. In Karen Bond, ed., Dance and the quality of life. New York: Springer.
(2018) Homo musicus: Are humans biologically predisposed to be musical? In Dusan Bogdanovich, ed., Multiple Modernities, Geneva Conservatory of Music.
(2017) From play and ritualisation to ritual and its arts: Sources of Upper Pleistocene ritual practices In Lower Middle Pleistocene ritualised and play behaviours in ancestral hominins. In Colin Renfrew, Iain Morley, and Michael Boyd, eds., Play, ritual, and faith in animal and in early human societies. Cambridge University Press.
2016 Mark-making as a human behavior, pp. 101-130. In J. Carroll, D. P. McAdams and E. O. Wilson (eds), Darwin’s Bridge: Uniting the Sciences and Humanities. New York: Oxford University Press.
2014 Homo musicus: ¿Estamos biológicamente predispuestos para ser musicales? In Silvia Español (ed.), Psicología de la música y del desarrollo Una exploración interdisciplinaría sobre la musicalidad humana. Buenos Aires: Paidós.
2014 A bona fide ethological view of art: The artification hypothesis. In C. Sütterlin, W. Schiefenhövel, ed., C. Lehmann, J. Forster, G. Apfelauer (eds.) Art As Behaviour: An Ethological Approach to Visual and Verbal Art, Music and Architecture, pp. 42-60. Hanse Studies Vol. 10. BIS Verlag Oldenburg. Download PDF
2013 Art as a human universal: An adaptationist view. In Armin W Geertz, ed. Origins of Religion, Cognition and Culture, pp. 121-139. Durham, UK: Acumen.
2013 Born to artify: The universal origin of picturing. In Klaus Sachs-Hombach & Jörg R.J. Schirra (eds), Origins of Pictures: Anthropological Discourses in Picture Science, pp. 200-219. Köln: Halem Verlag.
2010 Si la musique est nourriture d'amour, qu'en est il de la survie et du success reproductif? In Irène Deliège, Oliver Vitouche, & Olivia Ladining, eds., Musique et Evolution, 65-80. Wavre, Belgium: Mardaga [translated from article in Musicae Scientiae].
2010 Art and intimacy: How the arts began. In Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, and Jonathan Gottschall, eds., Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader, 144-155. New York: Columbia University Press.
2009 (with Steven Brown). The arts are more than aesthetics: Neuroaesthetics as narrow aesthetics. In Martin Skov & Oshin Vartanian (eds.), Neuroaesthetics. Amityville, NY: Baywood, pp. 43-57. Download PDF
2009 Root, leaf, blossom, or bole: concerning the origin and adaptive function of music, in Stephen Malloch & Colwyn Trevarthen (eds.), Communicative Musicality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 17-30. Download PDF
2009 Bodies swayed to music: the temporal arts as integral to ceremonial ritual, in Stephen Malloch & Colwyn Trevarthen (eds.), Communicative Musicality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 533-544. Download PDF
2008 Beyond words: Can literary Darwinism address the unsaid and inexpressible in literary creation and response? Commentary to Target Article, An Evolutionary Paradigm for Literary Study, by Joseph Carroll. Style 42 (2,3): 161-165.
2008 The arts after Darwin: does art have an origin and adaptive function? in Kitty Zijlmans & Wilfried van Damme (eds.), World Art Studies: Exploring Concepts and Approaches. Amsterdam: Valiz. Download PDF
2008 The universality of the arts in human life. In Joni Maya Cherbo, Margaret J. Wyszomirski, & Ruth Ann Stewart (eds.), Understanding the Arts and Creative Sector in the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 61-74.
2007 What art is and what art does: an overview of contemporary evolutionary hypotheses, in Colin Martindale, Paul Locher, & Vladmir Petrov (eds.), Evolutionary and Neurocognitive Approaches to Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Amityville, NY: Baywood (in Foundations and Frontiers in Aesthetics series), pp. 1-14.
2007 In the beginning: Pleistocene and infant aesthetics and 21st-century education in the arts, in Liora Bresler (ed.), International Handbook of Research in Arts Education. Berlin: Springer, pp. 781-795. Download PDF
2006 Fons et origo: a Darwinian view of self-object theory and the arts, in George Hagman & Carl Rothenberg (eds.) Art, Creativity, and Psychoanalysis: Current Perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Analytic Press, pp. 309-325 (Psychoanalytic Inquiry, Vol. 26 (3), Special Issue). Download PDF
2006 Ritual and ritualization: musical means of conveying and shaping emotion in humans and other animals, in Steven Brown & Ulrik Volgsten (eds.), Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control of Music. Oxford: Berghahn, pp. 31-57. Download PDF
2001 Kunst als menschliche Universalie: Eine adaptionistische Betrachtung (Art as a human behavior: an adaptationist view), in Peter M. Hejl (ed.), Universalien und Konstruktivismus: Zum Problem der Universalien in den Humanwissenschaften (Universals and Constructivism: On the Problem of Universals in the Humanities). Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp (Delfin), pp. 206-234.
2001 Very like art: contemporary self-taught art from an ethological perspective, in Charles Russell (ed.), Self-Taught Art: The Culture and Aesthetics of American Vernacular Art. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, pp. 35-46.
2000 Antecedents of the temporal arts in early mother-infant interaction, in Nils Wallin, Björn Merker & Steven Brown (eds.), The Origins of Music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 389-410.
2000 The core of art: making special [Chapter 3 from Homo Aestheticus] reprinted in Richard E. Miller & Kurt Spellmeyer (eds.), The New Humanities Reader. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 201-222.
1999 Antecedents of musical meaning in the mother-infant dyad, in Brett Cooke & Frederick Turner (eds.), Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts, New York: Paragon House, pp. 367-397.
1999 Sociobiology and the arts: problems and prospects, in Jan Baptist Bedaux & Brett Cooke (eds.), Sociobiology and the Arts. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, pp. 27-42.
1991 Art as a human behavior: toward an ethological view of art [1980 article in JAAC], reprinted in Howard Smagula (ed.), Re-Visions: New Perspectives of Art Criticism, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, pp. 124-137.
1968 Catalogue, with Interpretive Comments, Hommage à Baudelaire, accompanying an exhibition of works by 19th-century artists about whom Baudelaire wrote in his art criticism. University of Maryland, pp. 29-61.

General Articles on the Arts

2013 The musical impulse [see 2006, below], in Social Sound: Art About Music and What Life Sounds Like. Blokhuispoort Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, pp. 8-9.
2010 Two Essays [see 2001, below], The Haystack Reader: Collected Essays on Craft, 1991-2009. Orono, ME: University of Maine Press and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 175-192.
2009 The Birth of the Arts, Greater Good (Winter), pp. 20-23
2007 When meaning and function disappear, what gets translated?, in S-U-B, Translation, Konstnärsmänden, Sweden, pp. 19-32.
2006 The musical impulse. Chamber Music 23 (3), 32-35.
2004 Of caves and humans, in David Rothenberg & Wandee J. Pryor (eds.), Writing the Future: Progress and Evolution. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, A Terra Nova book, pp. 73-84.
2004 The art of ritual and the ritual of art, in The Nature of Craft and the Penland Experience, 75th Anniversary publication of Penland School of Craft with the Mint Museum of Craft and Design. Asheville, NC: Lark Books, pp. 66-72.
2001 Why public art is necessary, in Penny Balkin Bach (ed.), New Land Marks: Public Art. Community, and the Meaning of Place. Washington D.C.: Grayson Publishing, pp. 26-34.
2001 Two essays: Two orphans and a dog: art and transformation; If “great” art is dead, who cares? Haystack Institute Monograph. Deer Isle, Maine: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, pp. 1-16.
2000 Birth of the Arts, Natural History 109(10): 84-91.
1998 The beginnings of artful form, Surface Design Journal 22(2): 4-6.
1997 Empty cups and secret lanterns: the rewards of idleness, The Touchstone Center Journal: Writings on the Imagination, pp. 43-51.
1996 Homo Aestheticus, Campo 6: Il Villaggio a Spirale/The Spiral Village. Exhibition catalogue, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Torino, Italy (Sept. 28 - Nov. 3). Trans. by Francesco Bonami, exhibition curator.
1996 Mentioning the unmentionable: beauty, quality, transcendence, Glass Art Society 1996 Journal, pp. 58-62.
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 What is art for?, conversation in Suzi Gablik, Conversations Before the End of Time. New York and London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 37-55.
1995 Beyond nostalgia, Borderline Clay (NCECA -- National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts – 1995 Journal), pp. 80-87.
1993 The depiction of sexuality in art: from premodern awe to postmodern ennui, The World & I (January), 595-609.
1992 Paradise lost? The New Art Examiner (September) pp. 18-20. (Dialogue with Suzi Gablik).
1991 Does writing erase art? The World & I (February), pp. 603-617.
1990 Articles on Asian Culture for USAsia:
I.M. Pei’s brilliant Bank of China (May)
Eastern culture, Western way (May) [on Diana Kan]
“I use my way” (June) [on Chen Chi]
Marc Mellon: champion sculptor (Aug--Sept).
1990 Of transcribing and superliteracy, The World & I (October), pp. 575-587.
1990 Art for life’s sake, The World & I ( April), pp. 571-583.
1986 Nolde in New Guinea, Paradise 58:23-28 [An account of the painter Emil Nolde’s six month stay in New Guinea in 1912-14]

Articles on Nonwestern Arts and Artists

2012 The power of art: Ceylonese modernism in its time. Foreward to The Power of Sri Lankan Art, pp. 6-17. Galle: Sri Serendipity Publishing House.
1996 The food of being, Serendib 15(5), 10-15. [about Rahju, a Sri Lankan painter]
1995 Perfecting the life and the work, catalogue essay for exhibition of paintings, Temples, Shrines and Sacred Sites by Rahju, Gallery 706, Colombo, 21-27 March.
1994 Renaissance man: Lionel Wendt—creator of a truly Sri Lankan idiom, Serendib 13(4): 16-22.
1993 Disrobing the darkness: George Keyt’s “Collected Poems,” catalogue essay for 92nd birthday exhibition, sponsored by George Keyt Foundation, Colombo, Sri Lanka (April).
1992 (Re)discovering Daraniyagala, catalogue essay for Daraniyagala Retrospective sponsored by Deutsche Bank, Colombo, Sri Lanka (December).
1990 The loom is her guru, Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot (pub. by the Handweavers Guild of America, Inc.) 30(1): 20-25. [about Barbara Sansoni, Sri Lankan handloom artist].
1988 Coming of age in New Guinea, Art in America 76(3): 45-47.
1986 Ceylon’s 43 Group of painters, Arts of Asia 16(2): 61-67.
1986 Kandyan jewelry, Ornament 9(4): 34-43 [the first published comprehensive study of the subject]
1985 The Kandyan malaya: garlands of fruits, seeds, and flowers, Serendib 4(2): 12-16.
1983 Preview: old culture, new Parliament," Paradise 40:15-17. [Papua New Guinea]
1982 Minnette De Silva: pioneer of modern architecture in Sri Lanka, Orientations (August): 40-51.
1978 The poetry of Jean Arasanayagam," Navasilu II. Colombo: The English Association of Sri Lanka.
1977 The art of George Keyt and the Indian raga, in Felicitations Volume for Keyt’s 75th Birthday. Colombo: George Keyt Felicitations Committee, pp. 93-97.
1976 The poetry of George Keyt: an introduction and an interview, Journal of South Asian Literature 12(1, 2): 91-102. Republished in George Keyt, Collected Poems, Colombo: Keyt Foundation and Institute for Fundamental Studies (Sri Lanka), 1992.
1976 `George Keyt: a living tradition, Orientations (July): 32-43.

1992 Exhibition Reviews and other Newspaper Articles in Sri Lanka

"Daraniyagala Retrospective Underscores Need for Museum of Contemporary Art," The Island (10 November)
"The Artist Comes to the Trade Fair," The Observer (19 Nov.)
"Artists and Public Meet at 'Kala Pola'," Daily News (7 April)
"Fareed Uduman: Lankan Details Anchor Private Imaginings," The Island (29 June)
Above article republished under title "Fareed Uduman: The 'Odd Man Out' Deserves a Place in the Sun" Sunday Observer (11 July)
“First-Ever Kala Pola," The Island (10 July)
"The Lankan 'Art Scene': An Outsider's Observations," Daily News Op-Ed page (Aug. 4, cont'd. 5 Aug.)
"New Light on the 43 Group," The Island (31 August, cont'd. 7 September)
"Poet of the Cataclysm," The Sunday Observer (26 September)
"Segar: His Art," The Island (2 October)

Book Reviews

For Leonardo:
Structure and Functions of Fantasy by Eric Klinger: 7:4, p. 369; Cultural Policy in Sri Lanka by UNESCO: 8:2, p. 169; Modern Art and the Modern Mind by J. P. Hodin: 8:3, p. 259; The Psychology of Play by Susanna Millar: 10:1, pp. 70-71; Play As Exploratory Learning by Mary Reilly (Ed.): 10:2, p. 161; Influence in Art and Literature by Goran Hermeren: 10:2, p. 161; Art and Artist by Otto Rank: 11:2, pp. 156-57; Odilon Redon by Carolyn Keay: 12:1, p. 78; The Evolution of Culture in Animals by John Bonner:
For The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38/4 (1980) 460-1: Art in Primitive Societies by Richard L. Anderson
For Man 24 (1989) 693: Performance Theory by Richard Schechner
For American Craft Aug-Sept 1995, Cognition and the Visual Arts by Robert L. Solso; Nov.-Dec. 1996, Recycled, Re-Seen: Folk Art From the Global Scrap Heap, edited by Charlene Cerny and Suzanne Seriff
For International Society of Human Ethology Newsletter 18: 3 (2003) The Ancestress Hypothesis: Visual Art as Adaptation by Kathryn Coe; 19:3 (2004) Evolutionary Aesthetics by Eckart Voland and Karl Grammer
For Evolutionary Psychology 3:375-380 (2005), The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen.
For Chamber Music 26(1): 62-65 (2009). This is your decade on music. Review of The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature by Daniel J. Levitin.
For Psychomusicology: Music, Mind & Brain 21(1&2): 252-256 (2011). Review of The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature by Daniel J. Levitin.
For Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture 1(1) (2017). Review of The Good Book of Human Nature: An Evolutionary Reading of the Bible by Carel van Schaik & Kai Michel (Basic Books).

Exhibition Reviews

For Pacific Arts Newsletter (Summer 1988): "Contemporary Art of Papua New Guinea" at Monmouth College, New Jersey [see also Sri Lanka newspaper articles (above)]