Ellen Dissanayake

Author and Lecturer

Affiliate Professor
School of Music
University of Washington

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki


Keynote and Plenary Presentations at Symposia and Conferences


Keynote, Art as a human universal. Autofocus’16, From Darwin to Dissanayake, Seminar on Architecture Philosophy Neuroscience. Instituto de Filosofia da Universidade do Porto, 8-9 November.

Keynote, Homo musicus: Are humans predispsoed to be musical? Multiple Modernities Festival, Conservatory of Music, Geneva, 3-6 November.

Keynote, 6th International Meeting of Research Groups: Convergences between Art, Science, and Technology & Mixed Realities: Experience Places. Institute of Arts, Universidade Estadual Paulista, São Paolo, Brazil. June 29-July 1.


Keynote, The Deep Structure of Music. KNEW (Kasimierz Naturalist Workshop: Putting Art and Music in Nature), Center for Philosophical Research, Kasimierz Dolny, Poland. November 6.


Keynote, Colorado Art Educators Association, Annual Conference, October.

Keynote, American Art Therapy Association Annual Conference, July 10, San Antonio.


Keynote, International Congress "Biological Anthropology: Prospects and Perspectives," Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Bolzano, 2-6 September.


Invited Participant, Symposium on Play, Ritual and Belief in Animals and Early Human Societies, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University,
13 to 16 September.

Invited Participant, Consilience Conference: Evolution in Biology, the Human Sciences, and the Humanities. University of Missouri – St. Louis, April 26-28.


Xth Annual Conference of SACCoM (Sociedad Argentina para las Ciencias Cognitivas de la Musica), Buenos Aires, 18-23 July.

Southern Graphic Council Conference, “Equilibrium,” SGC International and Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University at St. Louis, March 16-19


Third International Conference on Narrative Inquiry in Music Education (NIME3),
The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, November 24–27.

Europa InTakt: Culture and Persons With Special Needs (International Conference) Technical University, Dortmund, Germany, October 6-10.

6th Annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium: From Art to Biology and Back Again. University of Missouri, Columbia, 12 March


Second ArtsHealth Conference, University of Newcastle (Australia) ArtsHealth Centre
for Research and Practice, Oct. 7-9

International Congress of the Gesellschaft fuer Anthropologie, Munich, Sept. 15-18

University of Washington Conference on Early Learning, Seattle, June 5-6

Kolding School of Design Conference, Kolding (Denmark), March 23


International Conference, 'Crafticulation and Education'. Helsinki, Finland, September 24-26

Renee May Annual Lecture, Walters Arts Museum, Baltimore, Sept. 11

Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH) 18th Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA,
April 17

'Homo Musicus,' CDIME-NINE (Cultural Diversity in Music Education), University of Washington School of Music, March 21

Washington State Cultural Congress, Artists Trust, Leavenworth, WA, April 28-30


Art and Science Symposium, Edmonton Cultural Capital Project, Edmonton, AB, Nov. 9-10

Arts on Earth Project, Arts and Minds Symposium and Learning Event, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Nov. 1-2

Aesthetic Psychology. Department of Philosophy, University of Durham, UK, September 24-26.

The Object and Making: Function and Meaning. Conference, Haystack Mountain School of Craft, July 15-19.

VISI (Vancouver International Song Institute) and Peter Wall Symposium, Vancouver, B.C., June 17-27.


Art of the Animal, Inaugural Symposium on “The Human Question” research program, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, Nov. 27- 28.

Nordic Society for Aesthetics, Jyväskylä, Finland, May 18-21.

Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH) 15th Annual Conference, Chicago, IL, April 26-29

GReAT (Graduate Research in the Arts Today) Colloquium, University of North Carolina (Greensboro), April 21-22.


Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (Division 10 of the American Psychological Association), international conference on empirical and scientific approaches to the arts. Perm (Russia), June 1-5


Third Cognitive Science Conference: Adaptations, Environments, and Behaviour: Then and Now, Carleton University, Ottawa, CA, October 15-17.

Tri-State Sculpture Conference, Winston-Salem, NC, October 7-10

Early Childhood Commission (ECC) of International Society for Music Education (ISME), Barcelona, July 5-10.


Mathematics as Story: Symposium on Mathematics through the Lenses of Art and Technology, University of Western Ontario, London, June 13-15, 2003.

Surface Design Association Annual Meeting, Kansas City Art Institute, June 5-8.

International Quilt Study Center Inaugural Symposium, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, February 27-March 1.


California Department of Education Model Art Program Network, Arts Work Conference, San Jose, CA, May 16-18.


Art, Body, Mind. College of Fine Arts, Ohio University, Athens, Nov. 2-5.

Festival-Forum (Music), Stockholm, September 1-5.

International Society for the Experimental Study of Literature [IGEL], Toronto, August 1-4.

50th International Design Conference in Aspen, June 14-17.


International Society of Education Through Art (InSEA) World Congress, Brisbane, Australia, September 21-26.

Music and Manipulation: The Social Uses and Social Control of Music, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, September 17-19.

The Body Politic: The Role of the Body and Contemporary Craft. University of Northumbria at Newcastle, UK, September 14.

Imagination and the Adapted Mind: The Prehistory and Future of Poetry, Fiction, and Related Arts, University of California, Santa Barbara, August 26-29.

Fairmount Park Art Association New Land Marks Symposium, Philadelphia Museum of Art, May 7.


Mutual Understanding, Theory Forum of Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Rethymnon Crete, October 1-7.

Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) annual conference, Star Island NH, July 25-August 1.


International Conference of Research on Dance (ICORD), Tucson, AZ, October 31- November 3.

International Printmaking Symposium, University of Alberta, Edmonton, October 1-5

Man, Mind and Music I: The Origins of Music. The Florentine Workshops in Biomusicology, Florence, Italy, May 29-June 3.


Glass Art Society, Boston, June 8.


International Society for Education through Art (InSEA), Asian Regional Congress, Taiwan, November 10-15.

University of South Florida Symposium: The Role and Function of Art in the 21st Century, Tampa, September 22.

National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), Minneapolis, March 25

American Comparative Literature Society (ACLS), Athens, GA, March 16-18.

Getty Center for Education in the Arts Fifth National Conference, Washington, D.C., January 12-14.


American Art Therapy Association, Chicago, November 18.


European Sociobiological Society, Amsterdam, August 19-21.


Utilitarian Clay National Conference: Celebrate the Object. Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinburg, TN, September 9-10.

Getty Center for Education in the Arts Issues Seminar: Cultural Diversity in Arts Education, Barton Creek, TX, August 6-9.


Maryland State Art Educators Association, Baltimore, November 1

Wisconsin State Art Educators Association, Milwaukee, October 25

Montana State Art Educators Association, Billings, October 17.

National Association of Educators in the Arts (NAEA), Atlanta, March.


American Society for Aesthetics, The Second David and Marianna Mandel Lecture in Bioaesthetics, Tampa, FL, October 29-31.

Other Lectures


Conversation (with Sylvia Dahl) at “Potency of Process: Moving Through Breast Cancer” Symposium event, with exhibition of work by Martha Banyas and Deborah Horrell at Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, Oregon.


Guest Lectures, Department of Cognitive Semiotics, University of Lund, Sweden, November 10-14.


Guest lecture, Soka University of America, Alisa Viejo, CA, 27 March.

Guest Lecture, Visual and Performing Arts Education Program, UCLA, 19 February.


Guest Lecture, Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, 8 May

Guest Lectures, National Speaking Tour hosted by the Australian Experimental Art Foundation and the International Visitors Program of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, and supported by the three partner presenting organizations: Canberra Contemporary Art Space; Sydney College of the Arts; and the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, 17-28 March.

Guest Lecture, Origins Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, January


Guest Lectures, School of Art and the Division of Art + Design Education, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, April 10-12.


Invited Speaker at Grand Opening of New Art Facility at Florida State University, Tallahassee, October 1

Invited Distinguished Lecturer, Nevada Rock Art Foundation, co-sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art (Reno), Las Vegas (February 8), Reno (February 10)


Gambrinus Lecture, Faculty of Musik in Pädagogik und Rehabilitation, Technical University, Dortmund (Germany), October 12.

Invited University Lecture, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, 9 March

Invited Lecture, Green College, Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture, University of British Columbia, Canada, February 8

Invited Lecture, Ph.D. Program in Leadership and Change, Antioch University, Seattle, 14 January


Invited Lecture, Oregon College of Art and Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR, 29 October

Invited Lecture, Math and Science Colloquium, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA, 12 November

Invited University Lecture, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Mar. 3


Museum of Glass, Tacoma, WA, Science of Art Summit, November 6

"How Music Began," First lecture in Music and the Brain series, Library of Congress, Oct. 17

Annual Hogue-Sponenburgh lecture on art, Willamette University, Oct. 9

Renée May Lecture, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, September 11

School of Athens Lecture Series, Port Townsend, Washington, April 13

Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Finance and Management, Warsaw, Poland, March 18

Aesthetics Department, Roman Ingarden Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, March 17

University of Aarhus, Denmark, Faculty of Theology, Department of the Study of Religion's ongoing project: “Religion, Cognition and Culture”, March 14

Gyldendal Lecture of Excellence, Research Council for Culture and Communication, Syddansk Universitet, Odense, Denmark, March 10

University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Department of Film and Media Studies, March 7


Arts and Minds. Arts on Earth Learning Event, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, November 1-2.


University of Dhaka Institute of Fine Arts and Asia Society (Bangladesh), December 17

University of Dundee (Scotland), School of Design, May 5.

University of Adelaide (Australia), Department of Philosophy, Feb. 25.

University of Western Australia, Perth, Institute for Advanced Studies, February 15.

University of Western Sydney (Australia), Auditory Laboratories (MARCS), February 7


Appalachian State University Dept. of Interdisciplinary Studies, Boone, NC, Oct. 11.

Binghamton (SUNY) University, EvoS Program, September 23

Oregon Center for the Humanities Annual Cressman Lecture, Univ. of Oregon, May 6.


Detroit Institute of Arts Department of Education, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1

Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Department of Arts Education, November 10-13.

Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, “The Engaged Artist” Series, March 21.


University of Uppsala (Sweden), Departments of Literature and Aesthetics. June 4.

Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, Midwest Conference on Film, Language, and Literature,. April 4-7th.


Touchstone Center, New York City Dialogue of the Imagination Project, November 6.

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Three Lectures as Visiting Scholar (two Leon and Thea Koerner Memorial Lectures and one President's Lecture) February 5-9.


Moorhead State University Department of Art, Moorhead MN, October 17.

South Dakota State University, Brookings, October 12.

Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, March 22.

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Distinguished Speaker, Visiting Lecture Series, Halifax, March 17-18.


Froebel College, Roehampton Institute, London (UK), November 30

Royal College of Art, London (UK), the 1999 Peter Dormer Memorial Lecture, November 29.

University of Western Australia (Perth), Three Public Lectures as Distinguished Visitor, September 27-30.

Ohio University School of Art, Athens. Two public lectures, April 27 and 29.

Saint Louis University Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, St. Louis, MO, April 14.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Center for the Humanities, Monday Noon Series, Apr. 12.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, 15th Annual Percy H. Taçon Memorial Lecture, April 8.

Montana State University, Billings, Distinguished Lecture Series, March 11.

Ohio University School of Art, Athens. Two public lectures, February 23 and 25.

University of Washington Department of Art, Seattle, February 17.


University of Alberta (Edmonton) Four Public Lectures as Distinguished Visiting Speaker, September 24, October 15 and 29, November 26.


Indiana State Art Educators Association, Indianapolis, December 6.

Herron School of Art, Indiana University Visiting Artists Series, Indianapolis, Sept. 23.

SITE (Santa Fe) II, Exhibition Symposium, Santa Fe, N.M., August 8-10.

Hillwood Museum, Art Education & Art Therapy Departments, Long Island University, C. W. Post Campus, February 11.

Touchstone Center Annual Discussion-Workshop: Learning and the Imagination, New York City, February 9.


Arizona Humanities Council and Arizona State University School of Art Symposium "Science and Art: One World or Two? Evolutionary Theory and the Arts," Phoenix, November 20.

University of Arizona Department of Art, Tucson, November 14

University of Arizona Department of Psychology, Tucson, March 8.


Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, October 10.

University of Oregon Department of Art, Eugene, October 3.

Oregon School of Arts and Crafts, the first William Jamison Memorial Lecture, Portland, September 29.

Hokkaido University Department of Developmental Psychology, Sapporo, Japan, September 1-2.

Pilchuck Glass School Trustees Retreat, Stanwood, Washington, May l9-20.

Massachusetts General Hospital Neurolinguistics Laboratory, Boston, April 13.

Texas A&M University, March 31.

University of Texas at Dallas, March 29.

Edinburgh [Scotland] College of Art, February 24.

University of East Anglia Department of World Art and Museology, Norwich (UK), February 8.


University of Edinburgh (Scotland) Centre for Human Ecology Autumn Lecture Series, November 1.

American Craft Association Regional Conference, Detroit, October 15.

University of Colorado Visiting Artists Series, Boulder, March 7-11.


Simon Fraser University Department of Archaeology, Burnaby, B.C. (Canada), November 18.

University of British Columbia Department of Visual and Performing Arts in Education, Vancouver, B.C. (Canada), November 17.

American Center, Colombo, Sri Lanka (Inaugural lecture in new building), July 1.

Institute for Aesthetic Studies and Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, "What's Happened to Art? And What Is Art Anyway?" Colombo, Sri Lanka, Four lectures, May-June,

1. "Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: From the World to the Picture"

2. "Modernism: From Picture to Surface"

3. "Post-Modernism: From Surface to Representation"

4. "So What! So What Is Art Anyway?"

University of Peradeniya Faculty of Arts, Sri Lanka, Above series repeated at June-July.

Institute for Fundamental Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka, April 22.


Teachers College, in Columbia University Lecture Series: America's Cultures and Their Implications for Art Education, June 8.

New School for Social Research, in Sustaining Democracy Series: "Undiscussed Realities: Taboos as Content of Art," New York, April 21.

New School for Social Research Public Lecture Series: Issues and Ideas in Contemporary Art and Art Criticism, Coordinator, New York, February 3-March 11.


Utah State University Department of Art, Logan, November 8.

Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, April 22.


Rutgers University Symposium: Art History and Medicine: A Conference on Creativity & Mental Health, October 12.

Anchorage (Alaska) Museum of History and Art, October 5.


Touchstone Center 20th Anniversary Seminar: Seeing Inwardly: Teaching and the Artistry of the Imagination, New York City, 1989


New School for Social Research Lecture Series, New Perspectives on Contemporary Art, New York.


New School for Social Research Lecture Series, New Perspectives on Art, New York.


New School for Social Research Public Symposium, What Is Art For?, New York.

Conference Presentations and Participation


Invited Participant in Session “Art as a Human Behaviour: Challenges and Prospects Forty Years On.” Behaviour 2017, 30 July – 4 August, Estoril, Portugal.


Invited Participant, Workshop: “Putting Art and Music in Nature,” KNEW (Kasimierz Naturalist Workshop), Centre for Philosophical Research. Kasimierz-Dolny, Poland. November 5-10.


Invited Participant, International Conference, “The Aesthetic Mind and the Origin of Art,” Italian Society for Aesthetics, Florence, Italy 23-25 January.


Invited Participant, Special Symposium on the Life and Work of Denis Dutton, American Society for Aesthetics Conference, Tampa FL, October 28.

Invited Participant, International Workshop in Music, Psychology, and Evolution, UAI (Universidad Abierta Interamericana), Buenos Aires, Argentina, 18-23 July.

Invited Participant, The Origins of Pictures—Anthropological Discourses in Picture Sciences, Technical University, Chemnitz, Germany, March 29-April 1.

Honored Guest at Session “After Twenty Years, What IS Art For?” National Art Education Association annual conference, Seattle, March 19.


Session participant, International Federation of Rock Art Organizations (IFRAO), Pleistocene Art of the World. Tarascon-sur-Ariège, France, 6-11 September

Invited Symposium Organizer, International Conference on Music Cognition and Perception (ICMPC11), Seattle, WA, 23-27 August


Invited talk, Neuroaesthetics conference on neurobiological causes of art. Copenhagen, Sept. 24-26


Invited participant, Colloquium on “Literary Reading and Emotion,” Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts (MICA), Heath, MA, July 13-14


European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM), Bologna, August 22-26.

National Art Educators’ Association (NAEA) Chicago, March 26.


American Educational Research Association (AERA). San Diego, April 12-16.


American Anthropological Association Invited Session in Visual Anthropology (AAA), New Orleans, November 20-24.

South Central Modern Language Association, Austin, TX October 31-November 2.

International Musicological Society, Leuven, Belgium, August 1-7.


International Society for the Experimental Study of Literature, Toronto, August 1-4.


21st International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences, for Committee VI: Biological Foundations of Aesthetics, Washington, D.C., November 23-30.


20th International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences, for Committee VI: In Pursuit of Beauty: Biological Foundations of Aesthetics, Seoul, Korea, August 21-27

Human Behavior and Evolution Society [HBES]

“Of What Is Art A Costly Signal?” Berlin, July 21-25, 2004

"Beyond Sexual Selection," (session discussant), Rutgers University, June 19-23, 2002

"Is Mother-Infant Interaction a Ritualized Behavior?" Rutgers University, June 19-23, 2002

"The Poetics of Babytalk I: Macro-Poetics," University of Utah, Salt Lake City, June 2-6, 1999

BioAesthetics Group of HBES, “Making Special: A Signal of Fitness for What?" University of California, Davis, July 12-13, 1998

"Is Darwinian Aesthetics Relevant to Understanding Human Art Making and Experience?" University of California. Davis, July 8-12, 1998

"Protocultural Aptitudes in Early Mother-Infant Interaction,"

Northwestern University, June 26-30, 1996

'Making Special': An Undescribed Human Universal and the Core of a Behavior of Art," University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, July 23-26, 1992

"Biobehavioral Contribution to the Multicultural Curriculum Debate in Western Humanities Education," McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario, August 22-25, 1991

"Music as a Human Behavior: An Hypothesis of Evolutionary Origin and Function," University of California at Los Angeles, August 16-19, 1990

College Art Association [CAA]

"Aesthetic Incunabula." in Are We Experienced?, 89th Annual Conference, Chicago, Feb. 28-March 3, 2001

"Darwin and Everyday Aesthetics," in Examining the Theoretical and Art Historical Possibilities of Everyday Aesthetics, 85th Annual Conference, New York, February 12-15, 1997

International Society for Human Ethology Biennial Conference [ISHE]

“Art and Anxiety,” Ghent, Belgium, July 27-30, 2004

"Ritualized Features in Mother-Infant Interactions as Antecedents of Adult Affiliative Behaviors," Vancouver, Canada, August 19-23, 1998