Ellen Dissanayake

Author and Lecturer

Affiliate Professor
School of Music
University of Washington

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

Book Chapters and Other Scholarly Writing

(“Making Special,” Art as a behavior)

2018 The concept of artification. In Ekkehart Malotki and Ellen Dissanayake, Early Rock Art of the American West: The Geometric Enigma. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 23-45. Download PDF

2017Ethology, interpersonal neurobiology, and play: Insights into the evolutionary origin of the arts. American Journal of Play 9:2, 143-168. Download PDF

2017Roots and route of the artification hypothesis. Avant: Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies 8 (1). Download PDF

2014A 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

2014The artful species engages in art behaviours. Commentary on Stephen Davies, The Artful Species. Estetika: the Central European Journal of Aesthetics 7(1): 101-104.

2013Born 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. Download PDF

2013Genesis 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. Download PDF

2009The artification hypothesis and its relevance to cognitive science, evolutionary aesthetics, and neuroaesthetics. Special Issue on Aesthetic Cognition. Cognitive Semiotics 5, 148-173. Download PDF

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 “Making Special”: An undescribed human universal and the core of a behavior of art, pp. 27-46 in Brett Cooke and Frederick Turner, eds., Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts. Lexington, KY: ICUS.

Evolution of the Behaviour of Art

Ancestral Mother Infant Interaction (Evolution of in ancestral humans, concomitants today of, baby-talk)

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. Download PDF

2003 [with David Miall] The poetics of babytalk. Human Nature 14(4) 337-364. Download PDF

1999Antecedents of musical meaning in the mother-infant dyad, pp. 367-397 in Brett Cooke and Frederick Turner, eds., Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts. Lexington, KY: ICUS.

Evolution of the Arts

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, 87-98. In Colin Renfrew, Iain Morley, and Michael Boyd, eds., Play, Ritual, and Belief in Evolution and Early Human Societies. Cambridge University Press. Download PDF

2011 In the beginning, evolution created religion and the arts, The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture 2, 64-81. Download PDF

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.

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

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.

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

2001 Kunst als menschliche Universalie: Eine adaptionistische Betrachtung (“Art as a human behavior: an adaptationist view”), in Peter M. Hejl (trans. & 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.

(2013) English Translation: 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. Download PDF

(2009) Polish Translation: Sztuka jako ludzkie uniwersalium: spojrzenie adaptacjonistyczne, Estetyka i Krytyka 15/16 (2/2008-1/2009), Uniwersytet Jagielloñski-Krakow, pp. 247-263.

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. Download PDF

1998 Komar and Melamid discover Pleistocene taste, Philosophy and Literature 22(2):486-496. Download PDF

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
(2020) French translation by Pierre Leger, Expérience esthétique et évolution humaine. Revue Proteus,no 16, l’oeuvre d’art réussie, Benjamin Riado (coord.), pp. 52-65.

1980 Art as a human behavior: toward an ethological view of art. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38(4): 397-406. Download PDF
(1991) reprinted in Howard Smagula (ed.), Re-Visions: New Perspectives of Art Criticism, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, pp. 124-137.

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.

Biological and Neurobiological Underpinnings of Aesthetics and the Arts

2015 “Aesthetic primitives”: Fundamental biological elements of a naturalistic aesthetics. Aisthesis: Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico 8(1): 6-24. Downlaod PDF

2011 Prelinguistic and preliterate substrates of poetic narrative, Special Issue on Narrative and the Emotions, Poetics Today 32(1), 55-79. Download PDF.
(2016) Italian translation by Roberta Dreon. Prima del linguaggio e della scrittura: I substrati della narrazione poetica. Ermeneutica letteraria 12:119-130.

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

2001 Aesthetic Incunabula, Philosophy and Literature 25(2): 335-346. Download PDF
(2017) Italian translation by Mariagrazia Portera:"Incunaboli estetici" Atque. Materiali tra filosofia e psicoterapia,nuova, 20:109-124.

Literature and the Imagination

2022 Ellen Dissanayake in Conversation (with Lynne Conner), in Matthew Reason, Lynne Conner, Katya Johanson and Ben Walmsley, eds. Routledge Companion to Audiences and the Performing Arts, pp. 24-36. DOI: 10.4324/9781003033226-3

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. Download PDF

2001 Becoming Homo Aestheticus: Sources of Aesthetic Imagination in Mother-Infant Interactions. SubStance #94/95: 85-103. Download PDF

1997 Empty cups and secret lanterns: the rewards of idleness, The Touchstone Center Journal: Writings on the Imagination, pp. 43-51. Download PDF

1996 Darwin meets literary theory: critical discussion, Philosophy and Literature 20(1): 229-239.


2022 Lament and Liminality: A Musical Prototype of Early Art Making. In Jonathan Friedmann (ed.). Music in Human Experience: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on a Musical Species [pp. ____] Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.

2021 Ancestral human mother-infant interaction was an adaptation that gave rise to music and dance. Commentary to P. E. Savage, et al., “Music as a coevolved system for social bonding.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 44, p. 68.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X20001144

2018 Homo musicus: Are humans biologically predisposed to be musical?, 17-28. In Dusan Bogdanovich and Xavier Bouvier, eds., Tradition and Synthesis: Multiple Modernities for Composers and Performers. Lévis Québec: Doberman-Yppen.

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.

2012 The earliest narratives were musical, Research Studies in Music Education. 34(1) 3–14. Download PDF

2010 Tracking Musical Chills 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

2009Bodies swayed to music: The temporal arts as integral to ceremonial ritual. In Stephen Malloch & Colwyn Trevarthen (eds.), Communicative Musicality. Oxford: Oxfored University Press, pp. 533-544. Download PDF

2008 If music is the food of love, what about survival and reproductive success? Musicae Scientiae Special Issue: 169-195. Download PDF
(2010) French translation: 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.

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

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.

Rock Art

2019 Caring for cupules, pp. 10-23. In Joke Brouwer & Sjoerd van Tuinen, eds. To Mind is to Care. Rotterdam: V2_Publishing. Download PDF

2018 Ancestral minds and the spectrum of symbol, pp. 91-129. In Ekkehart Malotki and Ellen Dissanayake, Early Rock Art of the American West: The Geometric Enigma. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Download PDF

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Art Education

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


2014 Denis Dutton: Appreciation of the man and discussion of the work. Philosophy and Literature 38:1. Download PDF

2011 Doing without the ideology of art. New Literary History 42(1), 71-79.

2007 Comment on "Videophilia," Journal of Developmental Processes 2(1): 145-147. 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

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.

1990 Of transcribing and superliteracy, The World & I (October), pp. 575-587. Download PDF

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.