Ellen Dissanayake

Author and Lecturer

Affiliate Professor
School of Music
University of Washington

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

Photograph by Ekkehart Malotki

General Articles on the Arts

Evolution of the Arts

2009 The Birth of the Arts, Greater Good Magazine (Winter), pp. 20-23

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.

1995 What is art for? Conversation in Suzi Gablik, Conversations Before the End of Time. New York and London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 37-55.

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 Art for life’s sake, The World & I (April), pp. 571-583.


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.

2006 The musical impulse. Chamber Music 23 (3), 32-35. The musical impulse. Chamber Music 23 (3), 32-35.

Rock Art

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.

Art Therapy

1995 Reflecting on the past: implications of prehistory and infancy for art therapy, ARTherapy 12(1): 17-23.

Craft and Design

2015 What ancient marks reveal about modern makers, American Craft August/September, 98-100.

2010 Two Essays, in The Haystack Reader: Collected Essays on Craft, 1991-2009. Orono, ME: University of Maine Press and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 175-192.
(orig. monograph publ. 2001 as a Haystack Institute Monograph. Deer Isle, Maine: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, pp. 1-16).

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. Download PDF

1998 The beginnings of artful form. Surface Design Journal 22(2): 4-6.

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. Download PDF

1995 Beyond nostalgia, Borderline Clay (NCECA -- National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts – 1995 Journal), pp. 80-87.


2007 When meaning and function disappear, what gets translated?, in S-U-B, Translation, Konstnärsmänden, Sweden, pp. 19-32.

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.

1993 The depiction of sexuality in art: from premodern awe to postmodern ennui, The World & I (January), 595-609.

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).

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. Download PDF

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). Download PDF

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]. Download PDF

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. Download PDF

1986 Kandyan jewelry, Ornament 9(4): 34-43 [the first published comprehensive study of the subject] Download PDF

1985 The Kandyan malaya: Garlands of fruits, seeds, and flowers, Serendib 4(2): 12-16. Download PDF

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. Download PDF

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. Download PDF

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)]