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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 15, 2014

Zoo-aesthetics: A natural step after Darwin

Katya Mandoki
From the journal Semiotica


As a category, poiesis can be extended beyond the standard anthropocentric use and applied across three radically different scales: auto-poiesis in everyday self-organization of every living creature, phylo-poiesis in the shaping of a species by sexual selection across various generations and onto-poiesis as an individual's development of formal skills and creative modification of its environment.

In this paper, I apply these distinctions and argue, following Darwin and Sebeok, for the possibility of considering poietic and aesthetic manifestations among various animal species in their ability of both appreciating and expressing rhythm, visual decorative patterns, and chromatic qualities. In music we can find song and equivalents to instrumental playing (cicadas and crickets), theater in representing fictitious situations (killdeer's broken wing act and playing), acrobatic skills (various types of woodcocks and paradise birds) and dancing (cranes and eleonora cockatoo). I do not claim there is animal art, since the very concept of the “artistic” is a result of convention. What I do assert, however, is that human aesthetic appreciation did not emerge ex nihilo nor was granted by God to humans only (as Wallace believed) but has evolutionary relevance and is preceded by the zoo-aesthetics in many other species.

Published Online: 2014-2-15
Published in Print: 2014-2-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston