Ian Verstegen

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20112012 Forum on Adaptations

Ian Verstegen

Director of Graduate Studies; Art Education, Interior Design, Studio Art; Moore College of Art & Design

Cognitive Glue and the Veneration and Destruction of Images

Works of art are adapted to social contexts via cognitive 'glue,' the perceptual and behavioral salience that guide reactions to stimuli. Hardly reductive in nature, such an approach fulfills Darwin's plan for explanation by way of natural selection in culture through stratified explanation. Using the example of early modern veneration and destruction of images, it can be shown that a cognitive approach does not unduly introduce biological, evolutionary or ethological presumptions into the interpretation of art and art-related behavior. Rather, this very cognitive salience, which may have partially shaped through adaptive pressures in the past, is demonstrated at its own level. By making such an 'adaptive' approach defensible, the larger project of a Darwinian interpretation of nature is made feasible in the humanities.