Semiotic Evolution and Cultural Dynamics: the Arts in Culture


Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands

Summary of Research Project

The main goal of this research is to address, from a new theoretical perspective, the problem of the historical evolution in the arts. The project revives a tradition of research that was based upon the assumption that the historical evolution of the arts is determined by general underlying cultural structures. In line with this tradition, the research proposed will focus upon theevolution of semiotic deep structures.

The theory of semiotic evolution will provide an analysis of the logic that underlies cultural evolution. This logic, which is recursive, is modelled in a bandwidth model of semiotic evolution. It will be argued that the historical evolution of the arts is determined by the changing place and function, within the spectrum of the semiotic bandwidth that structures a culture, of one specific type of semiosis, namely: figurative (meta-) semiosis.

Signs and semiosis are mental realities, and a theory of semiosis is therefore necessarily also a theory of mental behaviour. To provide the theory of semiotic evolution, as well as the theory of art as figurative (meta-) semiosis, with a firm ground in the sciences of cognition, it will be related to relevant research in the neurosciences and evolutionary psychology.

In four case studies, the theory of semiotic and artistic evolution will be put to the test. The research will focus upon the consequences, for figurative (meta-) semiosis, of the increasing dominance of theoretical semiosis in Western culture in four different historical periods (classical antiquity; the late middle ages; the eighteenth century; contemporary global culture).

Keywords: semiotics; evolution; culture; art; cognition

Contacts: B.P.van.Heusden@rug.nl

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