Evolutionary aesthetics: rethinking the role of function in art and design

Graham Coulter-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The liaison between fine art, architecture and design evident in De Stijl and Constructivism in the early 20c was relinquished in the second half of the 20c due to a critical approach to rational design and rationalism inspired by Dada and Surrealism’s project of bringing art into life in an interventionist and subversive manner. The modernist slogan ‘form follows function’ ceased to play any role in postmodern art. In terms of the contemporary relationship between art and design we find ourselves caught between a thesis and antithesis that awaits an effective synthesis. It is argued that a pathway toward resolving the antithesis between functionalism and anti-functionalism can be found in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘machinic’. The machinic is both a natural process—Deleuze and Guattari refer to molecular genetic machinery (RNA, DNA, ribosomes and biomolecular communication systems effected by genes and protein mechanisms)—and a concept of human technology as a ‘second nature’, effectively a meta-evolutionary process. Considering notions of the machinic and molecularity leads my argument to the concept of a ‘cosmic combinatoire’. Although there is no designer in nature there is a remarkable serendipity wherein chance interactions between molecules lead on to more and more complex machines: prebiotic molecules > nucleic acids > viruses > proteins >single-celled organisms > multicellular organisms > nervous systems > brains > societies and culture. Deleuze and Guattari use the linguistic term “double articulation” to describe such processes thereby indicating that there is something akin to a language/system/structure at play albeit motivated by pure chance. Seen through the philosophical lens of the Deleuzian-Guattarian concepts of molecularity and the ‘machinic’ evolutionary theory could serve as a basis for a potential synthesis between aesthetic theory based on chance and aesthetic theory based on design.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-91
Number of pages7
JournalTechnoetic Arts: a journal of speculative research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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