I've been spending a lot of time regarding art lately; I've visited quite a few musea, and accompanied my daughter Meg on a number of visits to art schools. Fine art, like music, is a great mystery; we humans love it, but it is very personal and the attraction is difficult to explain. Why art?
Twelve years ago I tried to explain beauty in terms of evolution. I concluded "the way we humans use beauty as a classification does indeed appear to bear a relationship to the things' survival value, whether they be potential mates, objects, or ideas. This doesn't mean our sense of beauty did evolve via natural selection, but it could have." Well that was a fine effort, but ... I don't know, there might be more to it. The evolutionary approach explains how and why we might have evolved a sense of beauty, but not why specific things are beautiful to us.
It is especially interesting to compare functional art to conceptual art. Today I visited the Getty Villa - always fun and amazing - where the Getty's collection of ancient Greek and Roman art is displayed. Most of this is functional; everyday objects decorated with art, or art made to record events and people. Even the most beautiful of these do not move me, I can appreciate them and even admire them, but they don't connect emotionally. By comparison I recently visited the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, which both have strong collections of more contemporary work. Much of this art is conceptual, objects made as art, to communicate ideas and feelings.