To survive, we must tell stories
--Umberto Eco The Island of the Day Before
Wrapping an emotion in words until it is encapsulated in a poem is a technique I discovered as a teenager and still use to avoid being overwhelmed. In this way, poetry has been important in my life. However, research into people's preferences in art and brain chemistry indicate that art may truly be crucial to humanity's survival.
On the TED Radio Hour's episode What is Beauty?, philosopher Dennis Dutton brings up
an experiment by Alexander Melamid. He analyzed people's taste in art and found that the universally desired landscape was one that was perfect for survival on the African savannas. For example, people prefer pictures of trees with a low branch, which would be advantageous in escaping a predator and always want water in the picture. So we find beautiful that which we need for survival.
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron claims that humans like stories because, as we put ourselves in the place of the protagonist, we are practicing dealing with situations we've yet to experience. "It's a human universal," she says in a Tedx Talk. Stories feel good because they are so crucial for our survival.
Research like this brings a whole new meaning to using art for survival. We strive to find the most beautiful landscape... because it has all the elements necessary for our survival. We crave the character arc... because it gives us a safe way to practice our skills. Although raw survival might be different in the modern age, the need for beauty hasn't diminished and neither has the ability of art to satisfy that need.