Walk into any hotel, house, office building, museum, art gallery, or any place where there are paintings or photographs hanging on the wall, and chances are that you will see a pastoral landscape.
Looking for protection, food, and water — According to Denis Dutton, a philosopher and the author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, this is because of evolution and the Pleistocene era. (see Dutton’s TED talk: http://bit.ly/cIj9uo). Dutton says that this typical landscape scene includes hills, water, trees (that are good for hiding in if a predator comes by), birds and animals, and a path moving through the scene. This is an ideal landscape for humans (protection, water, food).
Beauty helps us survive — Dutton’s theory about beauty is that we have evolved to feel a need for certain types of beauty in our life, and that this pull towards things such as these landscapes has helped us to survive as a species. He notes that all cultures value artwork that has these scenes, even people who have never lived in a geographical location that looks like this.
Pastoral scenes promote healing — Roger Ulrich (1984) found that patients whose hospital window overlooked scenes of nature had shorter stays in the hospital, and needed less pain medication compared to patients whose rooms looked onto a brick wall.
What do you think? Are we “programmed” to like scenes that represent our best survival? Is our definition of beauty based on places to live where we have the best chance of survival?
And if you want to read the research:
Ulrich, R.S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421.