Geoffrey Miller and David Byrne


, Kelly, and myself headed over to the Institute of Contemporary Art to attend a talk given by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller and David Byrne of Talking Heads as well as his solo work in music, photography, and other art.  The topic was “Connections Between Biology and Culture, Sex and Beauty, Genes and Creativity”.  I am not ashamed to admit that the reason I attended this event was simply to hear Byrne talk, as it is likely the closest I will get to a Talking Heads concert…   But I was pleasantly surprised that both lecturers were very entertaining.

Miller’s talk seemed to be a quick overview of some of his research, not getting to terribly technical, but still conveying the important points.  His main hypothesis centered around creative expression (including traditional forms like music, fine art, etc, but also including things like ornamentation) and how it effects gene selection through mate selection.  Adam was a little annoyed that he did some hand-waving regarding some of the genetics, but it was a 20 minute talk at an art museum, so I gave him some latitude.  He totally inspired me to check out his book, The Mating Mind, to further explore these ideas.

David Byrne was actually kind of surprising…  He began the talk explaining how before he got into a band he was powerfully nervous in public settings and interactions, but he said he had improved over the years.  I’m not sure if this is what cause his very nervous presentation, or if it was just newer material he wasn’t too comfortable yet (or both), but it was a little distracting at first.  Once I got used to his delivery though, I found his talk to be very interesting..  He explored the art world in general, and how the actual art products worth is negligible, and any value we assign to these products are often based on more abstract feelings and ideas.  What was really interesting was when he started to explore ideas of how “art rules” change as technology allows easier reproduction.  How realism was de-emphasized in painting when technologies like the camera allowed us to easier reproduce real-world scenes with the push of a button.  It was more a collection of observations than any kind of scientific hypothesis, but he’s an artist, so I didn’t expect the latter… :)

I bought a copy of Byrne’s new book, Arboretum, which is a collection of pencil sketches of mental maps.  The maps are often digaramming nonsensical connections, and the publishers did an amazing job of reproducing these sketches, they actually look like they were drawn into a blank book in pencil.  I was fortunate enough to be able to personally thank David for the talk and have him autograph (and add a little abstract sketch to) my copy of the book..  All in all it was pretty awesome.

5 thoughts on “Geoffrey Miller and David Byrne

  1. Did he show the powerpoint presentations? Or has he moved on from that medium? Bill and I got to see the mental map pictures and powerpoints at the Eastman House when David Byrne came to Rochester. :)

  2. does he not perform solo anymore? I saw him in Rochester and he (and his band) played a lot of Talking Heads songs. I met him afterwards and he’s a very interesting character.

    sounds like a great talk, though. maybe he’ll come out to chicago.

  3. the byrne talk was horrible

    i too was at the ica that night and your description of the byrne talk was far nicer than mine… clearly, you’re a fan. :) byrne rambled on for way too long without having any clear point to present. he seemed fascinated by miller’s work but didn’t have anything novel or interesting to say about it. he just needed to develop his ideas a little more; otherwise, it sounded like a nervous, under-prepared high school presentation.

    it was amazing. and i think the only real reason many people came to see him was due to his talking heads fame. i hope that other talks at the ICA by well-known artists will be better than this one.

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