Why Fashion Evolved

My theory of human evolution says that fashion (changing preferences for well-made goods) evolved so that artisans — the innovators of long ago — would not do the same thing over and over. In an excellent interview, music producer T Bone Burnett says something similar:

I don’t believe in crowdsourcing [for artists] because you’ll end up doing the same thing over and over again. People tend to want artists to do the same thing, and it is incumbent upon artists to do something that the audience doesn’t want — yet.

I’ve had a hard time finding interesting work by economists on the causes of innovation. It isn’t just institutional structures (“extractive” versus “inclusive”), as Acemoglu and Robinson say in Why Nations Fail. (Better title: One Reason Nations Fail.) An exception is Nathan Rosenberg, an emeritus professor at Stanford, for example this paper about aircraft design.




2 Replies to “Why Fashion Evolved”

  1. “That’s one thing that’s always, like, been a difference between, like, the performing arts, and being a painter, you know. A painter does a painting, and he paints it, and that’s it, you know. He has the joy of creating it, it hangs on a wall, and somebody buys it, and maybe somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere until he dies. But he never, you know, nobody ever, nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.” – Joni Mitchell

  2. Thanks for the T. Bone link. His comments are golden. With the dominance of YouTube, listening to/watching any musical group is one click away, much to the detriment of sound quality.
    On one hand I can watch an amazing group of Kinshasa musicians, on the other it might sound like crud.
    Which is more important, access or quality? It will never be both.
    This is similar to looking at a Jackson pollock on an iPad.

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