Art forms for aliens to earth

So if aliens landed tomorrow, what earth art form would be most recognizable as “art”? Some versions of painting and sculpture I can imagine, certainly, but since I run more in music circles, I would tend to vote “opera”, and I don’t even own any opera.

Votes, suggestions?

It really depends. How much of our love of and appreciation for music is dependent upon the way our brains are wired and process information? It could be that aliens have no appreciation whatsoever of music, including poetry. Or they could be hypoersensitive to it, and think our rhythmless prose to be hopelessly unreadable (while they write even their computer instruction manuals in beautiful meter). That’s one of the things that makes them alien – they can be unpredictably different.

My uess would be that they’re somewhat similar to us, and that potentially all Teran arts are interesting to them. Bear in mind that this means more than appreciation of Western art, or even Western Art of a particular type. They’re as likely to respond to Chinese Opera and Tuvan doubkle-voice singing, to Khoisan language clicks. to Victorian patter songs and modern rap, as to Modern abstract art, Arabic Calligraphy, and Indian sitar music.

I don’t see any reason that any visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, or gustatory art might not be open to them. They will, of course, not respond in the same way (or maybe even at all) to thinghs particularly human – erotic art, novels rooted in human experiences, meals cooked for the human palate. But they might like any of the forms, adapted to their circumstances.

Music, as I understand it, seems to have a strong hardwired component to it. Such as musical scales; as I recall there’ve been experiments with alternate scales, and some are just seriously irritating or disturbing to humans ( no details; I read this way back in the 80’s ).

Now, as far as I know, nobody knows why we are wired to like a particular variety of sound patterns and not others, but the odds seem good to me that it’s some quirk of the nervous system that an alien is unlikely to share. There’s no apparent evolutiony reason why we should like music, after all. I wouldn’t be surprised if aliens either had no such thing as music, or that what they thought of a music is just noise to us and visa versa.

As for other art forms, a lot would depend on just how alien they are. For example, imagine a species that has no or only crude eyes, and mainly depends on bat style sonar, scent and sensing electrical/magnetic fields. Such a creature might very well not even recognise a painting as an image, while we might not realize that the slightly magnetized and ridged metal sheet it’s carrying is a picture of it’s mother.

It may be that aliens would interpret the performing arts as varieties of religious ritual; even paintings and sculpture could be interpreted as religious idols or icons. If I were an alien anthropologist, that would be my first impression. Why else would people gather in silence to observe other people go through preordained motions and recite words that others have written, or gather in silence to observe images and objects presented with great reverence?

Since this can only be wild speculation anyway, I’m going to give the answer that I thought of, which might have been totally different if the question had hit my brain at a different random moment:


The aliens are likely to recognize that we have to eat, but that the things we eat and the activities connected with eating are far more elaborate than what is necessary for sheer biological survival.

I forgot about cooking as an art. Good point.

My thought was that the inherent properties of complementary sound frequencies combining might be the most universally liked thing that we dabble in.

see the last line of my post above on cooking as an art – it could be, but would depend upon how their bodies are set up.
The idea’s been handled many times in SF. One of Ted White’s space hospital books features an alien master chef whose philosophy is to make gour,met meals for all races (different ones in each case, of course)

I for one welcome our new art overlords.

Maybe it would be those beautiful lines criss-crossing the country, some of them lit up at night, with the fascinating mobile objects of varying sizes and speeds scurrying across them so that the scene is never static and always changes in fascinating ways.

James White, The Galactic Gourmet.

They might see the large oval sports stadiums in many of our cities and the smaller oval-shaped bowls in our bathrooms and conclude our toilets are miniature altars we visit and make sacrifices to when we’re not gathering in large numbers to worship while watching ritual combat and musical performances.

Zerb: What is the name of this entertainment?
Human: It’s called musical theatre
Zerb: And the name of this example of ‘musical theatre’ is?
Human: It’s a show called Guys and Dolls
Zerb: Why does not Sarah Brown want to go to Havana, Cuba with Sky Masterson again?
Human: What do you mean ‘again’?
Zerb: When we were entertained by this example of musical theatre yesterday and the day before that, Sarah Brown did also not initially want to go to Havana, Cuba with Sky Masterson. Why does this happen again and again?
Human: Oh!, I see. It’s because shows like this usually have a script that defines everything that will happen - the actors learn the script so that they can tell the same story to a different audience each night.
Zerb: Why is this so? Why does not Sarah Brown simply do what she wishes?
Human: Sarah Brown is a fictional character, in this case, played by an actress named Loiuse Dearman
Zerb: Why does Louise Dearman not want to go to Havana, Cuba with Sky Masterson?
Human: Tell you what, why don’t we go and watch a football game?
Zerb: Ah. yes. football. Why do not the players join forces to propel the ball in a single direction?
**Human: **Because… because…

(I think there’s a strong possibility they just wouldn’t get any of our entertainment)

That’s awesome. :smiley: :smiley:

Ok, I figured it couldn’t be hard to google that book, but apparently the web is awash in names and acronyms of “zerb”, and using quotes and Sarah Brown didn’t work either. What’s that from?

It’s not a quotation - I just wrote it myself (I thought that would be obvious - you’re not a Zerb are you?)

We can’t discuss this question until we have answered the following question:

What alien concepts count as concepts of “art?”


Well, before that, I think we need to define ‘art’ - that’s tricky enough in itself.

Futurama handled this topic. Aliens have been receiving our signals for thousands of years. A race comes to Earth and discusses their issues with the show:

“The show you call ‘Friends’ puzzles us. For example, the one you call ‘Ross’ is the largest – why does he not simply eat all the others?”

They wouldn’t be kosher, would they?

Perhaps they are saving that for sweeps.

Your description is a bit off. The aliens are from the eighth planet of Omicron Persei (a real star about 1000 light-years from Earth). In 1999, Philip Fry spills beer on a console of the New York studios of 20th-Century Fox, interrupting a broadcast of the season finale of Single Female Lawyer. The Omicronian leader, Lrrr, is angered by this interuption and threatens to destroy Earth if a satisfactory ending to the episode is not supplied. At the end of that episode (“When Aliens Attack”), Lrrr mentions a desire to get home in time to catch then end of a Jay Leno monologue. The only other reference to the Omicronians’ viewing habits is in “Love and Rocket”, when Lrrr mentions casually to his wife Ndnd that he finds the show they are watching is foolish, asking why Ross, the largest Friend, simply does not eat the other five. He eventually gives up on the broadcast, noting disparagingly that it’s a “Joey-heavy episode.”