M.I.A. Library: L.S. Vygotsky
First Published: 1971;
Source: Psychology of Art;
Publisher: MIT Press;
Translated: Scripta Technical
Transcription/Markup: Nate Schmolze (marxists.org) 2000.
This work has been reproduced in accordance to § 108 of U.S. copyright law (Title 17, p. 16). This distribution is made in accordance to the requirements under § 108: (1) without the purpose of any commercial advantage; (2) in a collection that is open to the public; and (3) includes a notice of copyright of the reproduced work.
“Aesthetics from above” and “aesthetics from below”. Marxist theory of art and psychology. Social and individual psychology of art. Subjective and objective psychology of art. The objective-analytical method and its application.
If we were to draw a boundary dividing all the trends of contemporary aesthetics into two great directions, we would think of psychology. These two directions, the psychological and the nonpsychological, cover everything that is going on in aesthetics. Fechner aptly speaks of an “aesthetics from above” and an “aesthetics from below.”
It might seem that we are dealing here not only with two different areas of one and the same science, but with two independent disciplines, each of which has its own subject and its own method of study. Some continue to regard aesthetics largely as a speculative science, while others, such as O. Kiilpe, are inclined to believe that “at the present time aesthetics is in a state of transition ... the speculative method of post-Kantian idealism has almost completely been abandoned. Empirical investigation, however is influenced by psychology. To us aesthetics is the teaching of aesthetic behavior (Verhalten), that is to say, the general state produced in a person by an aesthetic impression. We must regard aesthetics as the psychology of aesthetic enjoyment and artistic creativity.”
Volkelt holds the same view. “An aesthetic object” he says, “... acquires its specific aesthetic character only through the perception, feeling, and imagination of the person perceiving it.”
This idea of psychology has been recently espoused by such scholars as Veselovskii. The general idea has been quite appropriately expressed by Volkelt: “Psychology must become the basis for aesthetics.” “The first, most urgent task of aesthetics is, of course, to provide a detailed and subtle psychological analysis of art, rather than metaphysical speculations.”
A diametrically opposed view was held in the antipsychological trends of German philosophy, which became so powerful over the past decade, and a compendium of which can be found in H. Shpet’s article. The polemic between the adherents of the two viewpoints was carried on mainly with negative arguments and the demonstration of each other’s weaknesses. The fundamental futility of this exercise made the debate tedious and delayed any practical solution of the problem.
Aesthetics from above drew its laws and evidence from the “nature of the soul,” from metaphysical premises, or from speculative constructions. It took itself for a somewhat special existential category, and even such distinguished psychologists as Lipps did not escape this common fate. Aesthetics from below, on the other hand, concerned itself with extraordinarily primitive experiments in order to clarify the most basic aesthetic relationships; it was thus incapable of lifting itself even slightly above this combination of primordial and fundamentally meaningless facts. It became ever more obvious that both aesthetic trends were in the throes of a deep crisis. Many authors realized that the substance and nature of the crisis went far beyond what might have been regarded as the crisis of an individual trend. The original premises of both trends as well as their scientific bases of investigation and methods suddenly turned out to be false. This became obvious when the crisis spread to both the empirical psychology and the German idealistic philosophy of recent decades.
To break this deadlock, a radical change in the basic principles of investigation, the selection of totally new methods, and a new definition of the problem are necessary.
As concerns aesthetics from above, it is obvious that a theory can be developed only from sociological and historical bases. It is equally obvious that art will become the object of scientific study only if it is regarded as one of the vital functions of society, intimately connected with all the other spheres of social life in its material-historical state. Of all the sociological trends in art theory, the most consistent in its progress is the theory of historical materialism, which tries to base the scientific analysis of art on the principles applied to the study of all phenomena of social life. From this point of view art is usually regarded as one of the forms of ideology arising, as do all other forms, as a structure superimposed on economic and productive relations. It is quite obvious that since aesthetics from below was always empirical and positive, the Marxist theory of art would make a clear-cut attempt to introduce such a psychology into aesthetics. Lunacharskii even goes so far as to view aesthetics as a branch of psychology.
Nonetheless, it would be quite superficial to assert that art has no evolutionary law of its own. The flow of water is determined by its bed and its banks. Sometimes water stretches out in a stagnant pond. Sometimes it flows in a calm majestic current. Then it may swirl and foam along a stony bed, or drop in waterfalls, turn right or left, or even turn back. But no matter how clear it is that the course of a brook is determined by the inflexible laws imposed by outside conditions, its essence is determined by the laws of hydrodynamics, laws which we cannot derive from the outward conditions of flow without having some knowledge about the nature of water.
For this theory, the boundary that formerly divided aesthetics from above from aesthetics from below, follows a totally different course. Now it separates the sociology of art from the psychology of art and shows each of these fields its own characteristic point of view concerning one and the same object of investigation.
Plekhanov, in his studies on art, distinguishes very sharply between the two views. He points out that the psychological mechanisms which define the aesthetic behavior of man are determined by sociological causes. Therefore, psychology studies the effect of these mechanisms, while sociology studies their causality. “Man’s nature is such that he can have aesthetic tastes and concepts. His environmental conditions make this possibility a reality; the environment accounts for the fact that a given social individual (or a given society, people, or class) has certain aesthetic tastes and concepts rather than others. ...”
Thus, at various stages of his social evolution, man receives from nature different impressions, because he sees nature from different points of view.
Of course, the effect of the general laws governing man’s psychological nature is not interrupted during any of these stages. But since at different periods “man’s mind receives anything but homogeneous and identical material, it is not surprising that the results from processing that material are anything but identical.” “... to what extent can the psychological laws be regarded as a key to explanation of the history of ideology in general and the history of art in particular? In the psychology of seventeenth-century man, the principle of antithesis played exactly the same role as in that of our contemporaries. Why, then, are our aesthetic tastes diametrically opposed to those of seventeenth century man? Because we find ourselves in a totally different condition. This means that we are about to reach a conclusion well known to us: the psychological nature of man makes it possible for him to have aesthetic concepts, and Darwin’s principle of antithesis (the Hegelian dialectic) plays an extremely important role, hitherto not sufficiently explained, in the mechanism of these concepts. Why, however, a given social individual has precisely these rather than other tastes; why he likes precisely these rather than other objects – this depends upon environmental conditions.”
Plekhanov, better than anyone else, was able to explain the theoretical and methodological need for the psychological investigation of the Marxist theory of art. In his words, “all ideologies have one common root: the psychology of a given era.”
Using the examples of Hugo, Berlioz, and Delacroix, he shows how the psychological romanticism of their era gave birth to three different forms of ideological romanticism in three completely different fields: poetry, music, and painting. In the formula given by Plekhanov to express the relationship between the base and the superstructure, we have five sequential elements:
1. The state of productive forces
2. The economic conditions
3. The sociopolitical regime
4. The psyche of social man
5. Various ideologies reflecting the properties of this psyche.
Thus, the psyche of social man is viewed as the general substratum common to all the ideologies of a given era, including art. And we also recognize that art is determined and conditioned by the psyche of social man.
Instead of the old antagonism, we now find some harmony between the psychological and anti-psychological trends in aesthetics. There is also a more precise demarcation between them on the basis of Marxist sociology. This sociological system, the philosophy of historical materialism, is of course not likely to explain anything on the basis of human psyche as the ultimate cause. But it is also not likely to reject or ignore the psyche and the significance of its study as an auxiliary mechanism, which, together with economic relationships and the sociopolitical regime, generates ideologies. When investigating complex art forms, this theory insists on the need of studying the psyche, because the distance between economic relations and ideological form grows constantly greater; hence, art can no longer be explained as a direct consequence of economic conditions. Plekhanov had this in mind when he compared the dance of Australian aborigines with the eighteenth-century minuet. “To understand the dance of Australian native women, it suffices to know the role played in the tribal life of Australian aborigines by women gathering wild-growing plants. To understand the minuet, however, it does not suffice to know the economy of eighteenth-century France. We are dealing here with a dance that expresses the psychology of a nonproductive class. ... Therefore, the economic ‘factor’ yields its place and position to the psychological factor. We must remember, however, that the emergence of nonproductive classes in human society is a product of economic evolution.”
Thus, the Marxist approach to art, especially in its more complex forms, necessarily involves the study of the psychophysical effect of artistic creation.
A subject of sociological investigation may be an ideology as such, or else it may be dependent upon certain forms of social evolution. But no sociological investigation per se (i.e., not complemented by psychological investigation) will ever be able to expose the prime cause of any ideology, the psyche of social man. To determine the methodological boundary between the different viewpoints, it is of paramount importance to understand what distinguishes psychology from ideology. We can now understand the distinct role assigned to art as a special ideological form dealing with a totally distinct and peculiar aspect of the human psyche. And, if we are to understand this particular characteristic of art and to know what exactly distinguishes it and its action from all other ideological forms, we cannot but resort to psychological analysis. Art systematizes a very special sphere in the psyche of social man – his emotions. While it is true that all the realms of the psyche are generated by the same causes, it is also true that, by acting via various psychic modes of behavior (Verhaltungsweisen), these causes bring to life various ideological forms.
The old antagonism is therefore transformed into an alliance of two trends in aesthetics, each of which can become significant only within a general philosophical system. The reform of aesthetics from above is now under way, and is laid out in a number of works to such an extent that it is possible to study these problems in the spirit of historical materialism. On the other hand, as far as the psychology of art is concerned, things are totally different. There are difficulties and problems completely unknown to the conventional methodology of psychological aesthetics. One of these is the separation of social from individual psychology when studying art. The old viewpoint which did not admit a distinction between these two must be thoroughly revised. I feel that the conventional conception of the object and the subject of social psychology will turn out to be false at its very root if tested against the new approach. Indeed, the viewpoint of social psychology, or the psychology of peoples, as defined by Wundt, chose as the subject of its studies language, myths, customs, art, and religious systems, as well as juridical and ethical standards. There is no doubt that from the viewpoint of the new approach all this is no longer psychology but a conglomerate of ideology, or crystals of ideology. The task of psychology, however, is to study the solution per se, to study the social psyche and not the ideology. Language, customs, and myths are the results of the activity of the social psyche, not its process. Hence, when social psychology deals with the subject, it substitutes ideology for psychology. It is evident that the fundamental premise of conventional social psychology and of the upcoming collective reflexology, according to which the psychology of the individual is not fit to explain social psychology, will be shaken by the new methodological assumptions.
Bekhterev claims that “... obviously, the psychology of individuals is not suitable for explaining social movements. ...” The same view is held by other social psychologists (like McDougall, Le Bon, Freud, et al.), who regard the social psyche as secondary, originating from the psyche of the individual. They assume that there is a special individual psyche and that from the interaction of individual psyches or psychologies there arises a collective psyche or psychology common to all individuals Thus, social psychology is regarded as the psychology of a collective individual, in the same way that a crowd is made up of single individuals, even though it has a supra-individual psychology. We see that non-Marxist social psychology has a primitive empirical approach to the social entity, regarding it as a crowd, a collective entity, a relation between individuals or persons. Society is taken to be an association of people, and it is regarded as an accessory activity of one individual. These psychologists do not admit that somewhere, in a remote and intimate corner of his thought, his feelings, etc., the psyche of an individual is social and socially conditioned. It is easy to show that the subject of social psychology is precisely the psyche of the single individual. Chelpanov’s view, frequently quoted by others, according to which specifically Marxist psychology is a social psychology that studies the genesis of ideological forms according to a specifically Marxist method, involving the study of the origin of given forms based on the social economy, is incorrect. Equally incorrect is his view that empirical and experimental psychology cannot become Marxist, any more than mineralogy, physics, chemistry, etc., can. To corroborate his view, Chelpanov refers to Chapter VIII of Plekhanov’s Fundamental Problems of Marxism, in which the author expounds the origin of ideologies. The exact opposite is more likely to be true, namely that only the individual (i.e., the empirical and experimental) psychology can become Marxist. Indeed, how can we distinguish social psychology from individual psychology if we deny the existence of a popular soul, a popular spirit, and so forth? Social psychology studies precisely the psyche of the single individual, and what he has in his mind. There is no other psyche to study. The rest is either metaphysics or ideology; hence, to assert that this psychology cannot become Marxist (i.e., social), just as mineralogy and chemistry cannot become Marxist, is tantamount to not understanding Marx’s fundamental statement which says that “man in the most literal sense is a zoon politicon (social animal – Aristotle), an animal to whom social intercourse is not only peculiar but necessary in order to stand out as a single individual.” To assume the psyche of the single individual (the object of experimental and empirical psychology) to be as extrasocial as the object of mineralogy, means to assume a position diametrically opposed to Marxism. Of course, physics, chemistry, mineralogy, and so on, can be either Marxist or anti-Marxist if we take science to be not only a bare listing of facts, a catalogue of relationships and functions but a systematized knowledge of the world in its entirety.
There now remains only the question concerning the genesis of ideological forms. Is it really the task of social psychology to study the dependence of these forms on social economy? It seems to me that it is not. This is the general task of each particular discipline as a branch of general sociology. The history of religion and jurisprudence, the history of art, and the history of science accomplish this task for their own fields of endeavor.
The incorrectness of the previous point of view becomes evident not only from theoretical considerations but also from the practical experience of social psychology. Wundt, in establishing the origin of social creativity, was finally forced to resort to the creativity of the single individual. He says that the creativity of one individual can be recognized by another individual as an adequate expression of his own ideas and emotions; hence, a number of different persons can be simultaneously the creators of one and the same concept. In criticizing Wundt, Bekhterev quite correctly shows that “in this case there can be obviously no social psychology since there are no new tasks other than those that are comprised in the psychology of single individuals.” As a matter of fact, the earlier viewpoint, according to which there is a fundamental distinction between the processes and the products of popular and individual creativity, appears now to have been unanimously discarded. Today no one would dare assert that an ancient bylina (a Russian popular epic) written from the words of an Arkhangel'sk fisherman, and a Pushkin poem carefully corrected and edited by the poet, are the products of different creative processes. The facts testify to exactly the opposite. Accurate investigation reveals that the difference here is purely quantitative. The narrator of the bylina does not recount it in exactly the same way in which he received it from his predecessor. He introduces changes, cuts, additions and he reshuffles words and parts. Thus, he becomes the author of that particular version using the ready made standards and clichés of popular poetry. Hence, the notion that popular poetry is unsophisticated in the sense that it is created by an entire people and not by professionals (narrators, troubadours, storytellers) of artistic creativity applying a traditional, rich, and specialized technique to their craft and using it in exactly the same way as the writers of later periods, is completely wrong. On the other hand, an author who puts down in writing the product of his creativity is by no means the sole creator of his work. Pushkin, for example, is not the individual author of his poems. He did not invent the methods of writing verse and rhymes, or of construing a subject or theme in a specific way. Like the narrators of the byliny, he passes on the immense heritage of literary tradition which to a great extent depends on the evolution of language, verse writing techniques, traditional subjects, themes, images, compositional subjects, and so on.
Were we to determine in a literary work what is created by the author himself and what he has taken ready made from the literary tradition, we would find that the author’s creativity amounts to selecting certain elements, combining them within given, generally accepted standards, transposing certain traditional elements into other systems, and so forth. In other words, in both the Arkhangel'sk narrators of byliny and in Pushkin we can always detect the existence of both elements: the individual authorship and the literary traditions. The difference, as stated before, consists only in the quantitative relationship between the two. In Pushkin the individual authorship prevails, while in the bylina narrative it is the literary tradition that prevails. To use Silverswan’s well chosen simile, both remind us of a swimmer crossing a river and being dragged away by the current. The swimmer’s path, like the writer’s creativity, is the resultant of two forces, the swimmer’s own effort and the deviating force of the current.
We have enough reasons to assert that from a psychological point of view there is no fundamental difference between the processes of popular and individual creativity. Thus, Freud is completely right when he states that individual psychology from the incept is at the same time also social psychology. Tarde’s intermental psychology (interpsychology) as well as the social psychology of other authors must therefore be viewed in a completely different light.
In agreement with Siegel, de La Grasserie, Rossi, and others, I am inclined to believe that we must distinguish between social and collective psychology, but I feel that the way to do this must be fundamentally different. Because this distinction is based on the degree of organization of the collective under study, this opinion is not generally accepted in social psychology.
The difference becomes self evident if we consider the psyche of the single individual as the subject of social psychology. It is obvious that the subject of individual psychology coincides with that of differential psychology, the task of which is the study of individual differences in single individuals. The concept of general reflexology, as opposed to Bekhterev’s collective reflexology, also completely coincides with this. “In this respect there is a certain relation between the reflexology of the single individual and collective reflexology; the former aims at clarifying the peculiarities of the single individual, tries to find differences in the individual mentalities of persons, and show the reflexological basis of these differences, while collective reflexology, which studies mass or collective manifestations of correlative activity, is essentially aimed at clarifying how social products of a correlative activity are obtained by the correlation between single individuals in social groups and by smoothing away their individual differences.”
It is obvious that we are dealing here with differential psychology in the precise acceptance of that term. What, then, is the subject of collective psychology as such? There is a simple answer to this question: Everything within us is social, but this does not imply that all the properties of the psyche of an individual are inherent in all the other members of this group as well. Only a certain part of the individual psychology can be regarded as belonging to a given group, and this portion of individual psychology and its collective manifestations is studied by collective psychology when it looks into the psychology of the army, the church, and so on.
Thus, instead of distinguishing between social and individual psychology, we must distinguish between social and collective psychology. The difference between social and individual psychology in aesthetics appears to be the same as that between normative and descriptive aesthetic because, as shown quite correctly by Münsterberg, historical aesthetics was connected with social psychology, and normative aesthetics with individual psychology.
Far more important is the difference between subjective and objective psychology of art. The difference of the introspective method as applied to the study of aesthetic feelings becomes obvious from the individual properties of these feelings. By its very nature, an aesthetic feeling is incomprehensible and fundamentally obscure in its evolution to the person experiencing it. We do not really know or understand why we like or dislike an object. Anything we devise to explain its behavior is but an afterthought, an obvious rationalization of unconscious processes. The very substance of the experience, however, remains mysterious. The purpose of art is to disguise art, according to a French maxim. Psychology attempted to solve these problems experimentally, but all methods of experimental aesthetics, as applied by Fechner (the methods of selection, determination, and application) or approved by Külpe (method of selection, gradual change, and time variation), are essentially not able to be anything but the simplest and most elementary aesthetic evaluations or appraisals.
In summarizing the results of this methodology, Frebes reaches very lamentable results. Haman and Croce criticized it severely, and the latter bluntly called it aesthetic astrology.
Not much better is the naive approach to studying art by exploring the artist’s personality with such test questions as, “What would you do if your beloved betrayed you?” Even if we were to take the artist’s pulse or respiration or if the artist were asked to express himself on spring, summer, autumn, or winter during such a test – it still would be an ineffective, inefficient, and ridiculous way of studying the subject. The fundamental error of experimental aesthetics consists in starting from the wrong end, that of aesthetic pleasure and aesthetic appraisal, all the while intentionally ignoring the fact that both pleasure and appraisal may be arbitrary, secondary, or even irrelevant features of aesthetic behavior. Another error is the inability to detect the specifics that distinguish an aesthetic experience from an ordinary one. Experimental aesthetics will never be able to achieve anything so long as it evaluates simple combinations of colors, sounds, lines, and so on, and fails to understand that these alone do not characterize aesthetic perception as such.
Finally, the third and most serious error of experimental aesthetics is the assumption that a complex aesthetic experience is the sum of individual minor aesthetic pleasures. The beauty of an architectural structure or of a musical composition can, according to this assumption, be comprehended as a summary expression of individual harmomes, chords, the golden section, and so on. It is obvious that for conventional aesthetics the terms “subjective” and “objective” were synonymous with psychological and non-psychological aesthetics. The concept of objective psychological aesthetics was a senseless and contradictory combination of concepts and words.
The great crisis in psychology today has split psychologists more or less into two camps: One of these has gone further and deeper into subjectivism than even Dilthey et al., obviously leaning toward pure Bergsonism. The other, ranging from America to Spain, is trying to create an objective psychology. American behaviorism, German Gestalt psychology, reflexology, and Marxist psychology are examples of such attempts. It is clear that this trend toward objectivism involves not only the methodology of conventional aesthetics but also that of psychological aesthetics. The major task of this psychology is therefore the creation of an objective method and system of art psychology; this is a matter of life and death for this entire field of knowledge. But in order to attempt the solution of this problem, one must first outline the psychological problem of art more precisely and only then begin studying its methods.
It can be shown quite readily that any investigation of art must necessarily operate with certain psychological premises and data. Lacking a finished psychological theory of art, these investigations use the vulgar day-to-day psychology along with domestic observations. It is easier to show by an example how unforgivable mistakes can make their way into serious books when they resort to commonplace psychology. One such error is the common psychological characterization of verse meter. In a recent book, Grigor'ev points out that the sincerity of the poet’s emotions and feelings can be tested by a rhythmic curve devised by Andrei Bely for different poems. He describes the trochee psychologically as “... useful for expressing cheerful, dancing moods, as for example in ‘Clouds are racing, clouds are whirling’ ” (a poem by Pushkin). But if a poet uses the trochee to express an elegiac mood, then it is evident that the mood is insincere or artificial, and the attempt to use the trochee for an elegy is as preposterous as, according to a witty remark by the poet Rukavishnikov, “an attempt to sculpture a Negro in white marble.”
It is enough to remind oneself of the Pushkin poem quoted by Grigor'ev or even of a single line from it (“plaintive squeals and howls are harrowing my soul”), to realize that here is no trace of the “cheerful, dancing mood” ascribed to the trochee. Instead, the poet uses the trochee in a lyrical poem to express a sombre, desperate mood. Grigor'ev calls this attempt as preposterous as sculpturing a Negro from white marble. Only a bad sculptor would paint a white marble statue of a Negro black, and only a bad psychologist would decree trochaic verses to be fit for expressing only cheerful, dancing moods. White marble statues may indeed represent Negroes, just as lyrical verses expressing sad or desperate moods may be trochaic. It is true, however, that both instances need a special explanation that can be given only by the psychology of art.
As an addendum to this we may bring up an analogous characterization of verse meters given by Yermakov: “In the poem ‘A Wintery Road’ (by Pushkin), the poet uses a sad, iambic meter for this highly sensitive work, and generates a feeling of intimate alienation and utter sadness. ...” This psychological construction cannot stand up against a simple fact – the poem “A Wintery Road” was written in pure trochaic tetrameters and not in “a sad, iambic meter.” The psychologist who tries to understand Pushkin’s melancholy from the iambic or his cheerfulness from the trochees has lost his way in broad daylight and has forgotten the scientifically established fact formulated by Gershenzon that “for Pushkin the meter is obviously immaterial. He uses the same meter to describe the parting from a beloved woman (“To the Shores of the Remote Fatherland”), the chasing of a mouse by a cat (in “Count Nulin”), the encounter of an angel with a demon, a captive siskin. ...”
We shall never be able to understand the laws governing the feelings and emotions in a work of art without proper psychological investigation. It is also remarkable that the sociological studies of art are unable to completely explain the mechanics of a work of art. A useful tool is the Darwinian “principle of antithesis” which Plekhanov employs to interpret many phenomena in art. All this is evidence of the colossal complexity of the influences acting upon art, which cannot and must not be reduced to a primitive and single-valued form of expression. In the final analysis this is no more than the problem of the complex effect of a superstructure as broached by Marx when he says that certain periods of its (art’s) blossoming by no means correspond to the general progress of society, and that in the field of art, certain important art forms are possible only at a low stage in the evolution of art. However, the difficulty does not consist in the fact that Greek art and epics are associated with certain forms of social evolution. It consists rather in the fact that they continue to give us artistic pleasure and, to a certain extent, remain as standard and unattainable models.
We have here a precise formulation of the psychological problem of art. We must, in fact, determine the significance and action of the vitality and fascination of art which “are not in contradiction with the undeveloped social level from which they sprang,” [Marx], rather than establish the origin of art as a factor of economy. Thus, the relationship between art and the economic conditions generating it turns out to be extremely complex.
This does not mean that social conditions do not completely determine the character and the effect of a work of art; it merely shows that they determine it indirectly. The feelings and emotions aroused by a work of art are socially conditioned. This is best shown by examples of Egyptian painting, where the form (stylization of the human figure) has most obviously the function of carrying a social message which is lacking in the object represented but is given it by art. If we expand this idea, we may juxtapose the effect of art and that of science and technology. Here, too, the problem of psychological aesthetics is solved by the same pattern as that for sociological aesthetics. We are ready to quote Gauzenshtein, substituting “psychology” for his “sociology”: “A purely scientific sociology of art is a mathematical function.” “Since art is form, sociology of art ultimately deserves this definition only when it is also a sociology of form. Sociology of content is possible and necessary, but it is not sociology of art in the proper sense, since sociology of art, in its precise meaning, can only be sociology of form. Sociology of content is nothing but general sociology, and it refers to the civil history of society rather than to its aesthetic history. Viewing a revolutionary painting by Delacroix from the standpoint of its sociological content is tantamount to examining the July revolution rather than studying the sociology of the formal element associated with Delacroix’ great name.” Thus, the subject of this study is general psychology, not psychology of art. “The sociology of style can never be a sociology of an art form, for the sociology of style deals with the effect on form.”
Thus the question arises whether or not it is possible to determine some psychological laws of the effect of art on man. Extreme idealism tends to deny any regular pattern in art or psychological life. “Now as before and after, the soul is and will be for ever unfathomable ... There are no laws for the soul; hence, there are none for art.” But if we admit a pattern of regularity in one psychological life, we must necessarily refer to it to explain the workings of art, since these are always associated with our other forms of activity.
Hennequin’s aestheto-psychological method involves, therefore, the correct idea that social psychology alone can give a proper base and direction to the art student. Unfortunately, this method became mired in what might be called a no man’s land between sociology and psychology. It is therefore essential for any research in art psychology to determine clearly and unequivocally the substance of the psychological art problem as well as its boundaries. We agree with Külpe, according to whom aesthetics does not fundamentally shun psychology: “The fact that this relation with psychology is occasionally disputed is apparently due to an unessential inner discrepancy: some consider aesthetics’ special tasks to be the application of a particular point of view to the study of psychic phenomena. Others regard them as the study of a peculiar region of facts which are usually investigated psychologically. In the former case we have an aesthetics of psychological facts, and in the latter, a psychology of aesthetic facts.”
The main task, however, is to distinguish art’s psychological problem from its sociological one with utmost precision. On the basis of earlier arguments I feel that this is best achieved by using the psychology of a single individual. The generally accepted formula according to which the experiences, feelings, and emotions of an individual cannot be used as material for social psychology is obviously inapplicable here. It is not true that the psychology of an individual’s experience in art is as little related to sociology as is a mineral or a chemical compound; but it is evident that studying the genesis of art and its dependence on sociological economy is the special subject of the history of art. Art per se, as a well-established trend, as the sum of available works, is an ideology like any other.
Thus, to be or not to be is a problem of method for objective psychology. The psychological study of art has hitherto followed but one of two trends: either the psychology of the creator (artist) was studied as it revealed itself in the work of art, or the psychology of the receptor (viewer, reader, etc.) was investigated. The imperfection and futility of both methods are sufficiently obvious. Considering the extraordinary complexity of creative processes and the total lack of knowledge about the laws governing the expression of the artist’s psyche in his work makes it clear that we cannot work back from the work of art to the artist’s psychology unless we resign ourselves to being lost forever in conjectures. Furthermore, Engels has shown that any ideology is always created with a false consciousness or, essentially, unconsciously. According to Marx, we cannot judge an individual on the basis of what he thinks of himself. Therefore we cannot judge a revolution on the basis of its consciousness. On the contrary, this consciousness must be explained by the contradictions of material life. In one of his letters Engels writes that ideology is a process performed by a so-called thinker in full consciousness, even though this consciousness is false. The real impelling forces that set him in motion remain unknown to him; otherwise this would not be an ideological process. Consequently, he can conceive of only the false or fictitious impelling forces.
Equally futile is the analysis of the emotions of the viewer, since he, too, is shrouded in the psyche’s unconsciousness. It seems to me that another method for studying the psychology of art can be devised which, however, needs some methodological substantiation. One of the first, and easiest, objections against it is the one commonly raised against studying the unconscious by means of psychology. The unconscious, it is said, is by definition something we do not recognize; it is something unknown to us, and therefore it cannot become the subject of scientific investigation. This reasoning proceeds from the false assumption that we can study only what is directly recognizable. This is obviously a superficial approach, since we do study many things of which we have knowledge only from analogies, hypotheses, surmises, etc. Thus, we gather our ideas of the past from piecing together, in the most diverse fashion, data and material that frequently have no resemblance to these ideas or mental pictures, in the same way as “a zoologist, from the bone of an extinct animal, determines its size, appearance, life habits, feeding habits, and so forth. All this information is not immediately available to the zoologist, and is certainly not directly experienced by him; instead, it is the result of inferences and deductions from a few data directly recognizable from the bone.”
On the basis of these arguments we can now suggest a new method of art psychology, which in Müller-Freienfels’ classification is termed the “objective-analytic method.” Accordingly, the work of art, rather than its creator or its audience, should be taken as the basis for analysis. While it is true that a work of art as such is not an object of psychology (having no psyche of its own), we must remember that a historian, studying for instance the French revolution from materials that do not contain any of the objects of his study, finds himself faced with the necessity of actually creating the object of his study by means of indirect, that is, analytic methods. Indeed, this happens in a number of other disciplines and sciences. They search for the truth in a way similar to that of a court investigating a crime from leads, circumstantial or other evidence. Only a bad judge would pass a sentence on the basis of statements from either the defendant or the plaintiff, both of whom are prejudiced and bound to distort the truth. The psychologist operates in a similar fashion when he studies the statements of a reader or a viewer of a work of art. This does not mean, however, that a judge should not hear the interested parties – provided he takes their statements with a grain of salt. And the psychologist never refuses to use any material, even though he knows from the outset that it may not be correct. The judge establishes the truth by comparing various false statements, checking them against objective evidence, and so forth. The historian uses notoriously false or biased material most of the time; and like the historian or the geologist who first creates the object of his studies and only then subjects it to scrutiny, the psychologist is forced to resort to material evidence – the works of art – and create a corresponding psychology in order to be able to study the laws governing it. For the psychologist any work of art is a system of stimuli, consciously and intentionally organized in such a way as to excite an aesthetic reaction. By analyzing the structure of the stimuli we reconstruct the structure of the reaction. Here is a simple example: We study the rhythmic structure of a philological excerpt and deal with non-psychological facts; but if we analyze it as being variously directed to cause a corresponding functional reaction, we create, proceeding from objective data, certain characteristics of the aesthetic reaction. It is obvious that the aesthetic reaction thus created is completely impersonal, that is, it does not belong to any single individual, nor does it reflect any concrete individual psychic process – which is its virtue. Thus we are able to determine the nature of aesthetic reaction in its pure form without confounding it with all the random processes accumulated with it in an individual’s psyche.
This method guarantees a sufficient objectivity of results and of investigation, since it proceeds every time from the study of solid, objectively existing, accountable facts. Here is the formula of this method: from the form of the work of art, via the functional analysis of its elements and structure, recreate the aesthetic reaction and establish its general laws.
The task and the plan of the present book can be termed an attempt at applying this new method consistently and thoroughly to actual problems. This has obviously prevented us from pursuing any systematic tasks. We had to renounce the fundamental and consistent review of the entire material in the field of methodology, the critique of the study as such, the theoretical generalization of the results, and the establishment of their practical value. This, as a matter of fact, could become the subject of a host of further studies.
Many times I had to devise a way for solving the simplest problems and for testing the validity of the method. I have therefore chosen some fables, short stories, and tragedies to show with sufficient clearness how this method works.
I consider my task completed if this work will result in what may turn out to be a general outline of the psychology of art.