The Psychology of Art. Vygotsky 1925
Theory of Contimination. Significance of Art in Life. Social Significance of Art. Art Criticism, Art and Teaching. The Art of the Future.
Now we must study the following questions: What significance does art acquire if we assume that our interpretation of it is correct? What is the relation between aesthetic response and all other forms of human behavior? How do we explain the role and importance of art in the general behavioral system of man? There are as many different answers to these questions as there are different ways of evaluating the importance of art. Some believe art is the supreme human activity while others consider it nothing but leisure and fun. The evaluation of art depends directly on the psychological viewpoint from which we approach it. If we want to find out what the relationship between art and life is, if we want to solve the problem of art in terms of applied psychology, we must adopt a valid general theory for solving these problems. The first and most widespread view holds that art infects us with emotions and is therefore based upon contamination. Tolstoy says, “The activity of art is based on the capacity of people to infect others with their own emotions and to be infected by the emotions of others. ... Strong emotions, weak emotions, important emotions, or irrelevant emotions, good emotions or bad emotions – if they contaminate the reader, the spectator, or the listener – become the subject of art.
This statement means that since art is but common emotion, there is no substantial difference between an ordinary feeling and a feeling stirred by art. Consequently, art functions simply as a resonator, an amplifier, or a transmitter for the infection of feeling. Art has n6 specific distinction; hence the evaluation of art must proceed from the same criterion which we use to evaluate any feeling. Art may be good or bad if it infects us with good or bad feelings. Art in itself is neither good nor bad; it is a language of feeling which we must evaluate in accordance with what it expresses. Thus, Tolstoy came to the natural conclusion that art must be evaluated from a moral viewpoint; he therefore approved of art that generated good feelings, and objected to art that, from his point of view, represented reprehensible events or actions. Many other critics reached the same conclusions as did Tolstoy and evaluated a work of art on the basis of its obvious content, while praising or condemning the artist accordingly. Like ethics, like aesthetics – this is the slogan of this theory.
But Tolstoy soon discovered that his theory failed when he tried to be consistent with his own conclusions. He compared two artistic impressions: one produced by a large chorus of peasant women who were celebrating the marriage of his daughter; and the other, by an accomplished musician who played Beethoven’s Sonata. The singing of the peasant women expressed such a feeling of joy, cheerfulness, and liveliness that it infected Tolstoy and he went home in high spirits. According to him, such singing is true art, because it communicates a specific and powerful emotion. Since the second impression involved no such specific emotions, he concluded that Beethoven’s sonata is an unsuccessful artistic attempt which contains no definite emotions and is therefore neither remarkable nor outstanding. This example shows us the absurd conclusions that can be reached if the critical understanding of art is based upon the criterion of its infectiousness. Beethoven’s music incorporates no definite feeling, while the singing of the peasant women has an elementary and contagious gaiety. If this is true, then Yevlakhov is right when he states that “‘real, true’ art is military or dance music, since it is more catchy.” Tolstoy is consistent in his ideas; beside folk songs, he recognizes only “marches and dances written by various composers” as works “that approach the requirements of universal art.” A reviewer of Tolstoy’s article, V. G. Valter, points out that “if Tolstoy had said that the gaiety of the peasant women put him in a good mood, one could not object to that. It would mean that the language of emotions that expressed itself in their singing (it could well have expressed itself simply in yelling, and most likely did) infected Tolstoy with their gaiety. But what has this to do with art? Tolstoy does not say whether the women sang well; had they not sung but simply yelled, beating their scythes, their fun and gaiety would have been no less catching, especially on his daughter’s wedding day.”
We feel that if we compare an ordinary yell of fear to a powerful novel in terms of their respective infectiousness, the latter will fail the test. Obviously, to understand art we must add something else to simple infectiousness. Art also produces other impressions, and Longinus’ statement, “You must know that the orator pursues one purpose, and the poet another. The purpose of poetry is trepidation, that of prose is expressivity,” is correct. Tolstoy’s formula failed to account for the trepidation which is the purpose of poetry.
But to prove that he is really wrong, we must look at the art of military and dance music and find out whether the true purpose of that art is to infect. Petrazhitskii assumes that aestheticians are wrong when they claim that the purpose of art is to generate aesthetic emotions only. He feels that art produces general emotions, and that aesthetic emotions are merely decorative. “For instance, the art of a warlike period in the life of a people has as its main purpose the excitation of heroic-bellicose emotions. Even now, military music is not intended to give the soldiers in the field aesthetic enjoyment, but to excite and enhance their belligerent feelings. The purpose of medieval art (including sculpture and architecture) was to produce lofty religious emotions. Lyric appeals to one aspect of our emotional psyche, satire to another; the same applies to drama, tragedy, and so on ...
Apart from the fact that military music does not generate bellicose emotions on the battlefield, the question is not properly formulated here. Ovsianiko-Kulikovskii, for example, comes closer to the truth when he says that “military lyrics and music ‘lift the spirit’ of the army and ‘inspire’ feats of valor and heroic deeds, but neither of them leads directly to bellicose emotions or belligerent affects. On the contrary, they seem to moderate bellicose ardor, calm an excited nervous system, and chase away fear. We can say that lifting morale, calming nerves, and chasing away fear are among the most important practical functions of ‘lyrics’ which result from their psychological nature. It is therefore wrong to think that music can directly cause warlike emotions; more precisely, it gives bellicose emotions an opportunity for expression, but music as such neither causes nor generates them.
Something similar happens with erotic poetry, the sole purpose of which, according to Tolstoy, is to excite lust. Anyone who understands the true nature of lyrical emotions knows that Tolstoy is wrong. “There is no doubt that lyrical emotion has a soothing effect on all other emotions (and affects) to the point that at times it paralyzes them. This is also the effect it has on sexuality with its emotions and affects. Erotic poetry, if it is truly lyrical, is far less suggestive than works of the visual arts in which the problems of love and the notorious sex problem are treated with the purpose of producing a moral reaction. Ovsianiko-Kulikovskii is only partly correct in his assumption that sexual feeling, which is easily excited, is most strongly stirred by images and thoughts, that these images and thoughts are rendered harmless by lyrical emotion, and that mankind is indebted to lyrics, even more than to ethics, for the taming and restraining of sexual instincts. He underestimates the importance of the other art forms, which he calls figurative, and does not remark that in their case also emotions provoked by images are counteracted by the nonlyrical emotion of art. Thus we see that Tolstoy’s theory does not hold in the domain of the applied arts, where he thought its validity to be absolute. As concerns great art (the art of Beethoven and Shakespeare), Tolstoy himself pointed out that his theory is inapplicable. Art would have a dull and ungrateful task if its only purpose were to infect one or many persons with feelings. If this were so, its significance would be very small, because there would be only a quantitative expansion and no qualitative expansion beyond an individual’s feeling. The miracle of art would then be like the bleak miracle of the Gospel, when five barley loaves and two small fishes fed thousands of people, all of whom ate and were satisfied, and a dozen baskets were filled with the remaining food. This miracle is only quantitative: thousands were fed and were satisfied, but each of them ate only fish and bread. But was this not their daily diet at home, without any miracles?
If the only purpose of a tragic poem were to infect us with the author’s sorrow, this would be a very sad situation indeed for art. The miracle of art reminds us much more of another miracle in the Gospel, the transformation of water into wine. Indeed, art’s true nature is that of transubstantiation, something that transcends ordinary feelings; for the fear, pain, or excitement caused by art includes something above and beyond its normal, conventional content. This “something” overcomes feelings of fear and pain, changes water into wine, and thus fulfills the most important purpose of art. One of the great thinkers said once that art relates to life as wine relates to the grape. With this he meant to say that art takes its material from life, but gives in return something which its material did not contain.
Initially, an emotion is individual, and only by means of a work of art does it become social or generalized. But it appears that art by itself contributes nothing to this emotion. It is not clear, then, why art should be viewed as a creative act nor how it differs from an ordinary yell or an orator’s speech. Where is the trepidation of which Longinus spoke, if art is viewed only as an exercise in infectiousness? We realize that science does not simply infect one person or a whole society with thoughts and ideas, any more than technology helps man to be handy. We can also recognize that art is an expanded “social feeling” or technique of feelings, as we shall show later. Plekhanov states that the relationship between art and life is extremely complex, and he is right. He quotes Tairfe who investigated the interesting question of why landscape painting evolved only in the city. If art were intended merely to infect us with the feelings that life communicates to us, then landscape painting could not survive in the city. History, however, proves exactly the opposite. Taine writes, “We have the right to admire landscapes, just as they had the right to be bored by it. For seventeenth-century man there was nothing uglier than a mountain. It aroused in him many unpleasant ideas, because he was as weary of barbarianism as we are weary of civilization. Mountains give us a chance to rest, away from our sidewalks, offices, and shops; we like landscape only for this reason.” 6
Plekhanov points out that art is sometimes not a direct expression of life, but an expression of its antithesis. The idea, of course, is not in the leisure of which Taine speaks, but in a certain antithesis: art releases an aspect of our psyche which finds no expression in our everyday life. We cannot speak of an infection with emotions. The effect of art is obviously much more varied and complex; no matter how we approach art, we always discover that it involves something different from a simple transmission of feelings. Whether or not we agree with Lunacharskii that art is a concentration of life, we must realize that it proceeds from certain live feelings and works upon those feelings, a fact not considered by Tolstoy’s theory.
We have seen that this process is a catharsis – the transformation of these feelings into opposite ones and their subsequent resolution. This view of course agrees perfectly with Plekhanov’s principle of antithesis in art. To understand this we must look at the problem of the biological significance of art, and realize that art is not merely a means for infection but something immeasurably more important in itself. In his “Three Chapters of Historic Poetics,” Veselovskii says that ancient singing and playing were born from a complex need for catharsis; a chorus sung during hard and exhausting work regulates muscular effort by its rhythm, and apparently aimless play responds to the subconscious requirement of training and regulation of physical or intellectual effort. This is also the requirement of psychophysical catharsis formulated by Aristotle for the drama; it manifests itself in the unsurpassed mastery of Maori women to shed tears at will, and also in the overwhelming tearfulness of the eighteenth century. The phenomenon is the same; the difference lies only in expression and understanding. We perceive rhythm in poetry as something artistic and forget its primitive psychophysical origins. The best repudiation of the contamination theory is the study of those psychophysical principles on which art is based and the explanation of the biological significance of art. Apparently art releases and processes some extremely complex organismic urges. The best corroboration of our viewpoint can be found in the fact that it agrees with Bucher’s studies on the origins of art and permits us to understand the true role and purpose of art. Bucher established that music and poetry have a common origin in heavy physical labor. Their object was to relax cathartically the tremendous stress created by labor. This is how Bucher formulated the general content of work songs: “They follow the general trend of work, and signal the beginning of a simultaneous collective effort; they try to incite the men to work by derision, invective, or reference to the opinion of spectators; they express the thoughts of the workers about labor itself, its course, its gear, and so forth, as well as their joys or sorrows, their complaints about the hardness of the work and the inadequate pay; they address a plea to the owner, the supervisor, or simply to the spectator.”
The two elements of art and their resolution are found here. The only peculiarity of these songs is that the feeling of pain and hardship which must be solved by art is an essential part of labor itself. Subsequently, when art detaches itself from labor and begins to exist as an independent activity, it introduces into the work of art the element which was formerly generated by labor: the feelings of pain, torment, and hardship (which require relies are now aroused by art itself, but their nature remains the same. Biicher makes an extremely interesting statement: “The peoples of antiquity considered song an indispensable accompaniment of hard labor.” From this we realize that song at first organized collective labor, then gave relief and relaxation to painful and tormenting strain. We shall see that art, even in its highest manifestations, completely separate from labor and without any direct connection thereto, has maintained the same functions. It still must systematize, or organize, social feeling and give relief to painful and tormenting strain. Quintilian puts it this way: “And it appears as if [music] were given to us by nature in order to make labor bearable. For instance, the rower is inspired by song; it is useful not only where the efforts of many are combined, but also when it is intended to provide rest for an exhausted worker.”
Thus art arises originally as a powerful tool in the struggle for existence; the idea of reducing its role to a communication of feeling with no power or control over that feeling, is inadmissible. If the purpose of art, like Tolstoy’s chorus of peasant women, were only to make us gay or sad, it would neither have survived nor have ever acquired its present importance. Nietzsche expresses it well injoyful Wisdom, when he says that rhythm involves inducement and incentive: “It arouses an irresistible desire to imitate, and not only our legs but our very soul follow the beat. ... Was there anything more useful than rhythm for ancient, Superstitious mankind? With its help everything became feasible – work could be performed magically, God could be forced to appear and listen to grievances, the future could be changed and corrected at will, one’s soul could be delivered of any abnormality. Without verse man would be nothing; with it, he almost became God.” It is quite interesting to see how Nietzsche explains the way in which art succeeded in acquiring such power over man. “When the normal mood and harmony of the soul were lost, one had to dance to the song of a bard – this was the prescription of that medicine ... First of all, inebriation and uncontrolled affect were pushed to the limit, so that the insane became frenzied, and the avenger became saturated with hatred." Apparently the possibility of releasing into art powerful passions which cannot find expression in normal, everyday life is the biological basis of art. The purpose of our behavior is to keep our organism in balance with its surroundings. The simpler and more elementary our relations with the environment, the simpler our behavior. The more subtle and complex the interaction between organism and environment, the more devious and intricate the balancing process. Obviously this process cannot continue smoothly toward an equilibrium. There will always be a certain imbalance in favor of the environment or the organism. No machine can work toward equilibrium using all its energy efficiently. There are always states of excitation which cannot result in an efficient use of energy. This is why a need arises from time to time to discharge the unused energy and give it free rein in order to reestablish our equilibrium with the rest of the world. Orshanskii says that feelings “are the pluses and minuses of our equilibrium.” These pluses and minuses, these discharges and expenditures of unused energy, are the biological function of art.
Looking at a child, it is evident that its possibilities are far greater than actually realized. If a child plays at soldiers, cops and robbers, and so on, this means, according to some, that inside himself he really becomes a soldier or a robber. Sherrington’s principle (the principle of struggle for a common field of action) clearly shows that in our organism the nervous receptor fields exceed many times the executing effector neurons, so that the organism perceives many more stimuli than it can possibly attend to. Our nervous system resembles a railway station into which five tracks lead, but only one track leads out. Of five trains arriving at this station, only one ever manages to leave (and this only after a fierce struggle), while the other four remain stalled. The nervous system reminds us of a battlefield where the struggle never ceases, not even for a single instant, and our behavior is an infinitesimal part of what is really included in the possibilities of our nervous system, but cannot find an outlet. In nature the realized and executed part of life is but a minute part of the entire conceivable life Oust as every life born is paid for by millions of unborn ones). Similarly, in our nervous system, the realized part of life is only the smallest part of the real life contained in us. Sherrington likens our nervous system to a funnel with its narrow part turned toward action, and the wider part toward the world. The world pours into man, through the wide opening of the funnel 154), thousands of calls, desires, stimuli, etc. enter, but only an infinitesimal part of them is realized and flows out through the narrowing opening. It is obvious that the unrealized part of life, which has not gone through the narrow opening of our behavior, must be somehow utilized and lived. The organism is in an equilibrium with its environment where balance must be maintained, just as it becomes necessary to open a valve in a kettle in which steam pressure exceeds the strength of the vessel. Apparently art is a psychological means for striking a balance with the environment at critical points of our behavior. Long ago the idea had been expressed that art complements life by expanding its possibilities. Von Lange says, “There is a sorry resemblance between contemporary civilized man and domestic animals: limitation and monotony. Issuing from the patterns of bourgeois life and its social forms, these are the main features of the individual existence, which lead everybody, rich and poor, weak and strong, talented and deprived, through an incomplete and imperfect life. It is astonishing how limited is the number of ideas, feelings, and actions that modern man can perform or experience."
Lazurskii holds the same view when he explains the theory of empathy by referring to one of Tolstoy’s novels. “There is a point in Anna Karenina where Tolstoy tells us that Anna reads a novel and suddenly wants to do what the heroes of that novel do: fight, struggle, win with them, go with the protagonist to his estate, and so on.” Freud shares this opinion and speaks of art as a means of appeasing two inimical principles, the principle of pleasure and that of reality.
Insofar as we are talking about the meaning of life, these writers come closer to the truth than those who, like Grant-Allen, assume that “aesthetics are those emotions which have freed themselves from association with practical interests.” This reminds us of Spencer’s formula: he assumed that “beautiful is what once was, but no longer is, useful.” Developed to its extreme limits, this viewpoint leads to the theory of games, which is accepted by many philosophers, and given its highest expression by Schiller. The one serious objection against it is that, in not recognizing art as a creative act, it tends to reduce it to the biological function of exercising certain organs, a fact of little importance for the adult. Much more convincing are the other theories which consider art an indispensable discharge of nervous energy and a complex method of finding an equilibrium between our organism and the environment in critical instances of our behavior. We resort to art only at critical moments in our life, and therefore can understand why the formula we propose views art as a creative act. If we consider art to be catharsis, it is perfectly clear that it cannot arise where there is nothing but live and vivid feeling. A sincere feeling taken per se cannot create art. It lacks more than technique or mastery, because a feeling expressed by a technique will never generate a lyric poem or a musical composition. To do this we require the creative act of overcoming the feeling, resolving it, conquering it. Only when this act has been performed – then and only then is art born. This is why the perception of art requires creativity: it is not enough to experience sincerely the feeling, or feelings, of the author; it is not enough to understand the structure of the work of art; one must also creatively overcome one’s own feelings, and find one’s own catharsis; only then will the effect of art be complete. This is why we agree with Ovsianiko-Kulikovskii who says that the purpose of military music is not to arouse bellicose emotions but, by establishing an equilibrium between the organism and the environment at a critical moment for the organism, to discipline and organize its work, provide appropriate relief to its feelings, to chase away fear, and to open the way to courage and valor. Thus, art never directly generates a practical action; it merely prepares the organism for such action. Freud says that a, frightened person is terrified and runs when he sees danger; the useful part of this behavior is that he runs, not that he is frightened. In art, the reverse is true: fear per se is useful. Man’s release per se is useful, because it creates the possibility of appropriate flight or attack. This is where we must consider the economy of our feelings, which Ovsianiko-Kulikovskii describes thus: “The harmonic rhythm of lyrics creates emotions which differ from the majority of other emotions in that such ‘lyric emotions’ save our psychic energies by putting our ‘psychic household’ into harmonic order.”
This is not the same economy of which we talked earlier, it is not an attempt to avoid the output of psychic energies. In this respect art is not subordinated to the principle of the economy of strength; on the contrary, art is an explosive and sudden expenditure of strength, of forces (psychic and otherwise), a discharge of energy. A work of art perceived coldly and prosaically, or processed and treated to be perceived in this way, saves much more energy and force than if it were perceived with the full effect of its artistic form in mind. Although it is an explosive discharge, art does introduce order and harmony into the “psychic household,” of our feelings. And of course the waste of energy performed by Anna Karenina when she experienced the feelings and emotions of the heroes of the novel she was reading, is a saving of psychic forces if compared to the actual emotion.
A more complex and deeper meaning of the principle of economizing emotions will become clearer if we try to understand the social significance of art. Art is the social within us , and even if its action is performed by a single individual, it does not mean that its essence is individual. It is quite naive and inappropriate to take the social to be collective, as with a large crowd of persons. The social also exists where there is only one person with his individual experiences and tribulations. This is why the action of art, when it performs catharsis and pushes into this purifying flame the most intimate and important experiences, emotions, and feelings of the soul, is a social action. But this experience does not happen as described in the theory of contamination (where a feeling born in one person infects and contaminates everybody and becomes social), but exactly the other way around. The melting of feelings outside us is performed by the strength of social feeling, which is objectivized, materialized, and projected outside of us, then fixed in external objects of art which have become the tools of society. A fundamental characteristic of man, one that distinguishes him from animals, is that he endures and separates from his body both the apparatus of technology and that of scientific knowledge, which then become the tools of society. Art is the social technique of emotion, a tool of society which brings the most intimate and personal aspects of our being into the circle of social life. It would be more correct to say that emotion becomes personal when every one of us experiences a work of art; it becomes personal without ceasing to be social. “Art,” says Guyau, “is a condensation of reality; it shows us the human machine under high pressure. It tries to show us more life phenomena than we actually experience.” Of course this life, concentrated in art, exerts an effect not only on our emotions but also on our will “because emotion contains the seed of will.” Guyau correctly attributes a tremendous importance to the role played by art in society. It introduces the effects of passion, violates inner equilibrium, changes will in a new sense, and stirs feelings, emotions, passions, and vices without which society would remain in an inert and motionless state. It “pronounces the word we were seeking and vibrates the string which was strained but soundless. A work of art is the center of attraction, as is the active will of a genius: if Napoleon attracts will, Corneille and Victor Hugo do so too, but in a different way. ... Who knows the number of crimes instigated by novels describing murders? Who knows the number of divorces resulting from representations of debauchery?” “Guyau formulates the question in much too primitive a way, because he imagines that art directly causes this or the other emotion. Yet, this never happens. A representation of murder does not cause murder. A scene of debauchery does not inspire divorce; the relationship between art and life is very complex, and in a very approximate way it can be described as will be shown.
Hennequin sees the difference between aesthetic and real emotion in the fact that aesthetic emotion does not immediately express itself in action. He says, however, that if repeated over and over again, these emotions can become the basis for an individual’s behavior; thus, an individual can be affected by the kind of literature he reads. “An emotion imparted by a work of art is not capable of expressing itself in immediate actions. In this respect aesthetic feelings differ sharply from actual feelings. But, since they serve an end in themselves, they justify themselves and need not be immediately expressed in any practical activity; aesthetic emotions can, by accumulation and repetition, lead to substantial practical results. These results depend upon the general properties of aesthetic emotion and the particular properties of each of these emotions. Repeated exercises of a specific group of feelings under the effect of invention, imagination, or unreal rnoods or causes that generally cannot result in action do not require active manifestations, and doubtless weaken the property common to all real emotions, that of expression in action. ...” “I Hennequin introduces two very important corrections, but his solution of the problem remains quite primitive. He is correct in saying that aesthetic emotion does not immediately generate action, that it manifests itself in the change of purpose. He is also correct when he states that aesthetic emotion not only does not generate the actions of which it speaks, but is completely alien to them. On the basis of Guyau’s example, we could say that the reading of novels about murder not only does not incite us to murder, but actually teaches us not to kill; but this point of view of Hennequin’s, although it is more applicable than the former, is quite simple compared with the subtle function assigned to art.
As a matter of fact, art performs an extremely complex action with our passions and goes far beyond the limits of these two simplistic alternatives. Andrei Bely says that when we listen to music we feel what giants must have felt. Tostoy masterfully describes this high tension of art in his Kreutzer Sonata: ” Do you know the first place? Do you really know it?” he explains. Oh! ... A sonata is a frightening thing. Yes, this part, precisely. Music, generally, is a frightening thing. What is it? I don’t understand. What is music? What does it do? And why does it do whatever it does? They say that music elevates our soul. Rubbish, nonsense! It does work, it has a terrible effect (I am talking for myself, but it certainly does not lift the soul. It does not lift the soul, nor does it debase it, but it irritates it. How can I put it? Music makes me oblivious of myself; it makes me forget my true position; it transfers me into another position, not mine, not my own: it seems to me, under the effect of music, that I feel what I don’t feel, that I understand what I actually don’t understand, can’t understand. ...
"Music immediately, suddenly, transports me into the mood which must have been that of the man who wrote it. I become one with him, and together with him I swing from one mood into another, from one state into another, but why I am doing it, I don’t know. That fellow, for instance, who wrote the Kreutzer Sonata, Beethoven, he knew why he was in that state. That state led him to certain actions, and therefore, for him, that state was sensible. For me, it means nothing, it is completely senseless. And this is why music only irritates and achieves nothing. Well, if I play a military march, the soldiers will march in step, and the music has achieved its purpose; if dance music is played, I dance, and the music achieves its purpose. Or, if Mass is sung and I take communion, well, here too the music has achieved its purpose; otherwise, it is only irritation, and no one knows what to do with this irritation. This is why music occasionally has such a horrible, terrifying effect. In China music is an affair of state, and this is how it should be ...
“Otherwise it could be a terrifying tool in the hands of anybody. Take for instance the Kreutzer Sonata. How can one play its presto in a drawing room, amidst ladies in decollete? Play it, and then busy oneself, then eat some ice cream and listen to the latest gossip? No, these things can be played only in the face of significant, important circumstances, and then it will be necessary to perform certain appropriate acts that fit the music. If it must be played, we must act according to its setting of our mood. Otherwise the incongruity between the place, the time, the waste of energy, and the feelings which do not manifest themselves will have a disastrous effect.”
This excerpt from The Kreutzer Sonata tells us quite convincingly of the incomprehensibly frightening effect of music for the average listener. It reveals a new aspect of the aesthetic response and shows that it is not a blank shot, but a response to a work of art, and a new and powerful stimulus for further action. Art requires a reply, it incites certain actions, and Tolstoy quite correctly compares the effect of Beethoven’s music with that of a dance tune or a march. In the latter case, the excitement created by the music resolves itself in a response, and a feeling of satisfied repose sets in. In the case of Beethoven’s music we are thrown into a state of confusion and anxiety, because the music reveals those urges and desires that can find a resolution only in exceptionally important and heroic actions. When this music is followed by ice cream and gossip amidst ladies in d’collet, we are left in a state of exceptional anxiety, tension, and disarray. But Tolstoy’s character makes a mistake when he compares the irritating and stimulating effect of this music to the effect produced by a military march. He does not realize that the effect of music reveals itself much more subtly, by means of hidden shocks, stresses, and deformations of our constitution. It may reveal itself unexpectedly, and in an extraordinary way. But in this description, two points are made with exceptional clarity: First, music incites, excites, and irritates in an indeterminate fashion not connected with any concrete reaction, motion, or action. This is proof that its effect is cathartic, that is, it clears our psyche, reveals and calls to life tremendous energies which were previously inhibited and restrained. This, however is a consequence of art, not its action. Secondly, music has coercive power. Tolstoy suggests that music should be an affair of state. He believes that music is a public affair. One critic pointed out that when we perceive a work a work of art we think that our reaction is strictly personal and associated only with ourselves. We believe that it has nothing to do social psychology. But this is as wrong as the opinion of a person pays taxes and considers this action only from his own viewpoint own, personal budget, without bearing in mind that he participate the huge and complex economy of the state. He does not reflect that by paying taxes he takes part in involved state operations whose existence he does not even suspect. This is why Freud is wrong when he says that man stands face to face with the reality of nature, and that art be derived from the purely biological difference between the principle of enjoyment toward which all our inclinations gravitate, and that of reality which forces us to renounce satisfaction and pleasure. Between man and the outside world there stands the social environment, which in its own way refracts and directs the stimuli acting upon the individual and guides all the reactions that emanate from the individual. applied psychology it is therefore of immense significance to know I as Tolstoy puts it, music is something awesome and frightening to average listener. If a military march incites soldiers to march proudly in a parade, what exceptional deeds must Beethoven’s music inspire! Let me repeat: music by itself is isolated from our everyday behavior; it does not drive us to do anything, it only creates a vague and enormous desire for some deeds or actions; it opens the way for the emergence of powerful, hidden forces within us; it acts like an earthquake as it throws open unknown and hidden strata. The view that art returns us to atavism rather than projecting us into the future, is erroneous. Although music does not generate any direct actions, its fundamental effect, the direction it imparts to psychic catharsis, is essential for the kind of forces it will release, what it will release, and what it will push into the background. Art is the organization of our future behavior. It is a requirement that may never be fulfilled but that forces us to strive beyond our life toward all that lies beyond it.
We may therefore call art a delayed reaction, because there is always a fairly long period of time between its effect and its execution. This does not mean, however, that the effect of art is mysterious or mystical or that its explanation requires some new concepts different from those which the psychologist sets up when he analyzes common behavior. Art performs with our bodies and through our bodies. It is remarkable that scholars like Rutz and Sievers, who studied perceptual processes and not the effects of art, speak of the dependence of aesthetic perception on a specific muscular constitution of the body. Rutz was the first to suggest that any aesthetic effect must be associated with a definite type of muscular constitution. Sievers applied his idea to the contemplation of sculpture. Other scholars mention a connection between the basic organic constitution of the artist and the structure of his works. From the most ancient times, art has always been regarded as a means of education, that is, as a long-range program for changing our behavior and our organism. The subject of this chapter, the significance of applied arts, involves the educational effect of art. Those who see a relationship between pedagogy and art find their view unexpectedly supported by psychological analysis. We can now address ourselves to the last problems on our agenda, those of the practical effect of art on life and of its educational significance.
The educational significance of art and its practical aspects may be divided into two parts. We have first criticism as a fundamental social force, which opens the way to art, evaluates it, and serves as a transitional mechanism between art and society. From a psychological point of view, the role of criticism is to organize the effects of art. It gives a certain educational direction to these effects, and since by itself it has no power to influence the basic effect of art per se it puts itself between this effect and the actions into which this effect must finally resolve itself.
We feet therefore that the real purpose and task of art criticism is different from its conventional one. Its purpose is not to interpret or explain a work of art, nor is its purpose to prepare the spectator or reader for the perception of a work of art. Only half of the task of criticism is aesthetic; the other half is pedagogical and public. The critic approaches the average “consumer” of art, for instance, Tolstoy’s hero in The Kreutzer Sonata, at the troublesome point when he is under the incomprehensible and frightening spell of the music and does not know what it will release in him. The critic wishes to be the organizing force, but enters the action when art has already had its victory over the human psyche which now seeks impetus and direction for its action. The dualistic nature of criticism obviously entails a dualistic task. The criticism which consciously and intentionally puts art into prose establishes its social root, and determines the social connection that exists between art and the general aspects of life. It gathers our conscious forces counteract or, conversely, to cooperate with those impulses which have been generated by a work of art. This criticism leaves the domain of art and enters the sphere of social life, with the sole purpose of guiding the aesthetically aroused forces into socially useful channels. Everyone knows that a work of art affects different people in different ways. Like a knife, or any other tool, art by itself is neither good nor bad. More precisely, it has tremendous potential for either good or evil. It all depends on what use we make of, or what task m sign to, this tool. To repeat a trite example: a knife in the hands surgeon has a value completely different from that of the same knife the hands of a child.
But the foregoing is only half the task of criticism. The other half consists in conserving the effect of art as art, and preventing the read spectator from wasting the forces aroused by art by substituting for its powerful impulses dull, commonplace, rational-moral precepts. Few understand why it is imperative not only to have the effect of art shape and excite the reader or spectator but also to explain art, and to explain it in such a way that the explanation does not fill the emotion. We can readily show that such explanation is indispensable, our behavior is organized according to the principle of unity, which is accomplished mainly by means of our consciousness in which any emotion seeking an outlet must be represented. Otherwise we risk creating a conflict, and the work of art, instead of producing a catharsis, would inflict a wound, and the person experiences what Tolstoy when his heart is filled with a vague, incomprehensible emotion of depression, impotence, and confusion. However, this does not mean that the explanation of art kills the trepidation of poetry mentioned by Longinus, for there are two different levels involved. This second element, the element of conservation of an artistic impression, has always been regarded by theoreticians as decisively important for art criticism but, oddly enough, our critics have always ignored it. Criticism has always approached art as if it were a parliamentary speech or a non-aesthetic fact. It considered its task to be the destruction of the effect of art in order to discover the significance of art. Plekhanov was aware that the search for the sociological equivalent of a work of art is only the first half of the task of criticism. “This means,” he said when discussing Belinskii, “that evaluation of the idea of a work of art must be followed by an analysis of its artistic merits. Philosophy did not eliminate aesthetics. On the contrary, it paved the way for it and tried to find a solid basis for it. This must also be said about materialistic criticism. In searching for the social equivalent of a given literary phenomenon, this type of criticism betrays its own nature if it does not understand that we cannot confine ourselves to finding this equivalent, and that sociology must not shut the door to aesthetics but, on the contrary, open it wide. The second action of materialistic criticism must be, as was the case with many critic-idealists, the evaluation of the aesthetic merits of the work under investigation ... The determination of the sociological equivalent of a given work of literature would be incomplete and therefore imprecise if the critic failed to appraise its artistic merits. In other words, the first action of materialistic criticism not only does not eliminate the need for the second action, but requires it as a necessary and indispensable complement.”
A similar situation arises with the problem of art in education: the two parts or acts cannot exist independently. Until recently, the public approach to art prevailed in our schools as well as in our criticism. The students learned or memorized incorrect sociological formulas concerning many works of art. “At the present time,” says Gershenzon, “pupils are beaten with sticks to learn Pushkin, as if they were cattle herded to the watering place, and given a chemical dissociation of H20 instead of drinking water.” It would be unfair to conclude with Gershenzon that the system of teaching art in the schools is wrong from beginning to end. In the guise of the history of social thought reflected in literature, our students learned false literature and false sociology. Does this mean that it is possible to teach art outside the sociological context and only on the basis of individual tastes, to jump from concept to concept, from the Iliad to Maiakovskii? Eichenwaid seems to believe this, for he claims that it is impossible as well as unnecessary to teach literature in the schools. “Should one teach literature?” he asks. “Literature, like the other arts, is optional. It represents an entertainment of the mind. ... Is it necessary that students be taught that Tatiana fell in love with Onegin, or that Lermontov was bored, sad, and unable to love forever?”
Eichenwald is of the opinion that it is impossible to teach literature and that it should be taken out of the school curriculum because it requires an act of creativity different from all the other subjects taught at school. But he proceeds from a rather squalid aesthetic, and all his weak spots become obvious when we analyze his basic position, “Read, enjoy, but can we force people to enjoy?” Of course, if “to read” means “to enjoy,” then literature cannot be taught and has no place in the schools (although someone once said that the art of enjoyment could also he taught). A school that eliminates lessons in literature is bound to be a bad school. “At the present time, explanatory reading has as its main purpose the explanation of the content of what is being read. Under such a system, poetry as such is eliminated from the curriculum. For instance, the difference between a fable by Krylov and its rendition in prose is Completely lost.” From the repudiation of such a position, Gershenzon comes to the conclusion: “Poetry cannot and must not be a compulsory subject of education; it is time that it again become a guest from paradise on earth, loved by everyone, as was the case in ancient times. Then it will once again become the true teacher of the masses.” The basic idea here is that poetry is a heavenly guest and it must be made to resume the role it played “in ancient times.” But Gershenzon does not concern himself with the fact that these ancient times are gone forever, and that nothing in our time plays the same role it played then. He ignores this fact because he believes that art is fundamentally different from all the other activities of man. For him, art is a kind of a mystical or spiritual act that cannot be recreated by studying the forces of the. According to him, poetry cannot be studied scientifically.” One of the greatest mistakes of contemporary culture,” he says, “application of a scientific or, more precisely, a naturalistic method to the study of poetry.” Thus, what contemporary scholars consider to be the only possible way of solving the riddle of art is for Gershenzon the supreme mistake of contemporary culture.
Future studies and investigations are likely to show that the i creating a work of art is not a mystical or divine act of our soul, I real an act as all the other movements of our body, only much complex. We have discovered in the course of our study that a creative act that cannot be recreated by means of purely conscious operations. But, by establishing that the most important elements in art are subconscious or creative, do we automatically eliminate any and all conscious moments and forces? The act of artistic creation cannot be taught. This does not mean, however, that the educator cannot cooper ate in forming it or bringing it about. We penetrate the subconscious through the conscious. We can organize the conscious processes in such a way that they generate subconscious processes, and everyone knows that an act of art includes, as a necessary condition, all preceding acts of rational cognizance, understanding, recognition, association, and so forth. It is wrong to assume that the later subconscious processes do not depend on the direction imparted by us to the conscious processes. By organizing our conscious, which leads us toward art, we insure a priori the success or failure of the work of art. Hence Molozhavy correctly states that the act of art is “the process of our response to the phenomenon, although it may never have reached the stage of action. This process ... widens the scope of our personality, endows it with new possibilities, prepares for the completed response to the phenomenon, that is, behavior, and also has educational value ... Potebnia is wrong to treat the artistic image as a condensation of thought. Both thought and image are a condensation either of the conscious with respect to the phenomenon involved or of the psyche, which issued from a series of positions preparatory to the present position. But this gives us no right to confuse these biological elements, these psychological processes, on the basis of the vague argument that both thought and artistic image are creative acts. On the contrary, we must emphasize all their individual peculiarities in order to understand each as a part of the whole. The tremendous strength that arouses emotions, inspires the will, fortifies energy, and pushes us to action lies in the concreteness of the artistic image which is in turn based upon the originality of the psychological path leading to it.”
These considerations need one substantial correction if we move from the field of general psychology into child psychology. When we determine the influence exerted by art, we must take into account the specific peculiarities facing one who deals with children. Of course this is a separate field, a separate and independent study, because the domain of child art and the response of children to art is completely different from that of adults. However, we shall say a few brief words on the subject and trace a basic line along which child psychology intersects this field. There are remarkable phenomena in the art of children. First, there is the early presence of a special structure required by art, which points to the fact that for the child there exists a psychological kinship between art and play. “First of all,” says Biihler, “is the fact that the child very early adopts the correct structure, which is alien to reality but required by the fairy tale, so that he can concentrate on the exploits of the heroes and follow the changing images. It seems to me that he loses this ability during some period of his development, but it returns to him in later years. ...” Apparently art does not perform the same function in a child as it does in an adult. The best example of this is a child’s drawing which in many cases is on the borderline of artistic creativity. The child does not understand that the structure of a line can directly express the moods and trepidations of the heart and soul. The ability to render the expressions of people and animals in different positions and gestures develops very slowly in a child, for various reasons. The principal one is the fundamental fact that a child draws patterns, not events or phenomena. Some claim the opposite, but they seem to ignore the simple fact that a child’s drawing is not yet art for the child. His art is unique and different from the art of adults, although the two have one very interesting characteristic in common. It is the most important trait in art and we shall mention it in conclusion. Only recently was it noticed that certain absurdities or amusing nonsense which can be found in nursery rhymes by inverting the most commonplace events play a tremendously important role in child art. Most frequently the required or desired absurdity is achieved in a nursery rhyme by assigning certain functions of object A to object B, and vice versa. ... "The hermit asked me how many strawberries grow at the bottom of the ocean. I answered him: ‘As many as there are red herrings in the forest.’ To understand this nursery jingle the child must know the truth about life: herrings exist only in the ocean, and strawberries only in the forest. He begins to look for the absurd only when he is absolutely sure of the facts.” We, too, feel that the statement, that this aspect of child art comes very close to play, is true; as a matter of fact, it gives us a good explanation of the role and the significance of art in a child’s life. “We still do not quite understand the connection which exists between nursery rhymes and child’s play. ... When evaluating books for small children, critics frequently forget to apply the criterion of play. Most folk nursery rhymes do not issue from games but are play, a game in themselves: a play of words, a play of rhythms, sounds; ... these muddles always maintain some sort of ideal order. There is system in this folly. By dragging a child into a topsy-turvy world, we help his intellect work, because the child becomes interested in creating such a topsy-turvy world for himself in order to become more effectively the master of the laws governing the real world. These absurdities could be dangerous for a child if they screened out the real interrelationships between ideas and objects. Instead, they push them to the fore, and emphasize them. They enhance (rather than weaken) the child’s perception of reality.”
Here, too, we observe the same phenomenon of the dualism of art. In order to perceive art, we must contemplate simultaneously the true situation of things and their deviation from this situation. We can also observe how an effect of art arises from such a contradictory perception. Since absurdities are tools for the child to use in understanding reality, it becomes suddenly clear why the extreme leftists in art criticism come up with a slogan: art as a method for building life. They say that art is building life because “reality is forged from the establishment and destruction of contradictions. When they criticize the idea of art as the cognition of life and advance the idea of a dialectic perception of the world through matter, they reach agreement with the psychological laws of art. "Art is an original, chiefly emotional ... dialectic approach to building life."
Now we can envision the role of art in the future. It is hard to guess what forms this unknown life of the future will take, and it is even harder to guess what place art will take in that future life. One thing is clear, however: arising from reality and reaching toward it, art will be determined by the basic order of the future flow of life.
“In the future,” says Friche, “the role of art is not likely to change substantially from its present role. Socialist society will not be the antithesis of capitalist society, but its organic continuation."
If we regard art as an embellishment or ornament of life, such a viewpoint is admissible. However, it basically contradicts the psychological laws of art. Psychological investigation reveals that art is the supreme center of biological and social individual processes in society, that it is a method for finding an equilibrium between man and his world, in the most critical and important stages of his life. This view of course completely refutes the approach according to which art is an ornament, and thereby leads us to doubt the correctness of the above statement. Since the future has in store not only a rearrangement of mankind according to new principles, not only the organization of new social and economic processes, but also the “remolding of man,” there seems hardly any doubt that the role of art will also change.
It is hard to imagine the role that art will play in this remolding of man. We do not know which existing but dormant forces in our organisms it will draw upon to form the new man. There is no question, however, that art will have a decisive voice in this process. Without new art there can be no new man. The possibilities of the future, for art as well as for life, are inscrutable and unpredictable. As Spinoza said, “That of which the body is capable has not yet been determined.”