Educational Psychology. Lev Vygotsky 1926
The nature, ultimate meaning, purpose, and methods of esthetic education are still unresolved questions in the realm of psychology as well as in pedagogical theory. From time immemorial and right up to the present day, extreme and opposing viewpoints have been adopted towards these questions, viewpoints which, with each passing decade, seem to find ever newer confirmation in a whole series of psychological investigations. Thus, the controversy not only has not been resolved and not only is not drawing to a close, but rather is becoming increasingly more complicated, as if marching in step with the forward advance of scientific knowledge.
Many writers are inclined to reject the thesis that esthetic experiences possesses any educational value whatsoever, and the system of pedagogics which is associated with these writers and which has grown up from the very same roots persists in maintaining this idea, granting only a narrow and restricted value to esthetic education. In contrast, psychologists who subscribe to a different system in psychology are inclined to overstate the value of esthetic experience to an extraordinary degree, and to see in these experiences a slightly radical pedagogical tool that can take care of absolutely all the difficult and complex problems of education.
Between these two extreme points there is a whole series of moderate views on the role of esthetics in the life of the child. In most cases, these views are usually inclined to see in esthetics a form of amusement and a way for children to have fun. Where some discover a serious and profound meaning in esthetic experiences, it is nearly everywhere a matter not of esthetic education as an end in itself, but only as a tool for attaining pedagogical goals that are alien to esthetics. Esthetics in the service of pedagogics, as this may be termed, always fulfils exotic purposes and, in the opinion of some educators, should serve as a means and method for the education of cognition, sensibility, or moral will.
That this view is misguided and irrational can now be considered established beyond all reasonable doubt. All three goals, which are alien to yet bound up with esthetics – cognition, feeling, and morality – have played a role in the historical evolution of this problem that has greatly delayed all efforts to understand it correctly.
It is usually supposed that a work of art possesses a good or bad, though nevertheless direct moral effect, and in evaluating esthetic impressions, particularly among children and teenagers, we are inclined to proceed, above all, on the basis of an evaluation of this moral impulse, which emanates from every object. Children’s libraries are set up with the intention of leading children to draw instructive moral examples out of books, while a hortatory tone, tedious copybook maxims, and unctuous preachiness seem to be the essential style of self-conscious children’s literature.
The only real lesson the child may draw out of contact with art – so it is said – is a more or less life-like illustration of a particular moral rule. Everything else is declared to be too difficult for children to understand, and outside the realm of morality children’s literature is usually limited to nonsense verse and gibberish, as if there was nothing else children are able to grasp. Hence arises that silly sentimentality so natural to children’s literature as to be its distinctive feature. An adult who tries to affect children’s psychology will, under the impression that real feelings are too difficult for children, present sugarcoated version of events and heroes that are clumsily and unskillfully made up; feelings are replaced by sensitivity and emotions by sentiment. Sentimentality is nothing less than silly feelings.
It is for this reason that, children’s literature usually represents a vivid example of bad taste, of the coarse violation of all notion of esthetic style, and of the most dismal misunderstanding of the mind of the child.
We must, above all, reject such an approach, the belief that experiences should possess some kind of direct relationship to moral experience, as if every work of art incorporates a kind of incentive to moral behavior. An extraordinarily curious fact has been reported in the American pedagogical literature regarding the moral influence of that seemingly indisputably humanistic work of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When asked what were their feelings and thoughts after reading the book, several American students declared that, more than anything else, they were sorry that the time of slavery was gone and that there weren’t any slaves in America now. This is even more remarkable in that, in this case, we are dealing not with some kind of exceptional moral obtuseness or misunderstanding, rather that the possibility of such a conclusion lies within the very nature of the child’s esthetic experiences, and that we can never be certain ahead of time what will be the moral influence of a particular book.
Chekhov’s story of the medieval monk, who, with the skill of a wondrous artist, tells his monastic brothers of the power of the devil, of the debauchery, the horrors, and the temptations he had been led to see in the city, is instructive
in this regard. The narrator was inspired by the most sincere indignation, and since he was a true artist and spoke with great enthusiasm, eloquently and resoundingly, he depicted the force of the devil and the mortal temptations of sin so vividly that by morning there was not a single monk left in the monastery, all of them having run off to the city.
The moral effect of art very often recalls the fate of this sermon, and we can never be certain that our well-laid plans will always come out just the way we want them to when dealing with children. Actual observations of the child’s life and facts taken from psychology that discuss the way children understand Krylov’s stories are extremely instructive in this regard. Whenever children are not trying to guess what sort of response their teacher is expecting, but speak sincerely and on their own, their judgements are so at variance with the moral the teacher may be hoping to impart that some educators have come to think that even indisputably “ethical” works may turn out to exert a morally harmful influence when they are passed through the prism of a child’s mind. It is necessary to take account of the laws governing this refractive medium, for otherwise we run the risk of obtaining results along the lines described above.
In his story, The Fox and the Raven, for example, all the child’s sympathies are directed towards the fox. It arouses the child’s admiration, and the child comes to think of the fox as a being who is clever and subtle in his mockery of the dumb raven. The effect which the teacher hopes to obtain – of aversion towards flattery and adulation – is not achieved. Children laugh at the raven, while the fox’ deeds appear in the most favorable light. In no way are children led to the thought, “Oh, how wicked and harmful is flattery,” from reading the story and instead end up with quite the opposite moral sensibility from what they are taught initially.
In the same way, in Krylov’s story, The Dragon Fly and the Ant, the child’s sympathies are aroused by the carefree and lyrical dragon fly who, all summer long, is always singing, while the morose and tiresome ant seems loathsome, and children come to believe that the entire story is directed against the ant’s slow-witted and complacent miserliness. Again, the bite of mockery is pointed in the wrong direction, and instead of instilling children with respect for business-like efficiency and for work, the story suggests the joy and charm of an easy and carefree existence.
And, finally, in Krylov’s story, The Wolf in the Kennel, children tend to see the wolf as a heroic figure, since they feel he is truly majestic, irreverent, and in splendid defiance towards the hunters and their hounds once he not only does not cry for help, but proudly and arrogantly undertakes to defend and protect himself. The story as a whole discloses its true meaning to children not from the aspect of any moral sense, i.e., the wolf’s punishment, but from the aspect of, if one may be so bold, the tragic grandeur of the destruction of a hero.
There are any number of examples and instances that may be taken from these or other stories which confirm the same result. Meanwhile, Russian schools, without any regard whatsoever for the psychological fact that there is always a multitude of possible interpretations and moral conclusions, has forever sought to subsume all artistic experience under a particular moral dogma, and has always been content with imparting a single interpretation of this dogma without suspecting that, often, a literary text not only does not help us when we wish to gain an understanding of the text itself, but, on the contrary, suggests a moral conception which leads altogether in the opposite direction. Blonskii is quite correct in his description of our esthetic education when he writes that poetry as such is absent from literature classes in the Soviet Union, and that all distinction between the text of Krylov’s stories and the prosaic presentation of its content has been lost.
The ultimate, a virtual travesty is reached when it is matter of searching for the main theme of a given work of art, for an explanation of “what the author wanted to say” and what might be the moral value of each character individually. Sologub presents just such an interpretation by the teacher Peredonov of a line from one of Pushkin’s poems “Together with his hungry mate, the wolf went on its way." Here is an exaggerated, though not distorted picture of all those methodical prosaic renderings [prozaizirovanie] of poetry that have served as the basis of esthetic education in general, in which we extracting from a literary work all its nonesthetic elements and make up conjectures regarding this work from the standpoint of certain moral rules.
We have to note that this tends to have a predatory effect on the very possibility of esthetic perception and the esthetic attitude towards the object, not to mention the fact that it is in radical contradiction with the nature of esthetic experience.
Another, no less harmful psychological confusion in esthetic education has been the imposition on esthetics of yet other goals and problems that are likewise foreign to it, though these are no longer moral in nature, but rather social and cognitive. Esthetic education is taken to be a tool for expanding students’ cognition. All those courses on the history of literature once studied, for example, were constructed on the basis of this principle, and the acquisition of facts about art and the laws governing art, were replaced, quite deliberately, by the study of the social elements found in these works of art. It is of more than slight importance that the most popular textbooks on the history of Russian literature, which all our leading philologists have used in their teaching, bear such titles as History of the Russian Intelligentsia (Ovsyanniko-Kulikovskii) and History of Russian Social Thought (Ivanov-Razumnik). It is not literary events and facts that are deliberately and intentionally studied, but the history of the intelligentsia and the history of social thought, i.e., subjects that are, in essence, alien and foreign to esthetic education.
All these factors once possessed considerable historical meaning and value in previous epochs, when our schools were like the Great Wall of China, isolated from all social and civil discipline, and when we would receive the true rudiments of civil and social education in lessons in literature. But now that the social disciplines have assumed their proper place, such an exchange of esthetic values for social values is equally harmful for the one realm as for the other. Moreover, such a confusion of different realms of knowledge resembles those marriages where both sides are equally interested in a separation.
Above all, when we study society on the basis of models drawn from literature, we are always learning about it in false and distorted forms, inasmuch as works of art never reflect reality in all its entirety or in all its genuine truth. Works of art always constitute an extremely complicated product achieved through a reworking of the elements of reality, in which a whole series of utterly foreign elements are brought into reality. And, ultimately, whoever knows the history of the Russian intelligentsia only from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Chatskii runs the risk of possessing a wholly inaccurate view of this history. Far wiser is he who undertakes to study the history of the Russian intelligentsia on the basis of historical documents, letters, diaries, and all those other materials on which historical study is constructed, where the most modest role, very nearly the last in importance, is that of literary creations. It is just as impossible to study the history of the Russian intelligentsia using works of Russian literature as it is to study geography using the novels of Jules Verne, though, of course, both have left their mark in literature.
This view is based on the false conception that literature constitutes a kind of replica of reality, a kind of model photograph that resembles a group portrait. Such a group portrait, in which any number of people in the same group may be photographed with the same plate superimposes the features of one person on someone else’s likeness, as a result of which all those standard features that are frequently encountered in a given group are identified especially vividly, as if in a relief map. Individual and random features, on the other hand, are hidden and, by this simple device, a standard portrait of a family, a group of patients, or a group of criminals may be created. It is believed that a figure taken from literature is something like a group photograph, and that, say, the figure of Eugene Onegin absorbed and accommodated all the typical personalities of the Russian intelligentsia of the 1820s and may, therefore, serve as authentic material for the study of this epoch. Meanwhile, it is not hard to see that, in this as in any other figure drawn from literature, the truth of art and the truth of reality exist in extraordinarily complicated relationships, and that, in any work of art, reality is always so transformed and so altered that there is no way whatsoever that meaning may be transferred directly from phenomena in art to phenomena in real life.
We also run the risk not only of ending up with a false understanding of reality, but also of entirely eliminating all the purely esthetic elements in such teaching. Interest in and regard for the study of the man of the 1820s has, psychologically speaking, nothing in common with interest in and regard for Pushkin’s poetry; they manifest themselves in entirely different responses, emotions, and psychological states, and make use only of common matter for entirely different needs. Thus, the roof of an architectural structure may be utilized for protection against the rain, as an observation post, as a restaurant, and for any other purpose whatsoever, but in all these instances the esthetic value of the roof, as a part of an esthetic whole, as a part of an architectural scheme, is entirely lost sight of.
Finally, it remains for us to consider the third point of confusion where traditional pedagogy sins whenever it reduces esthetics to the sense of the percipient, to the appreciation of works of art, and sees in it an end in itself, in other words, where it reduces the entire meaning of esthetic experience to the unmediated sense of pleasure and joy which it arouses in children. Once again, the work of art is interpreted as a tool for arousing pleasurable reactions and is, practically speaking, placed in the same category as other analogous reactions and sensations that are utterly real. Whoever thinks of planting the field of esthetics in education to serve as a source of pleasure runs the risk of forever encountering the most powerful rivals in the very first tasting and the very first test drive. The special feature of childhood consists precisely in the fact that the immediate force of a real and concrete experience for a child is far greater than the force of an imagined emotion.
Thus, we see that traditional pedagogics is at a dead end when it comes to questions of esthetic education, striving to bound up with it entirely foreign goals that have nothing to do with it, and as a result, first, its proper value is overlooked, and, second, results are often attained that are at variance with what might have been expected.
The opportunity for such psychological confusion is the result not simply of the ignorance of instructors, but of the far more glaring and far more profound error of psychological science itself as regards questions of esthetics. For a long time, psychology viewed esthetic perception as constituting an entirely passive experience, a matter of giving oneself over entirely to one’s feelings, the cessation of absolutely every activity of the organism. Psychologists would even explain that disinterestedness, unselfish admiration, the utter suppression of the will, and the absence of all personal relationship to the esthetic object amounted to necessary conditions for the realization of an esthetic reaction. This is all profoundly true, though it is only part of the truth, and thus yields an entirely false impression of the nature of this reaction as a whole.
There can be no doubt that a certain degree of passivity and disinterestedness are indispensable psychological pre-conditions for the esthetic act. The moment the viewer or reader assumes the role of active participant in the work of art he is apprehending, he is beyond the realm of esthetics irrevocably and once and for all. If while looking at apples that happen to be depicted in a painting, the thought of the activity associated with the intention of tasting real apples becomes overwhelmingly powerful in me, what is nevertheless clear is that the picture is now outside my field of apprehension. It is, however, not too difficult to see that this is only the other side of another, incomparably more serious activity, i.e., the activity by means of which the esthetic act is realized. What this is, may actually be easily gauged at least from the fact that a work of art is far from accessible to everyone’s grasp, that the apprehension of a work of art involves arduous and difficult mental strain. Obviously, a work of art is not apprehended by an utterly passive individual, and not just by the eyes and the cars, but through unimaginably complex interior activity in which listening and looking are only the first step, the first impetus, the elemental impulse.
If the purpose of a painting were to consist solely in caressing our eyes, and that of music in supplying agreeable experiences to our ears, the apprehension of paintings and of musical compositions would not represent any difficulty, and, except for the blind and deaf, everyone would have a calling in regard to the appreciation of these works of art to the same degree. Meanwhile, the elements of perception of sensations constitute only an essential primary impetus for the arousal of more complex activity and, in and of itself, lack all esthetic meaning whatsoever. Christensen says that to amuse our senses, is not the ultimate goal of a work of art. What is important in music is what is inaudible, and in the plastic arts, what is invisible and imperceptible.
This invisible and imperceptible element must be understood as simply consisting in placing emphasis in the esthetic process on the responding elements of the reaction to sense impressions emanating from without. From this point of view, we can say outright that the esthetic experience is constructed from an entirely exact model of an ordinary reaction that presupposes, of necessity, the presence of three components, i.e., sensation, processing, and response. The component of perception of form, i.e., the labor which is performed by the eyes and the ears, amounts to only the first and primitive component of the esthetic experience, and there are two other components to consider. We know that a work of art is, for all intents and purposes, only a collection of external impressions or sensible effects on the individual which are organized in a special way. These sensible effects are, however, organized and constructed in such a way as to arouse a kind of reaction in the individual that differs from the sort of reactions that usually occur, and it is this special activity, associated with esthetic sensations, which happens to constitute the esthetic experience.
We still cannot say precisely what it consists in, since psychological analysis has yet to have the final word on the composition of the esthetic experience, though we already know that it involves the most complex constructive activity imaginable, an activity in which the listener or viewer himself constructs and creates an esthetic object out of the external impressions which are presented to him, and all his subsequent reactions are now referred to this object. Come to think of it, a painting is not really just a rectangular piece of canvas to which a certain quantity of paint has been applied. Once this canvas and these paints are interpreted by a viewer as the portrayal of a person, or of an object, or of an event, this complex work of transformation of painted canvas into picture occurs wholly within the mind of the viewer. Lines have to be connected, and closed up into the outlines of shapes, related to each other, and interpreted in terms of perspective in such a way as to recall the figure of a person or the appearance of a landscape.
Next, a complex effort at recollection, of the formation of associations, is needed in order to apprehend what sort of person or what sort of landscape is depicted in the painting, and what might be the relationship between the different parts of the painting. This essential labor may be referred to collectively as secondarily creative synthesis, inasmuch as it entails on the part of the spectator the amassing and synthesis of disparate elements of an esthetic unity. If a melody says anything to our soul, it is because we can ourselves put together sounds that come to us from without. Psychologists have long spoken of the fact that all that content and all those feelings we associate with a work of art involve nothing other than what we ourselves have introduced into it, that we seem to sense them in the esthetic image, and in fact, psychologists have referred to the very act of apprehension as empathy. The complex activity of empathy reduces, for all practical purposes. to the reconstitution of a series of internal reactions, to their mutual accommodation, and to a certain degree of creative reworking of the object we confront. This activity also constitutes a fundamental esthetic activity, which, by its very nature, is nevertheless an activity of the organism in response to external sensations.
The biological value of esthetic activity is another troubling and debatable point. Only at the lowest stages of nascent esthetic activity is it possible to grasp the biological meaning of this activity. Initially, art arises to meet the needs of life, and rhythm is the primitive form of Organization of labor and of struggle, ornamentation occurs as a component of sexual courting, and art bears an explicitly utilitarian and serviceable character. However, the genuine biological meaning of art in the modern era, of new art, that is, must be sought somewhere else. While a savage might replace martial songs by orders and battle plans, and while he might think that sobbing at a funeral is a means of directly reaching the soul of the departed, there is no way we can ascribe such unmediated and ordinary functions to modern art, and we have to seek its biological value somewhere else entirely.
The most widely accepted view here is that represented by Herbert Spencer’s law of economy of creative forces, according to which the value of a work of art and the pleasure it provides are fully explainable by an economy of spiritual forces, by the conservation of attention which accompanies every apprehension of a work of art. Esthetic experience is the most efficient and the most profitable of all experiences for an individual, it produces a maximal effect with minimal consumption of energy, and this savings in energy also constitutes a kind of basis of esthetic pleasure. “The virtue of style,” writes Aleksandr Veselovskii, “consists precisely in the fact that it supplies the greatest number of thoughts possible in the least number of words possible.” One usually points to the facilitative value of symmetry, to the beneficial respite afforded by the interruption in rhythm, as vivid examples of this law.
However, even if it were valid, this law would, for all intents and purposes, have virtually nothing to do with questions of art, since we could find the very same economy of forces essentially wherever human creativity manifests itself; we find no lesser an economy of forces in mathematical formulas or in physical laws, in the classification of plants or in the study of the circulatory system, than in works of art, and if it were claimed that here it is a matter of an economy of esthetic influence, we would be at a loss in explaining how esthetic economy might be distinguished from the overall economy of all of creativity. But apart from that, the law does not express a psychological truth and is at variance with rigorous investigations in the realm of art. The study of esthetic form has shown that, in an esthetic experience, we are dealing not with a facilitative, but with a more demanding reproduction of reality, and some of the more radical students in the field have come to speak of the “condensation” (ostranenie) of objects as constituting the fundamental law of art. In any case, it should be clear that poetic speech is a more difficult form of speech by comparison with prose, and that its unusual arrangement of words, its subdivision into verses, and its rhythmic character not only does not relieve our attention from any sort of effort, but, on the contrary, demands ceaseless exertion of attention towards elements which manifest themselves for the first time here and which are utterly lacking in ordinary speech.
For the present-day study of art, it has become a tautology that, in a work of art, the apprehension of any one of its elements gets away from automatism and becomes conscious and tangible. For example, in everyday speech we do not focus our attention on the phonetic aspect of the word. Sounds are perceived automatically and are automatically associated with a particular meaning. William James has pointed out how strange and extraordinary our native language would appear to us if we were to listen to it without understanding it, as if it were a foreign language. Recall that the law of poetic speech simply asserts that when sounds come to the surface in the luminous field of consciousness, the act of focusing our attention on them induces an emotional relation to them. Thus, the apprehension of poetic speech is not only not facilitative, but even more demanding, i.e., it requires additional work by comparison with ordinary speech. Obviously, the biological meaning of esthetic activity does not in the least express the sort of parasitic relationship that would inevitably arise if all esthetic pleasure were to be purchased at the expense of an economizing on spiritual forces which had been achieved thanks to the labor of others.
An understanding of the biological meaning of the esthetic act must be sought along the path followed by modern psychology, in an unraveling of the psychology of the creative work of the artist and in a convergence of our understanding of apprehension and of the process of creation. Before we ask ourselves why it is that we read, we must ask ourselves why it is that people write. The question of creative effort and its psychological sources again presents extraordinary difficulties, so that here we pass from one obstacle to the next. The general thesis, according to which creative effort represents the most profound demand of our psyche in pursuit of the sublimation of certain lower forms of energy is, however, no longer open to question. According to contemporary psychology, the most reasonable interpretation of creative effort is that which views it as sublimation, as the conversion of lower forms of mental energy which have not been consumed and which have not found an outlet in the individual’s everyday activity, into higher forms of mental energy. Earlier, we presented on explanation of the concept of sublimation from the standpoint of the study of the instincts and, in particular, discussed the thesis that the creative processes and the sublimation of sexual energy exist in the closest imaginable relationship. In the words of one psychologist, in questions having to do with creative effort, there are people who are “rich” and people who are “poor,” people who disburse their entire reserve of energy on the maintenance of everyday life, and people who seem to set aside and save, enlarging the range of needs that have to be satisfied. Here, too, creative effort arises the moment a certain quantity of energy that has not been put to use, that has not been consumed for immediate purposes , has not been apportioned, passes beyond the threshold of consciousness, whence it returns transformed into new forms of activity.
Earlier, we explained at some length that our capacities exceed our activity, that what a person accomplished in life is only a insignificant fraction of all those sensations that arise in the nervous system, and that it is precisely this discrepancy between capacities and realization, between the potential and the real in our life, which is fully encompassed by creative effort. Thus does the identity between acts of creation and acts of apprehension in art become a fundamental psychological presupposition. To be Shakespeare and to read Shakespeare are phenomena that are infinitely disparate in terms of degree, though entirely identical in terms of nature, as Yulii Aikhenval'd correctly explained. The reader must be sympathetic to the poet, and, in our apprehension of any work of art, we seem to be recreating it all over again. Thus, we are entirely justified in defining processes of apprehension as consisting in the reproduction and recapitulation of creative processes. And if that is so, the conclusion is unavoidable that such processes represent the very same biological form of sublimation of certain types of spiritual energy as do creative processes themselves. It is precisely in art that that fraction of our life which occurs, in fact, in the form of excitations in our nervous system becomes manifest to us, though it remains unrealized in activity, as a consequence of the fact that our nervous system apprehends more stimuli than it can respond to.
The fact is that there is always present in man this excess of possibilities over life, this residue of unrealized behavior, as has been demonstrated in the study of the struggle for the total motor field, and this excess must always seek for itself some outlet. If this residue does not find an appropriate outlet, it finds itself in conflict with man’s psyche. Abnormal forms of behavior usually arise out of such unrealized behavior, expressed in the form of psychoses and neuroses, which denote nothing other than a collision between unrealized, subconscious desires and the conscious part of our behavior. That which remains unrealized in our life must be sublimated, and there are only two outlets for what remains unrealized in life – either sublimation or neurosis. Thus, from the psychological point of view, art constitutes an imperishable and biologically essential mechanism by means of which excitations that have remained unrealized in life are discarded, and, in one form or another, is an entirely inevitable companion of every human existence.
In artistic creation, such sublimation is realized in extraordinarily vigorous and mighty forms, through esthetic apprehension, in forms that are facilitated and simplified, and prepared in advance by the aggregate of all those stimuli which impinge upon us. That esthetic education, interpreted as the creation of permanent skills for the sublimation of the subconscious possesses an extraordinarily important and autonomous value, is, therefore, entirely understandable. To educate someone in esthetics means creating in that person a permanent and properly functioning channel for the diversion and abstraction of the inner forces of the subconscious into useful skills. Sublimation fulfills in socially useful forms that which sleep and illness fulfill in private and pathological forms.
The most cursory glance at esthetic reactions is enough for us to see that their ultimate goal is not to reproduce any genuine reaction, but to transcend it and triumph over it. If the ultimate goal of a poem about melancholy was only to tell us about melancholy, this would be a rather sad state of affairs for art. Obviously, in this case the goal of lyric poetry is not just to afflict us, as Leo Tolstoy puts it, with someone else’s feelings, in this case, someone else’s melancholy, but to be victorious over it, to transcend melancholy. In this sense, the Bukharinist definition of art as the socialization of feelings, just like the Tolstoyan theme of the affliction of a multitude of people with the feelings of one person are, speaking psychologically, not entirely correct.
In this case, the “wonder” of art would recall that dismal miracle from the scriptures when five loaves of bread and two fish were enough to feed five thousand people, except for women and children, and everyone ate and was satisfied; and the remaining pieces of food filled twenty baskets. The “miracle” here lies only in the extraordinary multiplication of experience, though everyone who ate, ate only bread and fish, fish and bread. As in the socialization of feelings in art, there is achieved a multiplication of one person’s feelings by a factor of a thousand, though feeling itself nevertheless remains an ordinary psychological type of emotion, and no work of art can incorporate anything that might go beyond the limits of this immeasurably vast emotion. It is entirely understandable that the purpose of art would then be rather puny, inasmuch as every genuine object and every genuine emotion would prove to be many times more powerful, more sharply defined, and more intensive and, consequently, all the pleasure of art would spring from man’s hunger and poverty, whereas in fact, it springs from man’s wealth, from the fact that every person possesses more wealth than he is able to realize in his own life.
Thus, art is not a means of making up for a lack in life, but issues from what it is in man that exceeds life. The “wonder” of art is far more reminiscent of that time when water was turned into wine, and, therefore, every work of art forever bears some genuine objective theme or some entirely ordinary feeling about the world. But what we understand by form and style refers to the fact that this genuine objective theme or this emotional tinge of things is overcome and transformed into something entirely novel. It is for this reason that the meaning of esthetic activity has been understood since time immemorial as catharsis, i.e., as a liberation and resolution of the spirit from the passions which torment it. In the psychology of ancient times, this concept assumed the purely medicinal and restorative value of a healing of the soul, and there can be no doubt that it was far more in accord with the genuine nature of art than a host of contemporary theories. “Psalms heal a suffering spirit” – these words of the poet express more correctly than anything else that watershed which separates art from illness.
It is not without reason that many psychologists have found it extremely tempting to search for features that might be common to art and illness, to declare that genius is akin to madness, and to view as abnormal both human creation and human folly. It is only in this way that we are able to understand the cognitive, the ethical, the emotional value of art. All these aspects do, undoubtedly, exist, but always as secondary components, as a kind of sequel to the work of art, arising in no other way than as a follow-up to its fully realized esthetic effect.
There can be no doubt that art possesses a moral testament, which manifests itself in nothing less than a certain internal clarification of the spiritual world, in a certain transcendence of one’s innermost conflicts and, consequently, in a liberation of certain constrained and exiled forces, particularly the forces of moral behavior. A shining illustration of this principle may be found in Chekhov’s short story, The House, where the father, a public prosecutor, who all his life has exercised his talents in devising every imaginable from of preventive punishment, in inventing all sorts of warnings and penalties, finds himself in an extremely embarrassing situation when he comes up against the small matter of his own son, a seven-year boy. having committed an offense, as the governess informs him. having grabbed some tobacco off his father’s table and smoked it. How many times the father had tried to explain to his son why he must not smoke, why he must not take someone else’s tobacco – none of his admonitions had achieved their purpose, since they had encountered insurmountable obstacles in the mind of his very own child, who apprehended and interpreted the world in a very original way entirely his own. When the father explains to him that one should not take someone else’s things, the boy responded by pointing out that right over there was his little yellow puppy sitting on the table next to his father, that there was nothing to be said against that, what if his father needed some of his things and felt he was welcome to take it and wouldn’t feel ashamed either? When his father tried to explain to him that it was harmful to smoke, that Uncle Grigorii had smoked and, therefore, had passed away. this example turned out to have quite the reverse effect on his son, since the boy associated the image of Uncle Grigorii with a kind of poetic feeling; he remembered that Uncle Grigorii was quite a wonderful violinist, and his uncle’s fate not only did not help him avoid doing what his uncle had done, but, quite the opposite, imparted to smoking a new and seductive meaning.
Thus, not having gotten anywhere, the father concluded his conversation with his son, and it was only just before going to sleep, when, as was his wont, he began to tell his son a story, clumsily linking together the first thoughts that came to mind into traditional story models, that his story unexpectedly assumed the form of a naive and silly tale of that old tsar who had a son, the son smoked, fell ill with consumption, and died at an early age; enemies invaded and destroyed the palace, and killed the old man, and “... now there are no longer any sweet cherries in the garden, neither birds nor bells ...” The father himself felt that this story was naive and silly; however, it produced an unexpected effect in his son, who, speaking in a thoughtful and low voice, which his father found quite unexpected, said that he would no longer smoke.
The simple act of telling the story aroused and illuminated new forces in the child’s psyche that made it possible for him to sense his father’s fear and his father’s concern for his health with such renewed vigor that the moral after-effect of this new force, impelled by his father’s initial persistence, had the unexpected effect his father had previously attempted to achieve, but in vain.
But now let us recall the two essential psychological features that distinguish this after-effect. First, it is realized in the form of the child’s own innermost, internal process of attention, it is by no means achieved through a process of rational extraction of some moral or through a sermon taken from a fable or short story. On the contrary, the more powerful is one’s agitation and one’s passion within whose atmosphere the esthetic impression works its effect, the higher is the emotional lift which accompanies it, the more powerful are the forces that accumulate about the moral after-effect, and the more faithful is this esthetic impression realized.
Second, from such a vantage point, the moral effect of esthetics may be fortuitous and secondary, so that, at the least, it is an unwise and uncertain proposition to use this moral effect as the basis of the education of moral behavior. There is that story where the father quite properly puts a lot of thought into deciding whether it is really right for “medicine to be sweet and truth beautiful.” In drawing its own convictions from novels and poetry, historical knowledge from operas and epic tales, and morality from fables, society, of course, never succeeds in reaching any firm and secure point in any of these realms. Chekhov was entirely correct in calling this a fancy that man has affected ever since the time of Adam, and in this regard it is entirely identical with that form of pedagogics which demands that children receive a stern moral upbringing based on truth.
Psychologists who have studied the visual stimuli that emanate from paintings have all come to the same conclusion, that the principal role in our experience of a painting is played by the kinesthetic senses, i.e., by motor reactions as well, and that we read a picture more with our muscles than with our eyes; its esthetic effect manifests itself in our fingertips as much as in our eyes, since it speaks to our tactile and motor imagination no less than to our visual imagination.
Finally, such an after-effect may also manifest itself in the hedonistic moment of pleasure or delight in a work of art, and this, too, may exert an educational influence on our senses, though this influence will always be secondary relative to the basic effect of poetry and art. This is not too different from what psychologists have referred to as the “liberating force of the higher emotions.” And just as in ancient times, when the incantatory force of the rhythmic word and of poetic speech would banish the spirits and combat them, so too does modern poetry banish and resolve internal forces that possess inimical effects, because in both instances there is a kind of resolution of internal conflict.
It’s worth recalling the rather curious fact that the pleasure produced by works of poetry always reveals itself along indirect and contradictory paths, and inevitably originates in a transcendence of the immediate impressions of the object and of the work of art. The tragic and the comic in art are the clearest exemplars of this psychological law, as anyone should be able to recall. Tragedy always speaks of destruction, and induces in us, in Aristotle’s definition, fear, awe, and compassion. If we contemplate tragedy not from the vantage point of these lofty feelings, but with a slight smile, then its tragic effect, of course, becomes incomprehensible to us. How agony can, all by itself, become the subject of the experience of the beautiful, and why the contemplation of someone else’s downfall can give the audience watching a tragedy such sublime pleasure, was a problem that engaged the attention of philosophers even in ancient times. Then this was attributed naively to a biological antithesis, and philosophers attempted to reduce the enjoyment we experience from tragedy to the feelings of security and pleasure man experiences every time misfortune strikes someone else. In this psychological theory, it is said that the tragedy of Oedipus gives a spectator the greatest pleasure imaginable simply because he learns from it to value his happiness and the fact that he isn’t blind. However, even the simplest examples presented by these writers completely refute this thesis, one writer having claimed, for example, that people who happen to be standing along the sea shore and who see a ship sinking into the ocean would, in such cases, have to feel the greatest delight imaginable from their awareness that they themselves are safe.
Even the simplest psychological observation shows us that in the experience of a tragedy, we are inevitably placed by the playwright in an empathetic relationship with a hero, which grows as he approaches his destruction and which feeds into our feelings of fear and rapture. Consequently, the source of this enjoyment must be sought elsewhere, and, of course, we find it only in catharsis, i.e., in the resolution of the passions that are aroused by tragedy, which is the ultimate purpose of art. “Awe,” writes Christensen, “is not portrayed for its own sake, but only as an impetus for transcending it.”
In precisely the same way, the comic, or that which is, in and of itself, mean and repulsive, also leads, along a path that, at first glance, seems utterly incomprehensible, to great delight. In Gogol’s “The Inspector,” there is not a single sweetly sounding word, on the contrary, the author has tried to hunt down every word that might sound rusty, tinny, and coarse in the Russian language. There is not a single character in the story who is not repulsive, not a single event that is not trivial, not a single thought which is in any way luminous. Nevertheless, in this piling up of the trivial and the repulsive, a kind of special meaning thrusts itself through and becomes manifest, which Gogol is right to attribute to laughter, i.e., to the psychological reaction which draws the spectator out of himself but which is not within the farce itself. In a farce no one laughs; everyone, on the contrary, is anxious and in earnest, though all this material is arranged in such a way that it inevitably induces in the spectator hearty laughter, which can be ranked with the unfolding of lyric poetry and which Gogol correctly calls the only worthy character of his farce.
German esthetics has long referred to this psychological aspect of art as the esthetic of the grotesque, and through these examples demonstrated with extraordinary persuasiveness the dialectical character of esthetic experience. Contradiction, alienation, transcendence, triumph – these are all essential constituents of the esthetic event. It is necessary to see the grotesque in its full flowering in order to then rise above it in laughter. It is necessary to experience with the hero the absolute consummation of destruction in order to rise above it, together with the chorus. This dialectical, reconstitutive behavior of the emotions always bears within itself art, and, therefore, always points to the most complex of all activities of internal struggle, which is resolved in catharsis.
Carried over to education, this thesis naturally breaks down into three separate problems. Education may have before it the demand to foster the child’s creativity, or to give children vocational training in the different technical skills involved in art, or to inculcate in children the capacity of esthetic reasoning, i.e., the skill to apprehend and experience a work of art.
The question of children’s creativity is, without a doubt, of extraordinary pedagogical importance, though it has virtually no independent esthetic value. A child’s drawing is always an educationally gratifying event, though it is sometimes also esthetically grotesque. It always teaches the child to master the aggregate of his own experiences, to conquer and transcend them, and, as one writer has expressed it rather elegantly, teaches the psyche how to ascend. A child who has drawn a picture of a dog has, thereby, conquered, transcended, and risen above his immediate experience of a dog.
In this sense, too, it becomes pedagogically essential to be able to discern the psychological content of children’s drawings, Le, to examine and take notice of all those experiences that lead to the genesis of a drawing, rather than making objective evaluations of the points and lines themselves. Therefore, any effort at smoothing out or correcting a child’s drawing represents only a crude intrusion in the psychological order of his experience and risks becoming an impediment to this experience. While it is true that by changing and correcting the lines a child has drawn, we may very well be introducing a strict order into the sheet of paper in front of us, we will be most certainly introducing conflict into the child’s psyche and making him insensitive. Complete freedom for the child’s creativity, the renunciation of all effort to place it on a par with adult consciousness, the recognition of its originality and of its distinctive features, constitute a fundamental requirement of psychology.
The boy in Chekhov’s story, The House, when asked by his father why he was placing a soldier above a house in his drawing, even though he was well aware that a person cannot stand higher than a house, answered in a serious tone that if he were to make the soldier little, then you couldn’t see his eyes. It is in this striving to emphasize the main point he is involved in at any moment, the main subject of a drawing, and to subordinate to it all other relationships, that we find the basic feature of children’s drawings, and, for all practical purposes, the child’s tendency to disregard and remain unencumbered by the true contours of objects springs not from any inability to see objects as such – the way things really are – but from the fact that the child is never indifferent to the object. Every one of his drawings, provided it is not created at the behest of some adult, always originates out of the child’s innermost feelings, and this we have to see as the fundamental property of the child’s psyche, which, therefore, always distorts the insignificant elements of the object in favor of what is the most important and the most fundamental.
Tolstoy suggests the very same rule in his theory of pedagogy in his insistence that children’s compositions not be corrected by adults even orthographically, claiming that any correction of a finished product of an act of creation always distorts the internal motivation which engendered it. In a famous essay, “Who Should Teach Whom to Write: Should we Teach the Children of Peasants or Should the Children of Peasants Teach Us?” Tolstoy defended the thesis, which seems paradoxical at first glance, that a “half-literate peasant boy displays the conscious force of a true author, that not even Goethe, from the lofty heights of his art, can attain.” “It seems to me so odd and so insulting,” continues Tolstoy, “that, when it comes to art, 1, the author of ‘Childhood,’ a work which has achieved a degree of critical acclaim and which has been recognized for its literary talents by the educated public in Russia, was unable to explain or assist 11-year old Semka and Fedka, except in the slightest degree, and then only at the fortuitous moment of excitement, when I was able to grasp what they were getting at, and to understand them.” Tolstoy discovered more poetic truth in these children’s compositions than in the greatest creations of literature. And if there were some banal moments in their compositions, this was always the fault of Tolstoy himself; whenever the children were left to their own devices, they did not utter a single affected word. Thus was Tolstoy led to conclude that the ideal of esthetic education, like the ideal of moral education, lies not ahead of us, but behind us – not in bringing the soul of the child closer to the soul of the adult, but in preserving the natural properties the child’s soul is endowed with from the very start.
“Education corrupts, and does not reform people.” In this sense, the concerns of education reduce almost exclusively to not corrupting the child’s spiritual wealth, and the precept, “Be like children,” seems like the ultimate pedagogical ideal when it comes to aesthetics.
That there is in this view a great and undeniable truth, that in the child’s creativity we are dealing with pure examples of poetry at the absolutely elemental level lacking all traces of the adult’s trained eye – this is something virtually no one now disputes. But it is also necessary to recognize that such creativity is of an order all its own; it is, so to speak, transient creativity, giving rise to no objective values and needed more by the child himself than by those around him. Like children’s games, it has healing powers and is invigorating, but not outside the child himself, but only within him. Tolstoy’s Fed'ka and Semka grew up, but did not become great writers, even though at the age of 11 they were given to use language which, as Tolstoy, with all his prestige, was forced to admit, went far beyond that found in novels and was the equal of the most felicitous passages in Goethe.
Hence, the most unquestionable mistake of this view can be found in its extraordinary overestimation and idolizing of the works of children’s creative efforts, and in its inability to understand that, though it is capable of realizing works of the greatest emotional tension, here the primordial force of the creative act is, nevertheless, always circumscribed within a narrow range of the most elementary, the most primitive, and, basically, the most impoverished forms.
In this sense, the pedagogical rule as regards the education of children’s creativity must always proceed from a purely psychological view of its utility and should never look upon the child who is writing poetry as if he were a future Pushkin, or look upon the child who is drawing pictures as if he were a future artist. A child writes poetry or draws pictures not at all because a future poet or future painter is struggling to burst through him, but because these acts of creation are now necessary for him, and even more so because there are certain creative potentialities concealed in each of us. The very processes by which genius and talent are selected are still so dimly understood, so well hidden, and have been so little studied that pedagogics is entirely powerless to say precisely which steps might help preserve and foster future geniuses.
Here we confront the extraordinarily involved question of the very possibility of esthetic education. We have already seen that Tolstoy’s views do not draw out the essential difference between artistic creativity in the adult and in the child. Therefore, Tolstoy does not take into account, first, that immeasurably vast importance which, in the realm of art, is subserved by the element of workmanship, an element which, though of course utterly self-evident, is the result of education. Workmanship encompasses not only the technical skills of art, but something far greater, whether in the subtlest knowledge of the laws of one’s own art, in the feeling for style, in the talent for creative effort, in taste, and so on. There was a time when the concept of craftsman fully encompassed the concept of artist.
But, in addition, the conception of the mystical nature of inspiration, of spiritual possession, and so on gave way in scholarly discourse to an entirely different view of the nature of acts of creation. And Tolstoy’s thesis that, “once he has been born, man constitutes a prototype of harmony, of truth, of beauty, and of goodness,” has to be recognized as a legend rather than a scientific truth. It is true that, in childhood, immediate urges and creative impulses are more powerful and more vivid, but, as we showed earlier, the nature of these urges and impulses are not at all the same as in adults. No matter how sublime and how exquisite are those works Semka and Fed'ka produced, their creative impulses were always of a different order than Goethe’s or Tolstoy’s in their very essence.
The view maintained by Aikhenval'd, Gershenzon, and others, that literature cannot become a subject for instruction in public schools, represents a separate question altogether. But this view originates in an overly narrow view of public schools that forever has in mind those lessons that used to be given in the schools before the revolution. The wealth of educational potentialities in the Soviet school is lost sight of. Esthetic feelings have to become just as much a subject of education as is everything else, but only in special ways.
It is from this point of view that we should approach vocational training in the techniques of this or that realm of art. The instructive value of these techniques is extraordinarily great, in the same way as is every form of labor and every form of complex activity; it becomes even greater still once it is turned into a tool for training children in the apprehension of works of art, inasmuch as it is impossible to fully enter into a work of art if the techniques that are part of its idiom remain utterly foreign. It is for this reason that a certain minimal technical familiarity with the system of every art has to become part of public education.
In this sense, those schools which have made mastery of the techniques of each of the arts an educational requirement are proceeding entirely properly from the standpoint of pedagogy.
Vocational training in art, however, harbors far more pedagogical risks than benefits. To the psychologist, all those grandiose and useless experiments at teaching music to absolutely every child, which became the rule for the middle classes in Europe and pre-revolutionary Russia over the last several decades, seemed to have had only an oppressive effect. If we think of how much energy was spent on mastering the most complex piano techniques imaginable, and if we compare this with the negligible results which were obtained after many years’ of practice, we have to admit that this enormous experiment, on experiment that was performed on an entire social class, ended in an utterly embarrassing failure. Not only has the art of musicianship not gained or acquired anything of value from this program, but, as is generally recognized, even the simple musical education of the art of appreciation, apprehension, and experience of music never and nowhere stood so low as in that milieu where learning how to play music became a mandatory rule of good breeding.
In terms of overall pedagogical influence, such instruction was, quite frankly, harmful and destructive, since almost nowhere and almost never was it associated with the child’s immediate interests, and wherever this instruction was undertaken, it was always on behalf of outside interests, which, for the most part, subordinated the child to the interests of his surroundings and refracted in the child’s psyche the most brutish and the most vulgar everyday thoughts of those around him.
Hence, vocational training in the techniques of each of the various arts, if we understand it as a task of general education and edification, has to be introduced within certain limits and reduced to a minimum, and the main thing is to conform with the other two paths of esthetic education. first, the child’s own creative potential, and, second, the cultural level of his esthetic apprehension. Only that instruction in techniques is useful which goes beyond these techniques and teaches creative skills, whether those involved in creating or those involved in apprehending.
Finally, until very recently questions as to the cultural level of esthetic apprehension had received the least amount of attention, inasmuch as educators had no idea how truly complex it was, nor did they think there was any problem here. To look at and to listen, to obtain pleasure – this seemed to be the sort of uncomplicated mental effort for which special instruction was absolutely unnecessary, whereas, in fact, it is just this element which constitutes the principal goal and principal task of general education.
The overall structure of public education is oriented towards expanding the scope of finite personal experience as far as possible, towards adjusting the interface between the child’s psyche and the broadest possible spheres of the social experience he has accumulated so far, as if to include the child in the broadest possible network in the world. These general goals wholly define the paths of esthetic education. In art mankind has accumulated such an exceptional and vast store of experience that all experience of one’s own creativity and one’s own personal achievements seem puny and wretched by comparison. Therefore, when we speak of esthetic education within the context of general education, we must always bear in mind, basically, such an orientation of the child towards the esthetic experience of mankind as a means of bringing the child face to face with real art and, through this experience, to include the child’s psyche in that general labor mankind throughout the world has been engaged in for thousands of years, sublimating the child’s own psyche in art – here is a fundamental task and the fundamental goal.
And it is because efforts at understanding works of art usually resort to impractical techniques involving logical interpretation that specialized training and the development of special skills for the reconstitution of works of art are required, and, in this sense, lessons that consist in looking at paintings, like those lessons in “slow reading” that have been introduced in certain European schools, are true exemplars of esthetic education.
Here is the key to the most important task of esthetic education – the introduction of esthetic reactions into life itself. Art transforms reality not only in the constructions of fantasy, but also in a genuine recreation of things, objects, and situations. Dwellings and dress, conversation and reading, school holidays and strolls, all may serve, in equal measure, as the most gratifying substance for esthetic treatment.
Beauty has to be converted from a rare and festive thing into a demand of everyday existence. And creative effort has to nourish every movement, every utterance, every smile of the child’s. Potebny a put it quite elegantly when he said that, just as electricity is present not only where there are thunderstorms, so is poetry present not only where there are great works of art, but wherever man speaks. This is the poetry “of every moment,” and it is this which is the most important of all the tasks of esthetic education.
But it is still essential to keep in mind the most serious of all dangers, the risk that an artificiality might be introduced into life which, in children, is something that easily turns into affectation and pretension. There is nothing in worst taste than this “acting cute” [krasivost'], those mannerisms some children introduce into games, into their way of walking, and so on. The rule to follow here is not the embellishment of life, but the creative reworking of reality, a processing of things and the movements of things which will illuminate and elevate everyday experience to the level of the creative.
Fables are usually thought of as the exclusive province of childhood. Two psychological arguments have been advanced in defense of this view.
The first asserts that the child is not yet old enough to have a rational understanding of reality, and therefore has a need for a kind of “surrogate” or mediative explanation of the world. It is for this reason that the child readily accepts the interpretation of reality given in fables, and, second, discovers in fables what adults discover in religion, science, and art, that is, the primary explanation and understanding of the world, the reduction of the discordant chaos of impressions into a unified and integral system. For a child, fables are philosophy, science, and art.
There is another approach which claims that, in accordance with the biogenetic law, the child, in the course of his development, repeats in abbreviated and compressed form the principal stages and epochs that mankind has experienced in its development. Hence that rather popular view which discovers a confluence between the child’s psyche and creative urges, on the one hand, and the creative urges of the savage and primitive man, on the other, and the claim that, as he grows up, the child inevitably experiences animism, the sense of all things being alive, and anthropomorphism, just as mankind as a whole has. It is felt necessary, for this reason, to transcend all these primitive attitudes and beliefs at some stage of development, and to introduce into the child’s world all those ideas of devils, witches, wizards, and good and evil spirits which were once the companions of human culture. This approach sees in fables a necessary evil, a psychological concession to childhood, in the expression of one psychologist, an esthetic pacifier.
Both these views are profoundly mistaken at their very roots. As regards the first view, pedagogics has long rejected all kinds of mediation, inasmuch as the harm it introduces always outweighs any possible benefit. The point is that any benefit is always temporary, it exists until the child grows up and no longer has any need for such a mediative explanation of the world. The harm, however, remains forever, because in the psyche, as in the real world, nothing happens without leaving a trace, nothing disappears, rather everything creates its own habits, which then remain for all one’s life. “Expressed with scientific rigor,” William James asserts, “one may say that nothing may be entirely effaced from anything we do.” This is especially true in the period of childhood, when the plasticity and impressionability of our nervous system is at its utmost, and when reactions only have to be repeated two or three times in order to last sometimes for one’s entire life. If, in this period in his life, a child is forced to control and guide his behavior under the influence of false and deliberately misleading ideas and views, we can be quite certain that these views will create habits of behavior along these false directions. And when, it would appear to us, the time has come for the child to free himself of these ideas and views, it may be possible for us, by reasoning rationally, to persuade him that all those ideas we would talk to him about were false; we may even be morally justified in making excuses to him for the deception he had been subjected to for so many years, but never can he efface all those habits, instincts, and stimuli which have already evolved and which have become deeply embedded in him, and which, even in the best of cases, are capable of creating conflicts with newly implanted traits.
The basic claim is that, in the absence of behavior, the psyche does not exist, and that if we introduce into the psyche false ideas that do not correspond to truth and reality, by this very act we are also fostering false behavior. Hence we are forced to conclude that truth must become the foundation of education as early as possible, simply because incorrect ideas are also incorrect forms of behavior. If, from early childhood, a child learns to trust in “bogeymen,” in little old ladies who are going to take you away, in magicians, in storks who bring babies, all this will not only clutter up his mind, but, what is even worse, it will cause his behavior to develop in false directions. It is entirely clear that children are either frightened of this world of magic or are drawn into it, but that they never remain passive towards it. In dreams or in desires, under the child’s blanket or in a dark room, when asleep or when frightened, the child always responds to these ideas, responds with an extraordinarily heightened sensibility, and since the system formed by these reactions rests on an entirely fantastic and false foundation, for that very reason an incorrect and false way of behaving is methodically fostered in the child.
To this we should add that all of this fantastic world depresses the child no end, and there can be little doubt that its oppressive force exceeds the child’s capacity for resistance. By surrounding the child with the fantastic, we force him to live as if in a perpetual psychosis. Imagine for just a minute that an adult were, all of a sudden, to believe in the very same things he teaches a child – how extraordinarily confused and depressed would his mind become. All of this must increase manyfold once we show the child how to think, since the child’s weak and unsteady mind proves to be even more helpless when confronted by this sombre element. Psychological analyses of children’s fears produce an utterly tragic impression, inasmuch as they always testify to and speak of those inexpressible germs of terror that were implanted in the child’s soul by the fables adults themselves have told him.
The educational benefits produced by introducing into family lore those tales of the old man who is going to carry you away are always limited to the immediate advantage given by intimidation, in which we get the child to stop playing practical jokes or induce him to perform some task. The harm which thereby ensues may manifest itself in humiliating forms of behavior that may last for many decades.
Finally, the last argument that may be brought against the traditional view of fables is the utterly profound disrespect for reality, the excessive importance ascribed to the invisible, which such fables methodically instil. The child remains dull and foolish when he relates to the real world, he remains closed up within a stagnant and unhealthy atmosphere, for the most part in a kingdom of fabulous creatures. He has no interest in trees or in birds, and the manifold variety of experience seems to lack all substance. The result of such an education is to make someone blind, deaf, and dumb in relation to the world.
For all these reasons, we have to agree with that view which demands that all those fantastic and silly ideas children are usually inculcated with must be banished thoroughly and completely. It is, moreover, rather important that it is not only fairy tales which can produce the greatest harm here, but also all those silly and timeworn fictions which are used not only by nurses to frighten children with, but which not even the most highly educated teacher is entirely free of. There is almost no teacher who would be innocent of the charge of having reasoned with a child on the basis of some incongruous nonsense, simply because he knew that the child would take this nonsense for the truth, and saw that the easiest way out of problem at hand was to adapt the admonitory line of least resistance by telling the child, “Don’t go there, else the house will fall down,” or to say, “Don’t cry, else the policeman will take you away.” It is psuedo-natural-science” nonsense of this sort that has taken up the role performed by the nonsense of fantasies.
Finally, from the most general standpoint we have to say that every attempt by the teacher to “humor” the child is, from the psychological point of view, educationally harmful, since here one can never be certain of hitting the nail right on the head, and, in order to meet his teacher’s expectations, the child is forced to likewise affect and distort his own reactions, and try to come as close as he can to what his teacher demands. This is simplest to understand if we think of children’s speech, of those instances when adults who are engaged in conversation with a child try to imitate his way of speaking, under the impression that this will make them more then easily understood, whether lisping, or aspirating, pronouncing the sounds “s” and “z” as “sh” and “zh”, or pronouncing the sound “r” as “l.” For a child, however, such speech is not in the least more understandable. If a child’s pronunciation is incorrect, this is not because he hears this way, but because he cannot pronounce correctly. When he then hears distorted speech coming from adults, he is totally lost and tries to approximate his own speech to this distorted speech. Most of our children speak in an unnatural way, their speech having been distorted by adults, and it is impossible to imagine anything more artificial than such affected speech.
There is also that customary false way of speaking with children in overly familiar and endearing terms, in which a “horse” is spoken of as a “horsy,” a dog as a “little doggy,” and a “house” as “the little house”. To an adult, it might seem that the child thinks everything has to be little, though quite the contrary, he who does not belittle objects in children’s imagination, but instead over-emphasizes their natural dimensions, is proceeding in a far more psychological fashion. When we speak to a child of horses, which must seem a huge and massive thing to him, and talk of a “horsy,” the true sense of speech is distorted, as is the concept of horse, not to mention that false and sugarcoated attitude towards everything which such a manner of speaking establishes. Language is the subtlest tool of thought; in distorting language, we distort thought, and even if a single teacher were of think of the emotional nonsense she is uttering when she tells a child, “Let’s hit the little doggy,” or “the little doggy is biting you,” she would certainly be horrified by the mental confusion she is creating in the child’s mind. And though there are things in children’s literature and in children’s art which are, in fact, intolerable and repulsive, this is just because adults have been falsely humoring the minds of children.
As for the need for children to gradually overcome the primitive beliefs and primitive ideas in fables, this, too, has not undergone serious criticism and slips away with the biogenetic law on which it is based. No one has yet to show that, in the course of his development, the child repeats the history of mankind, and not even science has ever had any grounds to speak of anything more than isolated correlations and more or less remote analogies between the behavior of a child and that of a savage. On the contrary, all those essential changes in the pattern of education that are a function of social circumstances and environment, more properly, as a function of the common fundament of life the child enters the moment he is born, are quite at variance with the biogenetic law, in every instance contrary to any direct translation of the law from biology into psychology. The child turns out to be entirely able to interpret phenomena realistically and truthfully, though, of course, he cannot immediately find an explanation for absolutely everything. Left to himself, the child is never an animist, never an anthropomorphist, and if these propensities develop in a child, the fault is nearly always that of the adults around him.
Finally, what is most important here is that, even if certain psychological conditions did generate atavistic tendencies in a child, i.e., where his mind reverted to stages in his history he had already passed through, even if the child did contain within his mind something of the savage, in no way would the goal of education reduce to the maintenance, sustenance, and reinforcement of these elements of the savage in the child’s psyche, but quite the contrary, his propensities would subordinate these elements to the more powerful and the more vital elements of reality in every way possible.
Does this mean we have to think of fables as being ultimately compromised and that they are condemned to be banished entirely from the child’s room with all those false and fabulous ideas of the world that turn out to be mentally harmful? No, not really. There can be little doubt that most of our fables, which are based precisely on such unhealthy fantasy and lack all other values, must be abandoned and forgotten as soon as possible. But this does not mean that the esthetic content of works of fantasy have to be forbidden to children.
On the contrary, the fundamental law of art demands the freedom to combine the elements of reality in any way whatsoever, an essential independence from everyday truth, which in esthetics effaces all the boundaries that separate fantasy from truth. In art everything is fantastic or everything is real, simply because everything is hypothetical, and the realness of art refers only to the realness of the emotions any work of art is associated with. As a matter of fact, the question is not in the least whether what is related in a fable could exist in real life. What is more important is that the child know that it never existed in real life, that it is only a story, and that he get into the habit of responding to it as a fable, and that, consequently, the question of whether such an event could be possible in real life ceases to exist for him. In order to enjoy a fable, it is not at all necessary to believe in what it speaks of. On the contrary, belief in the “realness” of the world of fables establishes such purely commonplace attitudes towards everything as to preclude the very possibility of esthetic activity.
Here we should explain the law of emotional realness of fantasy, a law of the greatest importance for our field. According to this law, regardless of whether the world we are affected by is real [real'no], the emotions associated with this influence and which we feel are always real. If I am hallucinating and, upon entering an empty room, see a thief standing over in the corner, this figure will, of course, be one of delirium, and the collection of all those impressions associated with this figure in my mind will not be real, inasmuch as there is no reality [deistvitel'nost'] corresponding to it; but the fear which I experience from this encounter and the emotion associated with the hallucination are entirely real, even if they are repressed by the comforting consciousness of having been mistaken. That we do have feelings, this is always a real fact.
Thus, fantasy justifies itself in this law of the realness of our feelings. We are not drawing children away from reality in the least when we tell them fantastic stories, if the feelings that arise thereby are brought to life. Therefore, the real emotional basis of a work of fantasy is its only justification, and it is not surprising that, though we may banish the harmful forms of fantasy, of fantastic stories tales will nevertheless remain one of the many forms of children’s art. Only now it will perform an entirely different function, however; it will cease to be the child’s philosophy and science, and become only an exceptionally uninhibited type of fable.
The principal value of fables is formed in the extraordinarily conceptual features of childhood. The point is that the interaction between the individual and the world, which is what all of our behavior and all of our psyche ultimately reduces to, is, in children, at its most delicate and most underdeveloped stage, and, therefore, the demand for every imaginable form that might give emotion a degree of discipline is felt in especially marked fashion. Otherwise, the vast bulk of impressions reaching the child in quantities far beyond his ability to respond would overwhelm him and make him confused. In this sense, a wise fable possesses an invigorating and restorative value within the overall structure of the child’s emotional life.
The most interesting of all the recent studies on the nature of the emotions reaches exactly the same conclusions as the law we have just discussed. It has long been noted that an emotion always possesses a certain outward material expression, though only very recently has it been noted that an emotion also always possesses a certain “spiritual” or mental expression, in other words, that feelings are connected not only with a certain degree of mimicry and external manifestation, but also with imagery, with representations, and with “emotional thinking.” While there are some feelings which thrive in bright colors and warm tones, there are others, on the contrary, which go better with cold tones and dim colors, and it is right here that the mental expression of the emotions manifests itself. The feeling of melancholy compels me not only to carry my body in a certain way, but to also select impressions in a certain way, and it finds its expression in sad memories, in sad fantasies, and in sad dreams. Essentially, dreams constitute a spiritual expression of emotion in pure form. Investigations have shown that a feeling which arises spontaneously, for example, the feeling of fear, is a kind of a unifying thread that weaves together the most diverse episodes and the most incongruous parts of dreams.
Hence the emotional value of imagination becomes understandable. Emotions that are not realized in one’s life find their outlet and their expression in arbitrary combinations of the elements of reality, above all, in art. It should be recalled in this connection that art does not just provide an outlet and expression for a particular emotion, it always resolves this emotion and liberates the psyche from its sombre influence.
Thus does the psychological effect of the fable converge with the psychological effect of games. The esthetic value of a game manifests itself not only in the rhythm it imparts to children’s movements, or in the mastery of primitive melodies in such games as square dancing and the like. It is far more important that games, which, from the biological point of view, constitute preparation for real life, from the aspect of psychology manifest themselves as yet another form of the child’s creative urges. Some psychologists have referred to the law discussed earlier as the “law of dual expression of the feelings,” and it is precisely this “dual expression” which games subserve. In games, the child is
always creatively transforming reality. In the mind of a child, people and things readily assume new meanings. For a child, a chair does not just represent a train, a horse, or a house, but actually participates in his games as such. And this transformation of reality in games is always oriented towards the child’s emotional needs. “It is not because we play that we are children, rather we are given childhood in order to play” – this formula of Karl Groos’ expresses better than anything else the biological nature of games. Its psychological nature is wholly defined by the dual expression of the emotions, which is manifested in movements and in the discipline of games. Just like games, an artistically well-thought-out fable is the child’s natural esthetic teacher.
There is the belief that there are two entirely different systems of esthetic education, one for the gifted and talented, and the other for ordinary, average students. There is no way for such thinking to become reconciled with the fact that the esthetic education of especially gifted children shouldn’t be any different than the esthetic education of ordinary children. The conclusions of science increasingly lead us away from such a view and give us ever newer proofs in favor of quite the opposite belief, that there is no fundamental difference between the two, and that our concern should rather lie in the development of a common pedagogical system.
As regards voice training, the view that every person is supplied with an ideal voice from birth, a voice that comprises potentialities that exceed many times over the highest achievements of vocal art, is increasingly taking root. In its normal organization, the human throat is the greatest musical instrument in the world, and if in spite of this, we always speak with terrible voices, the only reason for this is the fact that, because of shouting, improper breathing, and developmental conditions and dress, we appear to have spoiled the voice we are initially endowed with. Those who are the most gifted in terms of vocal qualities are not those who were supplied with the best voice to begin with, but those who have, by chance, succeeded in preserving it. On this point, Professor Buldin declares that “Shalyapin’s voice does not constitutes a rare gift, but a rare instance of the preservation of a common gift. Once a human voice attains such musical perfection, all our conceptions of the language of angels are left far behind.”
This view of the natural talents of the human organism is beginning to find more and more proponents in the most diverse fields of pedagogics. The ordinary conception of natural talent seems to have been turned upside down, and the problem cannot be posed as it used to be; one has to ask, not why is it that some people are more gifted than others, but, rather, why others are less gi t d, since the high level of talent a human being is initially endowed with is, to all appearances, the fundamental datum in absolutely all domains of the psyche, and, consequently, those cases where these gifts have been lost or are in less abundance have to be explained. One can still speak of this only as a scientific premise supported quite strongly, to be sure, by a whole series of facts. However, if this is to be established as something unshakeable, the broadest imaginable potentialities open up before pedagogics, and the problem becomes one of determining how to preserve the child’s creative talent.
Though this question cannot be considered solved in its final, general form, in its special application to questions of general education it may be considered already solved now in the sense that, like every form of education of creative talent, the goal of esthetic education must, in all ordinary circumstances, proceed on the assumption of the high level of talent of human nature, and the premise that the greatest creative potentiality of the human being is present, and that one’s own educational influence must, thus, be accessible and guided in such a way as to develop these potentialities and preserve them. Thus, talent also becomes a goal of education, whereas in the old psychology it was present only as a premise and as a datum of education. In no other realm of psychology does this thought encounter such striking confirmation as in the field of art. For each of us our creative potentiality becomes the accomplice of Shakespeare when we read his tragedies, and the accomplice of Beethoven when we listen to his symphonies, and it is this which is the most striking indicator that in each of us there is concealed a potential Shakespeare and a potential Beethoven.
The psychological difference between the composer and audience of a musical composition, between Beethoven and each of us, was brilliantly defined by Tolstoy, when he pointed out the need for us to react to every impression, and emphasized the realness of art, an idea that is of the greatest importance for esthetic education.
“Of course, he who wrote at least the Kreutzer Sonata-Beethoven, that is of course, he knew why he found himself in such a state; this state led him to undertake certain actions, so that for him, this state possessed a meaning, whereas for us it has no meaning at all. This is why music only stimulates, but does not terminate. Thus, if there is a military march being played, the soldiers will march to the music, and the music will affect them; if there is dance music being played, I'll go dancing, and the music will affect me; and if mass is being sung, I'll receive communion, and the music will also affect me; but this is only stimulation, and there is nothing I have to do in response to this stimulation. This is why music is so frightful, why it sometimes has so frightful an effect.
“For example, even though it is the Kreutzer Sonata, could the first movement be played, let’s say, in a drawing room filled with young ladies in decollete? Suppose this movement is played, can I then tap someone on the shoulder, and then have some ice cream and talk the latest gossip? These pieces of music may be played only at certain important and significant social events and only when there are certain actions which have to be carried out and which are appropriate to this music. To play the music and to do what this music calls for, that is the point.”
1 So fashionable and, now, so popular a work as Chukovskii’s Crocodile, like all of Chukovskii’s stories for children, is one of the better examples of this perversion of children’s poetry with nonsense and gibberish. Chukovskii seems to proceed from the assumption that the sillier something is, the more understandable and the more entertaining it is for the child, and the more likely that it will be within the child’s grasp. It is not hard to instil the taste for such dull literature in children, though there can be little doubt that it has a negative impact on the educational process, particularly in those immoderately large doses to which children are now subjected. All thought of style is thrown out, and in his babbling verse Chukovskii piles up nonsense on top of gibberish. Such literature only fosters silliness and foolishness in children.
2 “Look here, said Peredonov to the students, “we have to understand this thoroughly. There is an allegory concealed here. Wolves go in pairs, and, yes, here we have a wolf and a hungry she-wolf. The wolf is full, but his mate is hungry. The wife must always eat after the husband. The wife must obey the husband in everything.” It goes without saying that, from such a view, a work of art ends up without any independent value of its own, it becomes a kind of illustration of some general moral assertion, which is where all attention becomes focused, and the work of art itself seems to fall outside the student’s field of vision. And, in fact, with such an understanding not only are no esthetic habits or skills created or fostered, not only is there no flexibility, subtlety, or diversity of forms imparted to esthetic experience, but, on the contrary, the pedagogical rule becomes a matter of turning the students attention away from the actual work of art and towards its ethical meaning. Esthetic feelings are methodically extirpated as a result of such education, to be replaced by a moral element alien to esthetics, and hence that natural distaste for 99% of all of classical literature of the past which one can sense in our secondary schools. Many of those who have spoken in favor of eliminating literature from the high school curriculum take just this point of view, and claim that the best way of inculcating a dislike for some author and of dissuading someone from reading him is to introduce his works in a course in school.
3 Why is it that morality and truth,” says the hero of the story, “have to be presented not in undigested form, but rather with extraneous elements, forever in sugarcoated and embellished form, like a pill? This is not normal ... It is a falsification, it is a deception, it is a trick...” of art to become manifest. Once a work of art has been experienced, it may actually enlarge our view of some realm of experience, force us to look upon it as if with new eyes, to generalize and to combine together bits of information that may often be entirely disparate. The fact is that, like every powerful experience, esthetic experience creates a very tangible environment for subsequent actions and, of course, never transpires without leaving some trace that manifests itself in our behavior later on. Many writers have been quite right to compare works of poetry with batteries or devices for the storage of energy that is to be consumed subsequently. In precisely the same way, every experience of poetry seems to accumulate energy for future action, points one in a new direction, and compels us to look upon the world with new eyes. More radical psychologists have even come to speak of the purely motor environments evoked by this or that work of art. Come to think of it, we need only recall the existence of such forms of art as dance music to see that there is a certain motor impulse i in absolutely every esthetic sensation. Sometimes it is realized right then and there, in rudimentary form, whether in the movements of a dance or in the beating of time, and this belongs to the lower forms of art. But there are also times when the complexity of this sensation reaches the highest levels, when, because of their motor complexity, these impulses cannot become manifest in full and instantaneously, and then this motor complexity is expressed instead through extraordinarily subtle preliminary labor for the evolution of subsequent behavior. Esthetic experience disciplines our behavior. “From the way a person walks as he leaves a concert, we can always tell whether he had been listening to Beethoven or to Chopin” – thus writes one researcher.