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The term Aesthetics come from the Greek word aesthesis, which literally means perception by the senses.

Aesthetics is a branch
of philosophy that deals with art and beauty. Both of them are primarily related to perception. The basic concern of Aesthetics is
axiological with focus on the questions related to the experience of beauty. Hence, the core concern of Aesthetics is beauty that
we experience in our perception of objects in nature or in a work of art. It tries to formulate definitions of art and beauty. Art is
generally defined as an artificial product. The term Aesthetics appeared in Alexander Baumgarten,s Reflections on

Aesthetic value of a poem or painting is closely related to the clear and distinct perception of the element of beauty in it. Hence,
aesthetic experience of art is spontaneous, immediate and intuitive. It gives us pleasure if it is perceived as beautiful and we feel
dejected if it looks ugly. According to Cambridge dictionary of philosophy, aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that examines
the nature of art and the character of our experience of art and of the natural environment. Issues related to art and beauty invite
philosophic reflections. Aesthetic attitude, Beautiful, Ugly, Comic, Sublime, Creativity etc are the core themes of Aesthetics.

Baumgarten tried to link aesthetics with the realm of senses and held that beauty is a property of the physical world. Aesthetics as
an axiological discipline formulates definitions of art and beauty. It tries to explain the nature of art and its classification based on
the medium of expression. It analyses the works of art and its nature on the basis of distinct theories and perspectives. The style,
form and content of a work of art are some of the concerns in Aesthetics. A significant area of study is the creativity of human
beings that reflects in any form of art. Hence, the concepts of genius, skill, inspiration, and incubation are important themes of
Aesthetics. The concern for art and beauty had been as old as humanity. It continues in the contemporary age in new forms.
Baumgartens work on Aesthetics was published in 1750. This attempt marks the beginning of modern aesthetics. It was widely
held that the earliest reflections on aesthetics came mainly from the classical Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato.

They distinguished between Expressive art (Poetry, music and dance) and Constructive art (Architecture, Sculpture and Painting).
The contributions of Indian aestheticians are also valuable and unique. The held that the subject matter of aesthetics is something
more than beauty. The pioneers of Indian Aesthetics like Bharata had tried to reconcile the subjective and objective aspects of
aesthetic experience. Ego-consciousness is connected in the context of aesthetic enjoyment. Their theories of Rasa, Dhvani etc
reflect the spiritualist inclination of early Indian theories of art and beauty. The history of Indian Aesthetics can be traced back to
Vedic times that culminated in the concept of aesthetic experience as bliss. Aesthetics as a philosophical discipline is noted for its
variety, complexity and novelty in its subject matter. It has been a central concern for philosophers in the East and West alike.

The centrality of the aesthetic Deweys recognition of the global functionality of art is related to another view where he
seems to differ sharply from analytic philosophers: the philo- sophical primacy and centrality of art and the aesthetic. For
Dewey, the aesthetic experience is the experience in which the whole creature is alive and most alive (Dewey 1987: 33). To
esthetic experience, then, the philoso- pher must go to understand what experience is (ibid.: 278). While Dewey saw art as the
qualitative measure of any society, analytic philosophers saw science as the ideal and paradigm of human achievement. And
analytic aesthetics, at least initially, was largely an attempt to apply the logically rigorous and precise methods of scientific
philosophy to the wayward and woolly realm of art. Yet Dewey, appreciative as he was of scientific method and progress, could
not help but regard scientific experience as thinner than art. For art engages more of the human organism in a more meaningful
and immediate way, including the higher complexities of thinking: the production of a work of genuine art probably
demands more intelligence than does most of the so-called thinking that goes on among those who pride themselves on being
intellectuals (ibid.: 52). He therefore held that art the mode of activity that is charged with meanings capable of
immediately enjoyed possession is the complete culmination of nature, and that science is properly a handmaiden that
conducts natural events to this happy issue (Dewey 1929: 358).
Continuities versus dualisms Dewey tries to deconstruct the traditional privileging opposition of science over art not only by
reversing the privilege but by denying there is any rigid dichotomy or opposition between the two. He insists that science is
an art, for esthetic quality . . . may inhere in scientific work and both enterprises perform the same essential function of
helping us order and cope with experience (Dewey 1929: 358). Like Derridas idea of the general text, Deweys central continuity
thesis was aimed at breaking the stranglehold of entrenched dualisms and rigid disciplinary distinctions which stifle creative
thought and fragment both individual experience and social life. He sought to connect aspects of human experience and
activity which had been divided by specialized, compartmental- izing thought, then more brutally sundered by specialist,
departmentalizing institutions in which such fragmented disciplinary thinking is reinscribed and reinforced. In these ways he
also anticipates Adorno and Foucault. Deweys aesthetic naturalism, aimed at recovering the continuity of esthetic experience
with normal processes of living, is part of his attempt to break the stifling hold of the compartmental conception of fine art
(Dewey 1987: 14), that old and institutionally entrenched philosophical ideology of the aesthetic which sharply
distinguishes art from real life, and remits it to a separate realm the museum, theater, and concert hall (ibid.: 1987: 9).
Deweys aesthetics of continuity and holism, however, not only undermines the art/science and art/life dichotomies; it insists on
the fundamental continuity of a host of traditional binary notions and genre distinctions whose long- assumed oppositional
contrast has structured so much of philosophical aesthetics: form/content, fine/practical art, high/popular culture, spatial/
temporal arts, artist/audience, to name but a few. There is no space here to discuss his critique of all such rigid dualisms
and distinctions; nor to belabor its affinity to deconstruction and postmodernism, and its radical contrast to analytic
aesthetics whose quest for clarity typically advocated a ruthlessness in making distinctions (Passmore 1954) combined with a
respect for entrenched disciplinary divisions and critical practices (Shusterman 1986, 1992).
The criterion of experience Analytic aesthetics, pursued under the ideal of science, thus tended to shirk issues of
evaluation and reform. The aim was to analyze and clarify the estab- lished concepts and practices of art criticism, not to revise
them; to give a true account of our concept of art, not to change it. In vivid contrast, Deweyan aesthetics is interested not
in truth for truths sake but in achieving richer and more satisfying experience. For Deweys pragmatism, experience not truth
is the final standard. The ultimate aim of all enquiry, scientific or aesthetic, is not knowledge itself but better experience or
experienced value, and Dewey insists on the immediacy of aesthetic experience and its experienced value (Dewey 1987: 294).
From this follows his view of the supremacy of the aesthetic: arts immediately enjoyed, active experience is the
culmination of nature, for which truth or science serves as an auxiliary handmaiden (ibid.: 33n.). It also follows that
aesthetic values cannot be permanently fixed by aesthetic theory or criticism but must be continually tested and may be
overturned by the tribunal of changing experience (ibid.: 1001, 110, 325).
Integrating art and life A more dramatic and radical consequence of this experiential standard is that our aesthetic concepts,
including the concept of art itself, are revealed as mere instruments which need to be challenged and revised when they fail to
provide the best experience. This can account for Deweys obvious attempt to direct his aesthetic theory at radically reforming
our concept of art and the aesthetic, an attempt which was alien to the essentially accepting, clarificatory spirit of analytic
aesthetics. While analytic aesthetics followed the romantic and modernist tradition of defending arts value and autonomy by
identifying the concept of art with the concept (and associated sublimity and genius) of high art, Dewey deplores this elitist
tradition, which he attacks under the labels of the museum conception of art(Dewey 1987: 12) and the esoteric idea of fine art
(ibid.: 90). The prime motive for his opposition to the spiritualized sequestration of art was not ontological considerations of
naturalistic continuity and emergence. It was the instrumental aim of improving our immediate experience through
sociocultural transformation where art would be richer and more satisfying to more people, because it would be closer to their
most vital interests and better integrated into their lives. The compartmentalization and spiritualization of art as an elevated
separate realm set upon a remote pedestal, divorced from the materials and aims of all other human effort, have removed art
from the lives of most of us, and thus have impoverished the aesthetic quality of our lives. More than art suffers from its
spiritualized sequestration; nor was this compartmentalization established simply by and for aesthetes to secure and purify
their pleasures. The idea of art and the aesthetic as a separate realm distinguished by its freedom, imagination, and
pleasure has as its underlying correlative the dismal assumption that ordinary life is necessarily one of joyless, unimaginative
coercion. This provides the powers and institutions structuring our everyday life with the best excuse for their increasingly brutal
indifference to natural human needs for the pleasures of beauty and imaginative freedom. These are not to be sought in real
life, but in fine art, an escape that gives temporary relief. Art becomes, in Deweys mordant phrase, the beauty parlor of
civilization, covering with an opulent aesthetic surface its ugly horrors and brutalities, which, for Dewey, include class
snobbery and capitalisms profit- seeking oppression and alienation of labor (Dewey 1987: 1416). Here again, we find Dewey
anticipating currently influential themes in aesthetic theory which we have imported from the Marxian Frankfurt school.
Social context Analytic theories of the historicity and institutional nature of art are painfully narrow and rarefied
compared to Deweys, which sees the compartmentalized conception of fine art and the austere esotericism of contemporary
high art not as an internal development, but as largely a product of nationalism and imperialism (which fed the museum), and
industrialization and world-market capitalism (which deprived art of its intimate social connection) (Dewey 1987: 1416).
Modern socioeconomic forces have so divided between joyless externally enforced labor and free enjoyment, between
production and consumption, that the chasm between ordinary and esthetic experience, art and real life, has become theoreti-
cally convincing. Thus, for Dewey, not only art but philosophical theories about art (and everything else) are significantly
shaped by extraneous socioeconomic conditions; so our concept of art needs to be reformed as part and parcel of the reform
of society which has so constituted it.
Art experience versus the art object I conclude with perhaps Deweys most central aesthetic theme: the privileging of aesthetic
experience over the material object which ordinary, reified thinking identifies (and then commodifies and fetishizes) as the work
of art. For Dewey the essence and value of art is not in such artifacts, but in the dynamic and developing experiential activity
through which they are created and perceived. He therefore distinguishes between the art product and the actual work of art
[which] is what the product does with and in experience (Dewey 1987: 9). In contrast, analytic aesthetics has been rather
suspicious of aesthetic experience (at times even denying its existence), while privileging the art object. It expended enormous
efforts in trying to fix the precise criteria for identifying the same art object in its various manifestations (such as copies or
perform- ances) and for individuating it from other objects and inauthentic manifestations (such as forgeries). Analytic
aesthetics did this because its scientific ideal was objective truth about art rather than the Deweyan goal of enhanced
experience. Privileging objective critical truth meant privileging objects. Thus even Beardsley, whose first book followed
Dewey in making aesthetic experience the crux of aesthetics, eventually gave uncontested privilege to the object as the
guarantor of objective criticism. The first thing required to make criticism possible is an object to be criticized
something . . . with its own properties against which interpretations and judgements can be checked. He therefore posits the
object-centered principles of independence and autonomy: that literary works exist as individuals and are self-sufficient
entities (Beardsley 1970: 16). Undoubtedly much of poststructuralisms appeal derives from its attack on the static, closed
notion of the art work as a fully fixed, self-sufficient and inviolable object, and its ardent insistence on the active role and
openness of reading as textual practice which reconstitutes literary meaning. Such themes, central to the fashionable continental
theories of Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault, are anticipated in Deweys move from closed artistic product to open,
transformative aesthetic experience. But Deweys theory seems saner, for while rejecting structural fixity and reification, he
clearly preserves the notions of structure, unity, and object by reconstituting them in a functional, contextual form rather
than suggesting their total rejection as inescapably rigid, foundational, and retrograde.
Deweys heritage The conclusion should be obvious. Since Deweys aesthetics offers crucial insights usually lacking in
the analytic tradition, and obtainable from conti- nental theory but often only at the costly price of conceptual obfuscation and
irrelevant theoretical baggage, it represents an excellent point of departure for new aesthetic thinking in Anglo-American
philosophy. Though some of Deweys views are undeniably contestable and dated, pragmatist aesthetics is not simply a
curiosity of the past; it points to the most promising future we can envisage for aesthetic inquiry. Several philosophers, associated
also with analytic philosophy, have built on Deweyan insights to enrich the tradition of pragmatist aesthetics and apply it to more
contemporary aesthetic issues and artforms: from mass-media arts and multiculturalism to postmodernism and the ethical
art of living (Shusterman 1995a, 1995b, 1997, 1992). Nelson Goodman (1976), for example, develops Deweys theme of the
continuity of art and science. Rejecting the idea of autonomous aesthetic objects, valued merely for the pleasure of their form,
Goodman urges the fundamental unity of art and science through their common cognitive function. Hence aesthetics
should be placed with philosophy of science and should be conceived as an integral part of meta- physics and epistemology;
and aesthetic value should be subsumed under cognitive excellence (Goodman 1978: 102). Despite Goodmans attempt
to supply extremely strict definitions of works of art in terms of authentic objects, he insists with Dewey (and Beardsley)
that what matters aesthetically is not what the object is but how it functions in dynamic experience. He therefore
advocates that we replace the question what is art? with the question when is art? Other philosophers trained in the
analytic tradition, such as Joseph Margolis (1989, 1994), Richard Rorty (1989), and Richard Shusterman (1997, 1992), have used
pragmatist ideas to show how the interpretation of art works can be meaningful and valid without the need to posit fixed entities
as the unchanging objects of valid interpretations. Their arguments show how traditionally entrenched but dialogically open
practices can be enough to secure identity of reference for discussion of the work (and thus ensure that we can meaningfully talk
about the same work), without positing that there is therefore a fixed, substantive nature of the art work that defines its
identity. This basic strategy of distinguishing between substantive and referential identity is formulated in different ways by
these contemporary pragmatists. All of them stress the historicity and cultural embeddedness of art works, but only Margolis
tries to erect this idea into a ramified metaphysics of cultural objects. In contrast to the idea (shared by Rorty, Margolis, and the
literary pragmatist Stanley Fish) that all our aesthetic experience is interpretive, Shusterman argues for some level of experience
beneath interpretation, thus reviving the early pragmatist respect for non-linguistic dimensions of experience shared by James
and Dewey. As Nelson Goodman renews Deweys continuum of art and science, so Richard Rorty (1989) extends
Deweys pragmatist blending of aesthetics and ethics by advocating the aesthetic life as an ethics of self-enrichment, self-
enlargement, and self-creation. If Rortys vision of the aesthetic life has been criticized for its isolation in the private sphere, its
narrowing focus on language and high cultural texts, and its consequent failure to engage with popular artforms and
robustly embodied experience, Shustermans pragmatism argues for the aesthetic experience of the popular arts, of somatic-
centered disciplines, and (following Dewey) of democracy itself. Though Stanley Cavell seems reluctant to bear the label
pragmatist, his excellent, detailed work on popular cinema and television certainly helps extend the respect for popular art
that Dewey advocated (Cavell 1979, 1981, 1984). Cavell typically takes Emerson rather than Dewey as his mentor, but that
is no reason to exclude him from the pragmatist tradition. A good case can be made that Emerson himself anticipated almost all
the major themes that we identify as pragmatist in Deweys aesthetics (Shusterman 1999a). If calling Emerson a pragmatist
seems anachronistic because he predates Peirces coinage of the term, this argument will not hold for another thinker who
anticipated many of Deweys views of art and who studied pragmatism at Harvard. I refer to the African-American philosopher
and cultural critic Alain Locke, whose anthology The New Negro (1925) served as the guiding light of the Harlem
Renaissance (Shusterman 1999b). Here one might even establish a link of influence from Locke to Dewey, since Albert C.
Barnes (the art collector and critic) was a contributor to Lockes project on the aesthetics of The New Negro; and Dewey claimed
that the ideas and discussions of the same Albert C. Barnes were a chief factor in shaping Deweys Art as Experience, which
was in fact dedicated to Barnes.
Aesthetic experience Kant focused on aesthetic judgements of beauty and not explicitly on aesthetic experience (Kant 1987). But
his account of the grounds of such judgements as lying in the pleasure derived from the free play and felt harmony of the imagina-
tion and understanding suggested, first, that experience, the experience of pleasure and subjective harmony in the presence of an
object, is central to proper aesthetic judgement. It implied, second, that the key to such experience lies in the mutually compatible
functioning of our human faculties. The emphasis on experience is reinforced by Kants claim that no argument or appeal to
principles can convince us that an object is beautiful without our perceiving the object first-hand. Although Kant
emphasized the felt harmony of our cognitive powers in perceiving the object, in light of modern arts emphasis on
expressiveness, we might want to add to this the exercise of our affective capacities, our emotional faculty. The hallmark of such
aesthetic experience then becomes the full exercise of all our sensory, cognitive, and affective capacities in the appreciation of
works of art. The focus on experience becomes natural, even inevitable, once it is recognized that beauty and other aesthetic
qualities are not simply intrinsic properties of objects themselves, but essentially involve responses on the part of
perceiving, cognizing, and feeling subjects. This becomes the central topic in later aesthetic theories and the exclusive focus of
Deweys aesthetics. Dewey (1958) attributes two main characteristics to aesthetic experience, which according to him occurs not
only in appreciating works of art, but also in relation to nature and in daily life. The first is unity and completeness, which
together make otherwise amorphous experience into an experience: that which distinguishes an experience as esthetic is
conversion of resistance and tensions, of excitations that in themselves are temptations to diversion, into a movement toward an
inclusive and fulfilling close (Dewey 1958: 56). This characterization is reminiscent of Aristotles account of good form in
tragedy as the feeling of necessity (yet surprise) for each element as experienced, with the inability to subtract any
without detriment to the whole. Dewey transfers this felt unity or sense of belonging from the object to the experience
of it. The second characteristic attributed by Dewey to aesthetic experience harkens more back to Kants account in terms of
the fulfilling engagement of our faculties: Hand and eye, when the experience is esthetic, are but instruments through which the
entire live creature, moved and active throughout, operates (ibid.: 1958: 50). As has been noted, the focus of Beardsleys theory
too is aesthetic experience, and he adopts with only minor modifications and additions Deweys characteri- zation (Beardsley
1981). First, he notes that aesthetic experience is controlled by the phenomenal object on which attention is fixed. He emphasizes
that the object is phenomenal, that we are focused on the way the object appears to us, that there is an intimate connection here
between subject and object. This is close to the point that aesthetic properties are relational, emergent in the experience of
observers as they react to the objective formal properties of works. Most important for Beardsley, as for Dewey, is that
aesthetic experience is unified or coherent, and complete. He analyzes coherence in terms of continuity of devel- opment, and
completeness in terms of expectations being resolved or satisfied by later developments. Finally, he describes aesthetic
experience as intense or concentrated. What this means is not perfectly clear: in part it consists in the exclusion of
extraneous noise or distraction. But it might also suggest a secondary theme that was traced from Kant through Dewey: the full
engagement of all our mental capacities, which would generate a felt intensity to experience. Skeptical attacks against these
accounts of aesthetic experience have been launched explicitly by George Dickie and Eddy Zemach. Dickie (1965) questions
whether experience can be complete or unified as can a work of art, and whether coherence in experience is any criterion for
evaluation at all. Ordinarily we do not speak of experience as unified or complete, and Dickie holds that to do so is simply to
confuse perception with its object. Seeing or hearing a unified work does not entail having a unified seeing or hearing. We do
sometimes speak of coherent experience, but almost all experience is coherent in this sense except that of an insane person, or
perhaps a dreamer, and so coherent experience affords no criterion of value. Zemach (1997) adds that, even if we can make
sense of the notion of a complete experience, we would not describe the experience of good art works in this way, since such
experience typically draws on earlier encounters with similar works and reverberates in memory, coloring later encounters with
art works and other objects. According to Zemach, the experience of a work is its effects on us, and there is no effect common to
even great works: some arouse us and some have a calming effect; some cheer us up and others depress, and so on. Dewey and
Beardsley characterize aesthetic experience in only positive terms, but Zemach points out that we experience negative
aesthetic properties as well ugliness, dreariness and so on so their characterization is both too narrow and has the wrong
logical priority between aesthetic experience and aesthetic properties. We must analyze the former in terms of the latter, and not
the reverse. Let us once more mediate this debate over the centrality of aesthetic experience. First, Beardsley appears to make
perfectly good sense of the notion of a unified or complete experience. He unpacks the notion in terms of expectations that are
raised by works being later fulfilled. The final cadences of most tonal symphonic movements provide clear examples.
There is no problem of intelli- gibility here; nor do Zemachs remarks about prior experience and later effects affect this
characterization. But two questions remain. First, if such experience results only from unified works, we might question the
point of evaluating according to the property of the experience instead of directly in terms of the property of the work. Second,
in contemporary art and music especially, there are many intentionally disunified works that may be better, or at least not
worse, on that score. Even in modern tonal music, the sprawling symphonies of Mahler are plausibly judged better, and better
for their disunity, than many more tightly classical works. Regarding the duplication of properties in works and experiences of
them, we have seen that there is nevertheless independent reason to focus on the aesthetic experience. Although unity may
in some sense exist in a work and the experience of it, the main reason for drawing the distinction lies in the frequent
difference between properties of experience caused by objective properties, and objective properties themselves. The
movement from the dominant to the tonic chord in tonal music is typically experienced as expec- tation or tension, and its
satisfaction or resolution. Although the tension is not literally in the tones but in our response to them, even a formal description
of the work must note the tension. It is precisely our inability completely to distinguish the formal from the expressive
in experience that indicates the extent of our engagement by such works. In painting too, objective properties of works may
have effects in experience that not only do not duplicate them, but are surprising in relation to them. The rather simple, large, and
blurred rectangles in Rothko paintings are experienced as complex, ambiguous spaces can have a perceptually frustrating yet at
the same time calming effect. In light of such relations between objective properties of works and the aesthetic experience they
help to cause, there is good reason for emphasizing the distinc- tion and focusing on the latter as the basis for aesthetic evaluation.
Deweys and Beardsleys characterization of aesthetic experience in only positive terms fits with much common linguistic
practice. Aesthetic, like work of art, is often used as an honorific or positively evaluative term. Since art works are
typically designed to provide rewarding experience, it makes sense at least in some contexts to reserve the term for objects that
succeed in fulfilling this intention. And since the term aesthetic is applied primarily (but not exclusively) in the context of
appreciating art works, it is natural to apply the term to experience that is rewarding in the way that art works are
intended to be rewarding. Zemach is nevertheless also correct in saying that we think of aesthetic properties as those which
contribute to the positive or negative values of art works. Some criticism of Deweys and Beardsleys positive characterization of
aesthetic experience was accepted in this argument: not all such experience is aptly described as unified or complete.
Dewey and Beardsley would have done better to focus on the other aspect of their description, which derived more directly from
Kants implicit characterization of aesthetic experience: the full engagement of our mental (perceptual, cognitive, affective)
capacities and the felt intensity of the experience that results. All great art works, whether they are uplifting or depressing,
arousing or calming, engage us in this way, and the value to be derived from such experience is afforded by all the various
forms of art, which may nevertheless vary in the degree of their expressiveness, cognitive meaning- fulness, perceptual challenge,
and so on. Not only does perceptual experience of art works integrate the senses for example, paintings appear to have
tactile qualities, musical tones are described as bright or dark, light or ponderous but we perceive in them expressive
qualities and symbolic meanings as well as ordinary perceptual qualities. The full engagement of our subjective
capacities correlates with focus on representational, expressive, symbolic, and higher order formal properties, as these interact
and emerge from more basic sensory and formal properties. When we perceive aesthetically objects other than art works (such
as the natural environment), we once more use multiple senses and attend completely not only to sensuous and formal properties,
but to the natural objects or scenes as expressive, as uplifting or oppressive, majestic or delicate. While the purpose of art may
not be pleasure in the narrow sense, it is the enjoyment, refreshment, and enlightenment that such full experience provides. Great
art challenges our intellects as well as our perceptual and emotional capacities. To meet all these challenges
simultaneously is to experience aesthetically.


Western philosophers and psychologists have always been interested in the nature of art, the appreciation of art, and the
psychology of artists. Plato argued that aesthetic experience involved the apprehension of the good in nature. The nonsensuous
pleasure, perhaps awe, of aesthetic feeling resulted from the reflection of an ideal form in the object (a flower, a mountain glade,
a beautiful face, a painting) that only hinted at the profound perfection and beauty of its higher model. For Plato, it was the
apperception of this hint, the glimpse of the ideal, which was the source of aesthetic experience. Later, religious thinkers
believed that aesthetic experience was linked to the revelation of divinity in the world, the sense of worldly beauty being a
reflection of the eternal beauty of God. Similar to Platos views was the belief that some objects, most especially art, expressed
Gods love and perfection more than othersor at least, the divinity was more easily glimpsed in some objects than in others. It
was not until the eighteenth century that a true psychology of aesthetic experience began to emerge. Starting with David Hume
and Immanuel Kant, these modern thinkers tried to explain aesthetic experience in psychological terms. The objective nature of
the good and the beauty of God came to be replaced by psychological processes by which our experience of the world is
given aesthetic qualities and values. Hume (1775) argued that aesthetic experience was associated with sensitivity to the
association between a perception and a feeling. The particular aesthetic feelings were those of refined pleasure, delight, awe,
admiration, joy, and so onin other words, affects and passions considered to be of special, positive value. Hume believed that
certain types of experiences, those possessing beauty, attained higher qualities in the formal expression of these feelings. Thus,
for Hume, human sensibility and emotion replaced divinity and ideal form as the basis for aesthetic experience. Art, as opposed
to natural sources of beauty, expressed certain associated feelings in refined and highly valued ways. Hume argued that a person
could develop his or her critical judgment in aesthetic matters by means of experience and study. He also stressed the need for
the audience to keep his mind free from all prejudice and allow nothing to enter into consideration but the very object that is
submitted to his examination (1775, pp. 114-115). Hume claimed that the audience must be comfortable and without other
intentions when viewing something aesthetically. This was one of the initial arguments for the role of disinterest in aesthetic
experience (this would become important to later aesthetic theory, especially for Kant). What Hume was describing was a type
of empathy, an ability to put aside ones normal position and needs and to place oneself in that point of view that the artwork
supposes (p. 114). Thus, aesthetic experience assumed a special form of relationship with the object in which the audience
members would approach the experience with benign neutrality and a willingness to give themselves over to the experience
without prejudice. This relationship would then ideally result in a pleasant emotional state evoked by the specialness and
refinement of the object. Immanuel Kant (1790) postulated that aesthetic experience was a type of subjective judgment distinct
from other human emotions, referring to this as taste. Essentially, taste was a type of universal and natural human capability
similar to other modes of perception. As one experiences something aesthetically, there are sensations of pleasure within an
attitude of disinterest. In fact, for Kant, taste was closer to reason than to emotion or sensation; it constituted recognition of a
priori truths (such as beauty) in the concrete, objective purposiveness (1790, p. 187) of objects. This was Kants attempt to
separate out aesthetic taste from other emotions or sensations and to claim it as a primary form of mental experience. Thus, the
source of aesthetic experience lay not in the enjoyment of the beautiful object, but in the recognition of the subjective knowledge
of universal ideals. These ideals do not exist in some abstract realm (as with Plato) or in divinity (as with Augustine, for
example); rather, they are a priori universal conceptualizations that form the basis of our rational judgments. For example, though
we have all had innumerable experiences of individual men of various stature, size, and shape, we also possess a mental model of
man, the perfect, formal concept of the beautiful man. Aesthetic experience is based on this understanding of inner ideals. Thus,
Kant attempted to develop a theory of aesthetic experience that was both human and rational, a form of perception that formed
the very ground of rationality and judgment. Hume and Kant were the most important contributors to the modern approach to
aesthetics and the psychology of art. For our purposes, the key elements of their models can be summarized as follows: (1) the
source of aesthetic experience is within the mind of the artist and audience, not inherent in the object, (2) the formal
characteristics of the object are important to the extent that they evoke an inner knowledge or feeling associated with an idea or
emotion, and (3) aesthetic experience involves an attitude of disinterest, or distance, that is characterized by suspension of
prejudice, psychological security, and the willingness to give oneself over to the experience of the object. These elements
presupposed several assumptions that psychoanalysis would challenge. First, Kant believed that the educated and sensitive man
can know his own mind and be fully aware of his feelings. Second, he saw an association between the representation and the
concept that is open rather than defensively motivated. Third, he believed that disinterest is simply a suspension of prejudice,
rather than a complex process involving specific psychical mechanisms (e.g., sublimation). The history of psychoanalytic
aesthetics must be seen in the context of the theories promulgated by Hume and Kant and elaborated by their followers. Most
important, psychoanalysis developed the notion of art and aesthetics as expression, as derivative of psychic concepts and
specifically of unconscious fantasies. Freud saw aesthetic experience as equivalent in function to a neurotic symptom or the
manifest content of a dream. The psychoanalytic approach to aesthetics was concerned with the symbolic nature of art and its
instinctual sources, rather than with the aesthetic experience itself. This symbolic/interpretive approach to aesthetics has
dominated the psychoanalytic literature. However, recent authors have been interested in the primary function of aesthetic
experience in addition to its defensive role. They argue that its true meaning and purpose are not merely determined by
unconscious conflict; rather, there is a primary function of aesthetic experience, and one can trace its source to the earliest
phases of human development. This chapter will explore and elaborate on this developmental approach. But first, in light of our
discussion of the development of the modern approach to a psychological aesthetics, let me offer a brief definition of aesthetic
experience that will be helpful in the discussion we will engage in over the next two chapters. Aesthetic experience involves a
phenomenon (an object, event, sound, or other perception) or a set of phenomena (a group of objects, a sequence of events, a
melody, or a complex structure of perceptions) that is/are felt to possess perfection or ideal form. Aesthetic experience is
fundamentally subjective, but also grounded in the objective qualities of the object. It may include affects such as joy, sadness,
wonder, and awe, or a calm sense of quiescence. The quality of self-experience is also part of it; the individual feels whole,
vitalized, more positive, and closely engaged with the world. Furthermore, aesthetic experience varies in intensity. The tragic
drama of King Lear is an unsurpassed aesthetic experience, an example of perfection and idealization. However, aesthetic
experience also characterizes the enjoyment of a sunny day or the more mundane beauty of an oily puddle in a city street. While
aesthetic experience may be passionate, it must also evoke feelings of safety for the observer. Consistent with Kants viewpoint,
aesthetic experience involves a balance between personal investment and emotional disinterest.
In a broad sense, a persons aesthetic is the formal dimension of the unique way in which he or she experiences, responds to, and
engages the world. In particular, it is that aspect of experience in which the quality of the formal organization of a persons
relationship to an object, activity, or sensation is manifest. Aesthetic experience can occur in either the foreground or the
background of subjectivity. In the background, it is the source of our sense of the world as having value and perhaps beauty. Otto
Rank (1932) discussed how this ongoing, low level of aesthetic experiences helps us endure lifes problems. When in the
foreground aesthetic experience is compelling; we experience ourselves as being in the presence of great truths and vivid
realities. H. B. Lee (1948) described this level of aesthetic experience as spiritual, noting that the object is felt to be divinely
perfect and ideal (p. 511). Alternation between foreground and background reflects the ongoing struggle to reconcile fantasy
and reality, the ideal and the real, the archaic and the mature (Kainer 1999). Freud viewed aesthetic experience as sublimation of
forbidden sexual desires, a displacement and transformation (desexualization or neutralization) of libido that, denied direct
expression, is allowed discharge in alternative, culturally valued ways. Aesthetic pleasure is the result. The close link between
art (a highly idealized cultural institution) and regressive processes and fantasies seems to support the sublimation approach.
From this viewpoint, symbolism, a fundamental component of most forms of aesthetic expression, is the same process as that
occurring in dream work, and thus opens art to psychoanalytic interpretation. For example, in several references, Sandor
Ferenczi (1914) viewed aesthetic experience as arising from defenses against anal eroticism, the preoccupation with messy feces
being transformed into structural elegance and formal beauty. Limiting themselves to the investigation of the symbolic nature of
art, Ferenczi and Freud felt that the relation of analysis to art was interpretive, uncovering the unconscious meanings of imagery
or the covert instinctual motivations of the artist. Freud did not identify any specific, defining process in aesthetic experience,
focusing instead on the functions and mechanisms that it shared with other psychic processes. This approach, while illuminating
the hidden meanings of art, also limited the explanatory use of drive psychology in understanding aesthetic experiencea point
Freud (1914b) freely admitted. In fact, he remarked on several occasions that he could not appreciate art unless he could
interpret its meaning. In his paper on the Moses of Michelangelo, he wrote: I have often observed that the subject matter of
works of art has a stronger attraction for me than their formal and technical qualities, though to the artist their value lies first and
foremost in these latter. I am unable rightly to appreciate many of the methods used and the effects obtained in art. [p. 89] Freud
further noted that he was deeply moved by some art (the Moses is one example), but only when he could explain its impact on
him. On the other hand, music gave him no pleasure whatsoever. He noted that some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of
mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me (Freud
1914b, p. 89). This raises a question: why is it that Freud could not appreciate either the formal quality of art or its content unless
he could analyze it? I believe the answer is that aesthetic experience has its roots in early childhood experience (something that
Freud did not emphasize), and that it involves a form of knowing that is nonrational and irreducible, at least according to the
metapsychology of classical psychoanalysis. (See also Bollas 1987, for his discussion of aesthetic experience as part of the
unthought known.) The classical approach to the psychology of aesthetic experience was primarily content oriented. That is, it
considered the interpretation of the unconscious message as it is encoded in the imagery and expressed meanings of the artwork.
The drive psychology model of aesthetic experience as sublimation also highlighted one of the primary functions of artand
certainly, there is an affective, even passionate, aspect of most forms of artistic expression. But Freuds viewpoint failed to
explore the crucial role of quality and form in aesthetic experience. In other words, Freud argued that the sublimating person
channels instinctual drive energies through valued cultural channels, but he did not investigate the formal nature or quality of
value that characterized those channels, the cultural forms themselves. If we believe that aesthetic experiences possess special
qualities that make them distinct from other psychological phenomena (dreams, work, or play), I think that the most important
area to consider is the nature of aesthetic form and the sources of the experience of quality or value that the forms seem to
possess. When an artist expresses meaning through perfected cultural forms, or a person experiences a sunrise as extraordinarily
beautiful, he or she is tapping into archaic aspects of human experience by which the formal aspects of our relationship to the
world are felt to be both special and valuable.
From Sublimation to Regression
In 1961, Robert Fleiss published an interesting elaboration of Freuds sublimation model of aesthetic experience. Fleiss believed
that in aesthetic experience, especially in the sense of beauty, there is a normal regression to an early perceptory relation
involving the modality of primary perception, which he conceived of (after Rene Spitz) as the combined perceptions of the
labyrinthouter skin, hands, and mouth unified into a single, nondistinguishable experience. According to Fleiss, in aesthetic
enjoyment, there is a muscular discharge of neutral energy. Rather than aggressively cannibalizing the object, the person
experiences an empathic introjection of it. Fleiss located the developmental level of aesthetic experience in the first oral phase
prior to the mobilization of aggression that results in incorporative actions and fantasies. He argued that the sublimation of this
neutral oral libido is inseparable from aesthetic enjoyment and includes muscular discharges involved in the modality of
primary perceptiona modality that continues to function throughout life (1961, p. 283). Thus, for Fleiss, sublimation is not
simply a defense, but a normal aspect of the vicissitudes of libido that are essentially neutral during the first oral phase. It is the
activity of this neutralized libido throughout life that accounts for the ubiquity of aesthetic experience. In an interesting series of
case reports, Fleiss illustrated the relationship between sex and aesthetic enjoyment, and even argued for the simultaneous
experience of both in mature, healthy sexual relations. Space does not permit an in-depth discussion of Fliesss wonderful
contribution. However, given that he did elaborate on Freuds model of aesthetic experience in several important ways, I will
briefly touch on some of his points. Unlike Freud, whose reaction to art was by his own admission lukewarm at best, Fleiss
viewed aesthetic experience as a passionate sublimation. For him, neutralization does not take the physicality or drive out of the
libido; it merely changes its aim. This helps to explain something that Freuds sublimation model failed to address: the
frequently passionate nature of many aesthetic experiences. Although art is never equivalent to actual coital discharge, some
successful and aesthetically perfect forms of beauty are frankly erotic and/or aggressive. Therefore, Fleiss proposes that art as
sublimation allows for a form of discharge regulation in which drive is channeled rather than simply disguised. This suggests
that aesthetic experience may be linked to early vicissitudes of sexuality and aggression that are contained and expressed through
ego mechanisms having more to do with containment, regulation, and expression than defense. In this light, Fleiss did not view
aesthetic experience as a defense, but rather as a normal regressive process having developmental sources in the early
(nonaggressive) oral phase of the libido. He argued that aesthetic experience involves the multiple sensory modalities of
interaction with the nursing motherhand, eye, mouth, skin, and ear, all linked together in a sensory mosaic. In these ways,
Fleiss gave the drive perspective on aesthetic experience a developmental bent; but he continued to see it as essentially a
regression, and therefore did not elaborate a truly developmental approach to aesthetic experience. As I will discuss later in this
chapter, I strongly support the notion that aesthetic experience has its source in early infantile experience. One of the problems
with regression models such as Fliesss is that they do not go far enough to explain the developmental elaboration of aesthetic
experiences from the archaic processes to mature forms of artistic appreciation and other sophisticated aesthetic judgments. As
with any other culturally sanctioned and articulated form of behavior, the refinement and elaboration of early forms of aesthetic
experience into the complex and refined forms found in adult life need to be explained.
From Regression to Reparation
Unlike Freud and Fleiss, who stressed the derivative nature of aesthetic experience, object relations theorists posited a
progressive function for it. Melanie Klein (1929, 1930) and Hanna Segal (1952) both argued that aesthetic experience assists in
the resolution of internal psychological distress arising from the feared consequences of aggression felt toward good objects.
However, this resolution is not accomplished by means of denial or other defensive mechanisms; rather, the aesthetic experience
is capable of containing both the aggressive fantasy (the bad object) and the libidinal fantasy (the good object) in a single
experience. According to object relations theory, in some cases, there is an amalgam in which beauty and ugliness are
expressed with simultaneous vividness, with neither canceling out the other. In others, there is a balanced but separate depiction
of evil and goodness within a single aesthetic field. In either case, instead of suppressing, neutralizing, or eliminating aggression,
the aesthetic experience allows for the safe, even reparative, recognition that aggression and libido can exist within the same
psychological realm without annihilation of the good. Thus, object relations theory was the first psychoanalytic theory to offer
the possibility of a developmental aesthetic. Specifically, the idea that aesthetic experience is an aspect of the depressive position
supports the notion that it has early developmental roots. Lee (1948, 1950) was also critical of Freuds model of sublimation and
developed an approach to aesthetic experience similar to the object relations one. Lee believed that aesthetic experience arises
from efforts to achieve atonement for guilt associated with destructive fantasy. He summarized the aesthetic experience of the
artist as follows: In redeeming himself with conscience, the artist achieves not only a rare sense of unification among the
institutions of his mind and with the alienated world; but more than this, for the restoration of love and approval from conscience
is felt as a lyrical kind of at-one-ness, and as an exhilarating rapture called spiritual pleasure. A marked alleviation of self-esteem
results from recapturing the flavor of the moments in early life when, guilty to his mother over destructive rage, the child
regained her love, approval and gratitude in the reconciliation that occurred when appropriate action demonstrated his renewed
allegiance to her teachings of pity. He experiences not only a moving sense of order, peace and wholeness, but is flooded with
his most passionate experience of spiritual pleasure with his most intense experience of vitality and of becoming. [1950, p. 240]
What Lee described was a psychologically confirming experience that followed the restored sense of connection with the attuned,
loving, empathic parental object. Thus, Lee also supported the notion that aesthetic experience was linked to early infantile
experiences of connection to parental objects or imagoes.
Developmental Aesthetics
In the last twenty years, psychoanalytic developmental theory has also been used to explore aesthetic experience. From this
perspective, aesthetic experience is a type of regressive state in which early developmental phases (such as symbiotic fusion with
caregivers) are revived. Gilbert Rose (1992) was the first to address the bridging of contemporary and archaic developmental
states in The Power of Form (1992). He wrote that aesthetic experience is rooted in phylogenetic adaptations to internal and
external reality. The way in which aesthetic experience organizes affect and perception, and transforms occasions for anxiety into
transcendent pleasure and insight, compels us to speculate on its biological function. In this regard, Rose noted that: Art
performs a valuable biological function: at least it provides a normative mode or opportunity for stimulating and assimilating
potentially dangerous degrees of affectin short, extending the limits of the bearable. Instead of traumatic reexperiencing of
affective storms, or a repression of affective signals with regressive resomatization and fragmentation, a greater degree of
integration and differentiation of affects can take place within the safe holding presence of the aesthetic structure. [p. 227]
Roses thesis is highly consistent with the psychoanalytic model of aesthetic experience that we will be discussing. He argued
that there is a biological, even evolutionary, basis for the creation of art and the sense of beauty (which he defined as the most
refined and perfected expression of the aesthetic state of mind). The sense of beauty arises out of the observers need to ensure
consistent orientation in a relatively fluid reality and to regulate disruptive affective states. This view supports the notion that
aesthetic experience integrates and binds potentially traumatic and disintegrative affective states, as well as facilitating the
adaptation to and attunement with realityand, most significantly, the complex interpersonal environment of the parent/child
relationship. Rose wrote:
The controlled ambiguity of aesthetic form highlights and magnifies the interaction of primary and secondary processes.
Aesthetic experience has more to do with this congruence than with emotions per se. Ambiguity eases the tension of maintaining
separate boundaries and restricting discharge; it fuses separate moments of time changed into a sense of timeless constancy. And
all this is augmented by the distant resonance with the past, with the narcissistic fusion with the mother. Secondary-process
control, delineating spatial, temporal, and logical distinctions, restraining feelings and impulses, builds tension moment by
moment and echoes the first building of reality in the separation from the mother. [1992, p. 201]
For Rose, aesthetic experience is a complex psychological activity. This includes oscillations between primary and secondary
processes, as well as between fusion and separateness. He argued that in aesthetic experience, a triangulation exists between
present self, the evoked memory of archaic states, and the art object. This, he felt, resonates with the basic structure of the mind
itself, reflecting the minds imaginative activity or movement. Aesthetic experience recapitulates the minds fusion with and
emergence from the maternal bond. But the problem is that many psychological phenomena might have these functions and
characteristics; and what is it that makes aesthetic experience distinct? In the chapters that follow, I will discuss my belief that it
is the idealization of the formal aspects of experience that underlie aesthetic processes. Similar to Roses work, other
developmental approaches to psychoanalytic aesthetics have focused on the problem of merger and dedifferentiation that is
commonly associated with aesthetic experience. This has been noted by philosophers not directly connected to psychoanalysis,
such as
John Dewey (1934), who wrote:
The uniquely distinguishing feature of [a]esthetic experience is exactly the fact that no such distinction of self and objects exist in
it.the two are so integrated that each disappears. [p. 249]
Some psychoanalysts have approached this problem in terms of archaic mental states, particularly in regard to the childs first
experiences of connection to the mother. They argue that the adults experience of art is a form of regression to the powerful,
emotionally charged, and psychologically ambiguous way in which the infant experiences the care-taking mother. These analysts
have utilized the aesthetic approaches of the British Middle School, especially the writings of D. W. Winnicott. Unlike the
Kleinians, who stressed the vicissitudes of defense against aggression, Winnicott emphasized the positive developmental thrust
of illusion and creativity. Rather than viewing the mother/infant bond as a cauldron of rage and envy, he argued that the child
enters the world eager to create, not to destroy. Winnicott saw this creativity as arising out of an original state of pleasurable and
omnipotent nondifferentiation. Building on this idea, Ellen Handler Spitz (1985) argued for the importance of idealization in
these preoedipal merger experiences in aesthetic experience.
In Art and Psyche, she wrote:
The aesthetic ideal, then, is like symbolic fusion in that encounters with the beautiful may temporarily obliterate our sense of
inner and outer separateness by drawing us into an orbit in which boundaries between self and other, and also categories into
which we divide the world, dissolve. This occurs, perhaps, with the return to consciousness, the reavailability to us, during
moments of creativity or responsiveness in the arts, of aspects of our preoedipal life, with its pleasurable sense of merging and
union. [p. 142]
For Spitz, aesthetic experience recaptures early memories of the preoedipal relationship with the mother. Most important is the
experience of the maternal bond as a special and highly valued state that possesses a profound quality of perfection. In addition,
aesthetic experience possesses intense affective qualities, such as pleasure, security, and fulfillment. Spitz describes a type of
symbiotic relating that is evoked in the aesthetic response, in which the relationship to the object is invested with qualities that
hark back to the archaic bond with the mother. Spitz believed that this reexperience is the source of aesthetic pleasure. In a
more recent paper, Patricia Lipscomb (1997) extends the discussion of the developmental basis of aesthetic experience into the
realm of Winnicotts transitional phenomenon: Aesthetic experience functions as a transitional process, allowing the viewer of a
work of art to enter a transitional space between reality and fantasy that is suggested by the various dialectics involved in
aesthetic experience (past and future, concrete and abstract, passive and active, near and far), but is illustrated most clearly by
the sense of ambiguity about fusion versus separateness that is typically induced in the viewer as part of aesthetic experience. [p.
154] Lipscomb argued that aesthetic experience induces a revisiting of the developmental phase in which the young child first
began to achieve a sense of psychological separateness from mother and the rest of the world (p. 154). She asserted that the
viewer experiences two sources of pleasure: (1) the temporary experience of boundarilessness and fusion, where opposites
coexist and harmony reigns, and (2) the return to a sense of ones psychological separateness and the recognition of ones
capacity to withstand loss. This approach to understanding aesthetic experience emphasizes the sense of nondifferentiation in
which fantasy and reality seem to interpenetrate, even to co-determine each other. The argument goes that this experience in
maturity essentially recapitulates developmentally primitive self and object relations, and that the type of emotional resonance
and unconscious communication that seems to occur is directly linked to the psychological processes in the mother/infant bond.
Lipscomb directs her attention to the area of transitional experience, arguing that the work of art is similar to the transitional
object in that the viewer is psychologically inseparable from the object. There is no such thing as a work of art, Winnicott
might say; there is only the viewer and the art as they share a co-constructed psychic reality, an area of illusion. I would elaborate
this viewpoint by pointing out the oscillating positions of the viewer and the artwork. The viewer experiences him- or herself at
times as the active creator, and at other times, as the receptive subject of the aesthetic illusion. This shifting identification
contributes to the dynamic tension in aesthetic experience. While I feel that developmental theorists such as Spitz and Lipscomb
have much of value to contribute, their emphasis on the experience of fusion seems to ignore the fact that experiences of fusion
can also be a source of terror and fragmentation. And it is well recognized that separation can result in feelings of loss and
abandonment, so the fluctuation or ambiguity between fusion and separateness may not necessarily be a source of aesthetic
pleasure. This is an area that has been amply explored by object relations theorists in their discussions of borderline phenomena.
Since aesthetic experience is al- most invariably positive and self-confirming (no matter what its content may be), I would argue
that the experience of fusion and separateness is not just with any type of parental object, but with an idealized one. In this
regard, self psychology offers a model of aesthetic experience that emphasizes the loss and recovery of the tie to the idealized
parent. In his paper entitled The Artist and Selfobject Theory, Charles Kligerman (1980) noted that the psychology of the artist
is linked to idealization and aesthetic experience, describing how the artists self-crisis leads to the development of lifelong
efforts to recapture a lost state of perfection. One of the important qualities of idealization is the sense of formal perfection and
value known as beauty. The idealized object or the grandiose self is experienced as possessing in essence a perfection of form
and mode of being that is beautiful; therefore, aesthetic experience forms a part of idealization. In his formulation, Kligerman
speculates that the prototypical artist is someone who experienced consistent mirroring of his or her grandiosity in childhood.
Inevitably, this archaic selfobject experience fails and the artist-to-be is cast out from this state of perfection.
Kligerman noted: The ensuing fall from grace is followed by a passionate need to recover the original beauty and perfection and
later on to present the world with a work of beauty (really the artist himself) that will evoke universal awe and admiration. There
are thus at least three main currents to the creative drive. An intrinsic joy in creating, related to what has been termed
functional pleasure. This is perhaps the most important factor, but the one we know least about. The exhibitionistic grandiose
ecstasy of being regarded as the acme of beauty and perfection and the nearly insatiable need to repeat and confirm this feeling.
The need to regain a lost paradisethe original bliss of perfection to overcome the empty feeling of self-depletion and to
recover selfesteem. In the metapsychology of the self this would amount to healing the threatened fragmentation and restoring
firm self-cohesion through a merger with the self-objectthe work of artand a bid for mirroring approval of the world. We
can also add a fourth current to the creative drivethe need to regain perfection by merging with the ideals of the powerful
selfobjects, first the parents, then later revered models that represent the highest standards of some great artistic tradition. [pp.
Selfobject experience in childhood inevitably leads to failures in attunement and self-crisis. The child confronted by the loss of
the sustaining, developmentally essential tie to the parent responds psychologically by taking into the self-structure the selfobject
functions of the parent. This transmuting internalization is repeated innumerable times as the ongoing, normal selfobject failures
accumulate. In his discussion of artistic creativity quoted above, Kligerman pointed out that art is an attempt to restore a lost self-
state prior to the empathic failure of the parent(s). Aesthetic experience is the restoration of the early selfobject tie to an
idealized parent and thus of a renewed sense of self. I believe that Kligermans perspective adds an essential component to the
developmental model of aesthetic experiencethat its sources lie not only in the evocation of early experiences of psychological
connection with the mother, but also in the idealized nature of that relationship and accompanying self-states, and that these are
central to the aesthetic sense. In other words, a key aspect of aesthetics is an intuitive judgment (an appreciation) of quality, and
this type of judgment is linked to the most elemental memories of idealization. This point will be discussed in greater depth in
chapter four. A NEW PSYCHOANALYTIC MODEL OF AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE Man is, then, alone of all objects in the
world, susceptible of an ideal of beauty, as it is only humanity in his person, as an intelligence, that is susceptible of the ideal of
perfection. [Kant in Aschenbrenner and Isenberg 1965, p. 187]
A Human Thing
For Kant, the source of aesthetic experience lies in the rational apprehension of mans inner goodness through perception of the
human form. Thus, aesthetic pleasure is a response to the moral goodness found at the core of humanity in relation to God.
Beauty for Kant was a human thing, reflecting an ideal grounded in truth beyond everyday aesthetic taste. Later, Francis Jeffrey
(1816) also argued for the human source of the aesthetic. He believed that:
It is man and man alone that we see in the beauties of the earth which he inhabits; it is the idea of the enjoyment of feelings that
animates the existence of sentient beings, that calls forth all our emotions, and is the parent of beauty [p. 286] The depiction of
aesthetic experience we have been discussing is also fundamentally human. If there is an abstract quality, it is found in the
biologi- cal readiness to organize experience of the world according to certain patterns, colors, sounds, and rhythms. This inner
readiness to create form is the psychological equivalent of Platos ideal forms, but unlike Platonic forms, those that begin as
potentials in the neurons must be evoked and elaborated in interaction with the world, especially with other human beings.
According to the model to be discussed in this book, aesthetic form is an emergent mental phenomenon in which
psychobiological-neuronal propensities are stimulated and sculpted through relational experiences, and are gradually internalized
as structured expectations and organizing principals that reflect the form and particularly the quality of interpersonal experience.
Recent psychoanalytic aesthetic theories echo Kant and Jeffrey by showing that beauty has a human core, but that core is not
found in some abstract inner goodness or individual affective state; rather, it adheres in the idealized experience of the
parent/child interaction that is elaborated, refined, and spread out over the individuals experience of the world. In this way, the
new analytic aesthetic, a developmental-relational perspective, is a fundamentally different model from that of the philosophers
we have discussed and from those of the schools of classical psychoanalysis. A developmental-relational approach to aesthetic
experience (including that of self psychology) answers several important questions that classical psychoanalysis despairs of
answering, as is evidenced by the following points taken from a developmental-relational perspective:
(1) Even though aesthetic experience can include symbolic content, it is not limited to this; rather than precluding analytic
investigation, however, this factor demands an expanded paradigm. Such a paradigm views aesthetic experience not in terms of
content, symbolic or otherwise, but according to its structure, form, and quality.
(2) Aesthetic experience is evocative of archaic, preverbal experiences of self-in-relation. Thus, it is prereflective and involves
procedural forms of knowing (an attribute that led to Freuds frustration).
(3) Aesthetic experience arises not from defensive motives, but from strivings to experience developmentally healthy states of
self-experience and relationship.
(4) Aesthetic experience expresses, rather than conceals, fantasy and perception. It seeks to capture and concretize many things
that are most frightening or otherwise stimulating to us. It does this by expressing and/or containing these intense affective states
in formally structured and perfected forms. In this way, rather than being disguised, fantasy and drive are experientially
heightened, even as they are modulated and purged of the acute sense of threat or unbearable arousal.
(5) The core quality of perfection that virtually defines aesthetic experience is derived from the developmental vicissitudes of
archaic fantasies of idealization that are tied to equally grandiose self-states. This is the only way that we can explain the supreme
value we grant to aesthetic experience, as well as the accompanying heightening of self-esteem and well-being. We do not
simply reexperience an early state of oneness with the mother; rather, in aesthetic experience, we relate to something of fantastic
value and exquisite form, something that evokes the type of enthrallment that we felt (or longed to feel) as infants with our
The new authors whom we have discussed see aesthetic experience as involving processes and psychological states that are
grounded in early infancy. In this context, aesthetic experience does not arise fully formed in adulthood. In fact, if we posit that
the capacity for aesthetic experience is an important psychological phenomenonnot just a later-acquired affectation or
regressive conditionthen we should assume that some developmental elaboration of the experience occurs during an
individuals lifetime. E. Jacques (1965) has discussed specific elaborations in aesthetic experience and creativity that occur as a
result of midlife psychological developmental changes. While object relational and self psychological theorists argue
convincingly for the presence of an archaic substrate in adult aesthetics, they have not yet explored the possibility that aesthetic
experience may have its own developmental lineone that is intertwined with other early childhood processes, but that can also
be identified and discussed on its own terms. Aesthetic experience, as noted at the beginning of this chapter, is a basic way in
which we organize and experience ourselves and our world. Artists manipulate aesthetic experience; they play with its
manifestations and familiar forms, and also use it secondarily as a medium for communication. The meanings of art (those
characteristics that interested Freud)while important to the purpose of artdo not explain it. What makes an aesthetic
experience different from other psychological phenomena is the centrality of form and quality/value, not its content. This is an
area of human psychological life that is preverbal, somatically grounded, and powerfully related to the earliest forms of
psychological organizing activities and attachment motivations. To further elaborate this viewpoint, we will now turn to a
discussion of how the capacity for aesthetic experience comes to be elaborated in the course of psychological development.