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YURI BOREV

AESTHETICS

AESTHETICS: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ART AND
THEORY OF ARTISTIC PERSEPTION
The Science of the Psychology of Artistic Creation and Perception of Art

ART AS THE OBJECT OF PERCEPTION

Artistic Text and Its Perception

Artistic perception is the relationship between a work of art and a recipient which depends on the subjective traits of the latter and the objective features of the artistic text, on artistic tradition and on social attitudes and language-semiotic conventions shared by the author and the recipient. All these factors are historically conditioned by the epoch, the environment and the individual background. The subjective aspects of perception stem from individual traits, a person's natural endowments, fantasy, memory, experience, the stock of life and artistic impressions, cultural training of the mind and emotions. The preparedness for perceiving a work of art depends on what the recipient has personally lived through or has learnt from books or borrowed from other arts. The latter could be said to be derivative life experience.
An artistic text conveys the author's message in the plastic form and in the form of ideas not mediated by images. The semantic focus of the work may shift either to visual or conceptual approaches. One can neither reject nor exaggerate these elements in the art work. Thus, in painting and sculpture the title is the non-plastic element of perception. In the literary text, along with the representational element the non-plastic element is always present. This is witnessed by the experience of intellectual literature and the presence of symbolic images in literary works belonging to different trends and genres. Lessing in his theoretical studies convincingly refuted the thesis that "poetry is speaking art".
A work of art is a structure determining perception, encouraging the subject to perceive. That is why art, and aesthetics after it, must be oriented to the constantly evolving receptive consciousness of contemporaries. They should address themselves to an artistically perceptive mind running ahead of its epoch. It is important not to regard the reader, listener or viewer as the end point of artistic communication. A person inspired, educated and suggestively infected by a work of art exerts a certain influence on reality and on the subsequent artistic process. Nor is this influence itself the end because it provides the starting point for the further progress of art.
The ontology of a work of art (its social being) reveals some paradoxes. With the appearance of a ready art product the artistic text passes from the emergence stage to the stage of being and art activity becomes "materialised activity". But it is "materialised activity" only potentially. It becomes a product "in reality" only in the process of consumption. The work of art is internalised in the process of perception and becomes part of the social and individual consciousness of which it is a materialised expression. And the existence of an art text outside consumption is not complete, it exists merely as a potential work.
The world of the art work is embodied in language and the perceiver is let into that world by the content of the artistic text, i.e. an ordered, complex, relatively complete sequence of signs corresponding to an ordered, complex and relatively complete semantic structure. In that sense the text is always closed. But the art work is a text unclosed, a text with all its social links, social origins and being, and its social function.
A work of art is identical to itself only relatively. It would have been absolutely equal to itself if the material objects expressing its meaning (signs) were related in the process of art perception to unchanging language, reality, ideals and recipients. This has nothing to do, however, with the relativist view that there are as many works of art as there are perceptions of it. For all the changeability of the social fields on which the existence and perception of a work depends (culture, public opinion, language) it contains a fixed programme for perception: it is either a tragedy or a comedy; its plot reproduces a certain sequence of events; it has a stable system of plastic images and the system of ideas and evaluations underlying it. An art work is personally addressed to the perceiving individual (herein lies the specific character of artistic perception), it establishes a personal contact with the perceiver and interacts with his unique individual experience. Every reader has his own image of Natasha Rostova and his own conception of War and Peace. In a sense, there are as many Hamlets as there are viewers. And you have to multiply the multitude of viewers by the multitude of performers (there are as many Hamlets as there are viewers who have seen Hamlet played by Smoktunovsky, Skofield, Vysotsky). And yet Hamlet is one, he is Shakespeare's Hamlet. It is an invariant and performers and recipients merely vary the artistic information it carries. The art text sets limits to the "spread" of different interpretations. The "spread" appears because the work encounters different epochs, different audiences and different individuals with their unique life experience. The work engages the reader in a dialogue. The perception of an artistic text is communication with it. The text and the recipient meet each other and enrich each other.
During a performance of a children's play one can observe how youthful recipients react to what is happening on the stage. "Look behind you! " they shout to Little Red Riding Hood who does not notice the Wolf. "Go away! " they shout to the gray bandit.
Children behave as if the artistic text were not closed and could be interfered with in a process of feedback. But what is the right way to perceive art? Is it proper to exhibit such an active and immediate reaction? The story is told that during a performance of Shakespeare's tragedy Othello a grown-up member of the audience was so childishly naive and spontaneous, so carried away by the action on the stage and so infuriated by lago's perfidy that he leapt on to the stage and killed lago, that is, the actor who played him.
When he came to and realised what he had done, he killed himself. Legend has it that they were buried together under a tombstone with the words, "To the best actor and the best viewer". But was he the best viewer? Is it right to treat an art work with childish naivity and take it for reality? Or is the best formula for perceiving a work of art one in which the emotions it evokes translate themselves not into action but into artistic experience? Goethe identified three types of art perception: 1) delight in beauty without reasoning; 2) reasoning without delight; 3) reasoning with delight and delight with reasoning. In Goethe's opinion it is only those who are capable of the latter type of art perception, who recreate the art work anew, only they can take in the whole richness of artistic thought. The third type of artistic perception is true to the nature of the art work. The process of artistic perception is very complex and even Goethe's penetrating judgement leaves unanswered many questions regarding the procedure of artistic perception. Should perception be active and to what extent? Is perception a sharing in the creative process or merely an adequate reading, emotional and intellectual copying of the text? Should the perceiver distinguish between artistic images and reality or should he identify the character with a living person? What should the post-reception be, i.e. should the recipient imitate the character and his behaviour or is it beyond the programme of perception? The number of such questions, like the number of riddles and paradoxes of artistic perceptions, can easily be multiplied.
In the process of artistic perception the recipient's point of view alternates between that of the observer and the observed. The viewer sees everything through Hamlet's eyes and at the same time sees Hamlet himself through his own eyes. Every viewer is at once Hamlet and an observer of Hamlet.
The character of artistic perception is determined not only by the art text but also by the nature of the recipient. Before perceiving the meaning and value of a work the recipient perceives its intonation and emotional side. The entire perception process takes place against the background of intonation which acts as a catalyst. The recipient is exposed to its suggestive impact.
One type of broadly understood intonation in any art work is the "gesture" of the hero. Bertolt Brecht stressed the importance of gesture technique for stage speech which must follow the speaker's gestures. The communicative potential of intonation is revealed in the inner gesture which is capable of influencing the recipient. Not only the actor but also the reader applies the gesture method in reading a literary work to himself or reading it aloud so as to realise the intonational potential of the work. Intonation carries both substantive information and value judgement on the world artistically portrayed.
Artistic perception turns a work of art into a fact of consciousness and puts the author's artistic thought within the mental reach of the recipient who, to the best of his abilities and cultural background, rises to meet the minds of Shakespeare, Mozart, Raphael and Pushkin. The attitude of great artists to life, their world view and their artistic conceptions enter, to varying degrees, the consciousness of the recipient providing models for his attitude to reality.

The Laws of Artistic Perception

The recipient's effort to understand an art work is one aspect of aesthetic pleasure. There is a logical link between the accessibility and the hedonistic potential of a work of art. The simpler an art text the less challenge it presents to the perceiver and the lower the hedonistic potential. The more complex the text the greater perceptual challenge it presents, putting it out of range of more recipients, but on the other hand the greater effort required to perceive the work enhances the artistic delight. The extremes in these opposite trends are the mass culture with its primitive pop art and kitsch and the snobbish elitist art. True art in its classical models unerringly strikes a balance between the two opposing trends, the proportion between accessibility and the hedonistic potential.
The popular character (narodnost) of an art work is not a synonym of "easy-to-understand". Identification of the two provides an easy cover for the kind of stuff produced by mass culture. The social mission of art is to lead the public. The artist must be ahead of his audience.
Retrograde critics often greet innovatory art with the declaration that "the masses do not understand it". The social value of art lies not only in what has been assimilated by the broad public but also in what potentially contains high intellectual and artistic values. Reaching up to and assimilating these spiritual riches is an important cultural task of society. The accessibility of art should be seen as a historically changeable category in the theory of artistic perception. Artistic pleasure is a specific aspect of artistic perception. It is a guarantee and indicator that art promotes the intrinsic value of the individual and does not regard him as merely a social agent in the solution of certain historical tasks. Indeed art in its masterpieces conveys the important humanistic message that although historical progress is achieved through the efforts of men it is achieved not contrary to the individual but for the sake of the individual.
Assertion of the importance of the individual in his own right provides an additional stimulus for the individual's socialisation. The problem of artistic pleasure has been the subject of quantitative and qualitative analysis in modern science. One of the wider known formulas, suggested by the American mathematician Birkhoff, says that the aesthetic measure (M) is directly proportional to order (O) and inversely proportional to complexity (C). The Birkhoff formula is M = O/C. This writer for one finds more convincing the formula proposed by Aysanck although it too fails to cover all the aspects of the complex phenomenon of aesthetic measure. He believes that aesthetic measure is a product, and not a ratio of order and complexity and his formula is M = O X C. And indeed, the intensity of perception and the pleasure derived are directly proportional to the order and complexity of the art phenomenon. Given other equal conditions a less complex work is easier to understand, more popular but less effective. It is an essential element of artistic perception that the recipient experiences the greatest fulfilment and satisfaction when the aesthetic form is repeatable and diverse.
Perception of art is a creative activity which is directly proportional to aesthetic pleasure which in turn is directly proportional to the order and complexity of the art work and the balance of diversity and repetition.
To be sure, the complexity of a work must be matched and indeed be the result of its artistic and conceptual depth. Genuine art does not trail behind the recipient but goes ahead of him raising a person and his artistic taste to a higher level. The social and aesthetic effectiveness and value of art depends on how far its potential outstrips the cultural potential of the recipient.
The following futurological conclusions can be drawn from the above:
first, artistic culture is likely to see the growing trend towards orderliness and greater complexity as well as simultaneous increase of the two extremes: diversity and repetition;
second, the deepening of the aesthetic impact on the individual will go hand-in-hand with the broadening influence of art on the masses covering wider and wider social strata, involving them in the highest and most complex forms of art;
third, because all work tends to become creative work, there will be a growing need in artistic culture for a diversity of art idioms and diversity of arts.

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