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AN OLD MELODY IN A NEW SONG. AESTHETICS AND THE ART OF PSYCHOLOGY. By Luca Tateo (Ed.). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG, 2018. 244 p.

The volume is aimed at exploring the relationship between cultural psychology and aesthetics, by integrating historical, theoretical, and phenomenological perspectives. The book chapters presented are result of the international workshop "Aesthetics in the History of European Psychology: How to Play an Old Melody in a New Song," at the Centre for Cultural Psychology, Aalborg University in 2016. The workshop was led by Luca Tateo and he is also the editor of this collection.

The twelve contributors have different backgrounds: psychology, social work, education, artistic learning and creative processes, philosophy, history of ideas, psychology of arts, empirical aesthetics. The meta-code to their works is Science as Art; their studies cover different issues from eighteenth-century classical aesthetics to twenty-first-century science. First six chapters represent the metaphor "Old song"--they concern the historical development of arising psychology of 18th century, debates between philosophers and psychologists, aesthetics as a part of knowledge that also emerged at this time and is in indestructible relation with both philosophy and psychology.

Gordana Jovanovic discusses the democratization of aesthetics. She makes a short historical overview of subjectivist (psychological) approaches to this research field. In this overview, David Hume, Alexander Baumgarten, Immanuel Kant, Wilhelm Wundt, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Franz Brentano are included. Her conclusion is that "aesthetics could have served as a fruitful source for more encompassing psychological conceptualizations of human experience and activity" (p. 29).

Christian Allesch makes a historical review about the interactions between psychology and aesthetics which includes Baumgarten, Sulzer, Kant, Zchokke, von Hartmann and Croce. He discusses different topics, related to psychological aesthetics--empathy, Geshtalt, phenomenology, cognitive paradigm. The chapter of Joao Pedro Frois "Psychological Aesthetics in Russia at the Threshold of the Nineteenth Century" analyses the contribution of Tsezar Pavlovitch Baltalon (1855-1913) to psychological aesthetics. This Russian literary critic, philosopher, and pedagogue repeated Gustav Fechner's experiments on the golden section. He is a forgotten figure of the early period of psychology and his case illustrates how the founders of psychology were actually involved in a serious debate about aesthetics.

Sven Hroar Klempe's research focus is on how aesthetics is related to rationality in music. His discussion is about the relationship between aesthetics and psychology through some peculiarities in Kant's conception of music and its relationship with the beautiful and the sublime. Klempe points out some often ignored commonalities between Kant and Sigmund Freud's analyses of laughter and joke. He analyzes some of the modernists in literature who pointed toward music as a permanent theme: Hugo von Hofmannsthal and James Joyce.

Another case study on participatory aesthetics is provided by Falk Heinrich who discusses the relationship between aesthetics and psychology regarding participation as an art strategy and an art form. Luca Tateo provides philosophical reflections from cultural psychology by discussing temporal dimension of psyche and revealing the aesthetic dimension of imaginative processes that are fundamental for everyday life, art and elaboration of scientific theories.

The second part of the book presents the New Melodies in psychological research. The first two chapters are related to human development, education and learning. The topic of Marina Pinheiro's chapter is the aesthetic reflection in the field of developmental psychology. She presents a study on children's identity involving an experiment with 13-year-olds, asked to create a comic strip about "a character who goes to a school where nothing is forbidden" (p. 115). She discusses taking into account the aesthetic experience in understanding the creative process and provides a theoretical problematization concerning aesthetics and human uniqueness in a dialogue with the psychoanalytic approach. Tatiana Chemi develops the topic of aesthetic experience and learning. She considers reflectivity and reflexivity in arts-based research methods in education.

The last three chapters explore the relationship between aesthetics and different fields of psychology. Justin Christensen writes about the phenomenological and neuropsychological dimensions of aesthetic experience in relation to the organism-world relationships. He analyses the process of developing knowledge about our sensory modalities, our world and ourselves.

Dany Boulanger and Bo Allesoe Christensen attempt to connect Moscovici's social representations theory with Simmel's. They treat social representations as aesthetic phenomena. Their focus is on the tension between the contextualization and decontextualization of representations as a way of connecting Moscovici's and Simmel's conceptions.

The final chapter by Morten Bech Kristensen offers an unexpected and original example of the fruitful collaboration between cultural psychology and aesthetics. He makes a critical cultural-historical and psychological comparison between the mediaeval age pilgrimage and a visit to IKEA. Journeying through IKEA showrooms is interpreted as a guided pilgrimage with purpose to encourage the consumer-pilgrim, by buying goods, to buy ideas, identities, and meanings both maintained by and reflecting society from the outside.

All the authors in this volume share the idea that aesthetics has a potential to be a powerful contribution to psychological science as a subtle way of understanding human beings. It is all the more important today, when phenomena of contemporary cultural and social realities need an updated and often a totally new aesthetic and psychological conceptualization. The traditional aesthetic concepts and theories of perception naturally need further development, require a new theoretical framework, an interdisciplinary approach, and a new terminological basis for defining and processing information about new social, cultural, technological realities; as well, aesthetics and psychology of today face new challenges concerning new manifestations of art.

Society now is a huge producer and consumer of aesthetic experiences--the modern man is constantly seduced by various sense stimuli which means that the complexity of current life cannot be presented anymore by historically established forms of art. Topics, problems and issues of utmost importance for contemporary aesthetics and psychology are embedded in their attempts to make non-psychological art, digital and hybrid forms, with different interactions and rules of perception concerning art formation.

The psychological and aesthetic experiences of the viewer when interacting with site-specific objects, installations and other contemporary forms of art require the updating of existing theoretical models of interpretation. Very interesting are the transformations in psychological and aesthetic roles and accents: the viewer transforms from a reactor to participant, actor, interactor, mediator, object or co-author of the aesthetic phenomena of art. In contemporary aesthetics and psychology, new accents emerge--the emphasis of the art as a piece of art or object shifts to the process of interaction between the object and the subject. In some cases the distinction of object and subject is quite difficult or even impossible; the interactor and the work of art are simultaneously transformed.

Contemporary art is interesting not only in its modes of a creative process or perception but also as a socio-psychological experiment, communication, industry, service, ideology, or/and propaganda of consumption society. Now aesthetics not only has political implications and power functions much more explicit and clear in comparison with its previous stages in historical philosophical thought (aesthetics of Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Modern age) but we also should regard it as a regulating factor. We shall not forget the subtle mode in which aesthetics is capable of suggesting the right aesthetic values and ideas needed in society but at the same time both political and economic ideologies and interests can exploit the very definition and apprehension of what is "right" and what is "needed."

The fluid and changeable objects of psychological perception, as well as the lack of a certain perceiver and recipient subjectivity within aesthetic phenomena itself, create new challenges for both psychology and aesthetics.

Aesthetic and psychological judgment becomes very relative especially while perceiving and conceiving the works of incorporeal, intangible art and their pledge. Sometimes it is difficult to define an art effect as a meaning, image, or experience. Despite the claims of post-psychologism of contemporary art, the very possibility of a discourse on art that does not contain the subject's psychology tends to zero. It is impossible to psychologically exclude the subject from the field of art, respectively aesthetics, and aesthetic experience in its broadest sense.

Contemporary art forms deconstruct traditional concepts of artwork. The subject is no longer a frozen, solid, complete, definite construct, but is fluid, indeterminate, variable, relative, as a matter of interpretation and a point of view Post-psychological models of art move from object arrangement to activity engagement, from passive perception to participation.

Aesthetics today takes on a new meaning in its common efforts with psychology, psychoanalysis and psycho-social practices as a guide for man in a world of decaying values, who lacks the value compass which was once a sure thing, denied in its absoluteness, a world of pluralism and fast-changing fashions, where there are no clear criteria and definitions for distinguishing life from art, fiction from reality In this sense, there are a lot of New Melodies still unrevealed and waiting to be discovered and developed, and the collection has made a decisive step to provoke further actions among the aestheticians and psychologists.


National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts, Bulgaria
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Author:Deleva, Nikolina
Publication:Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019

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