Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity, and the Search for the Ideal

Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity, and the Search for the Ideal

Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity, and the Search for the Ideal

Aesthetic Experience: Beauty, Creativity, and the Search for the Ideal


"George Hagman looks anew at psychoanalytic ideas about art and beauty through the lens of current developmental psychology that recognizes the importance of attachment and affiliative motivational systems. In dialogue with theorists such as Freud, Ehrenzweig, Kris, Rank, Winnicott, Kohut, and many others, Hagman brings the psychoanalytic understanding of aesthetic experience into the 21st century. He amends and extends old concepts and offers a wealth of stimulating new ideas regarding the creative process, the ideal, beauty, ugliness, and -perhaps his most original contribution-the sublime. Especially welcome is his grounding of aesthetic experience in intersubjectivity and health rather than individualism and pathology. His emphasis on form rather than the content of an individual's aesthetic experience is a stimulating new direction for psychoanalytic theory of art. With this work Hagman stands in the company of his predecessors with this deeply-learned, sensitively conceived, and provocative general theory of human aesthetic experience." Ellen Dissanayake, author of "Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began" and "Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why."


In my twenties, I was an artist. Primarily, I was a painter; but for years, my interests shifted widely between various types of art—cinema, literature, and music. I ended my artistic life as a poet. Success was elusive and the joy of creativity was replaced by the recognition that the career of an artist was not what I wanted. I turned to another, earlier ambition: I became a social worker, psychotherapist, and later a psychoanalyst.

I have never lost my love of art and artists. For many years as a student and then as a practicing therapist, I was interested in the psychological exploration of creativity and the meaning of art. In particular, I found that D. W. Winnicott captured the dynamics of the creative personality in a way that retained the mystery and uncontrollable nature of the artist's mind. I realized that there was more than interpretation in analytic art appreciation.

But for a time, another subject captured my attention: the problem of death and mourning. This resulted in a number of papers, the writing of which seemed to be an important part of my own self-healing. In the end, the burden of thinking so much about loss proved too much for me, so I was happy to turn to a more positive topic, one representing an old interest.

However, I did not decide to sit down and write a book about aesthetic experience. The ideas emerged slowly and in a different order from that found in this book. It was written as a series of papers over a five-year period. It began with [The Creative Process,] which was an attempt to formulate a model of creativity using concepts from Heinz Kohut's self psychology, Susanne Langer's aesthetic philosophy, and Winnicott's concept of the use of the object. The most important idea in that paper was the notion of dialectic between internal subjectivity and externalized subjectivity, the goal being the increasing elaboration (idealization) of the created object. This process I hoped would explain both the tendency for refinement in art, the source of personal expression, and the source of the new.

As a result of my work on that paper, I began to think about aesthetic experience in general, apart from the arts. This led me in two directions: (1) the notion of aesthetic experience as a relational phenomenon that emerges from the psychological elaboration of our experience of first relationships, and the dynamics of aesthetic experience as a developmental line, and (2) the specific nature of the sense of beauty. These two subjects began to be connected in my mind with the vicissitudes of archaic idealization, and specifically, the . . .

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