PSYCHOLOGY AND ART [1950]: A SUMMARY AND CRITIQUE *1

Douglas N. Morgan

For some 75 years, investigations into the psychology of art have been developing under that name, and for some 2,300 years before that time some somewhat similar work was being done under the name of philosophy. I offer here no pseudo- comprehensive synopsis of this vast, rich range of material, but merely a brief summary and methodological criticism of some of the work being done today within the field. After a quick glance at certain psychological insights no longer being avidly pursued,2 I shall try to classify in three broad groups the work being done now, offering examples of each approach in its application to various works of various arts. In the second part of my paper, I shall venture certain comments and criticisms -- some new and some old -- on ways and means by which, perhaps, somewhat more ground may be gained in our understanding of the psychology of the arts.

Following Fechner, who published his Vorschule der Aesthetik in 1876, and thereby founded experimental aesthetics, three major directions developed around three central and fertile ideas. The first of these, called "empathy," had grown from Aristotle3 through Robert Vischer4 to Lipps5 and Lee.6 Its central idea was an interpretation of the appreciative act in art as a kind of identification: a feeling-into or personification of the object by the spectator. The second central idea gave rise to a theory which stresses certain similarities found between the phenomenon of play and the act of creating or appreciating works of art. It descended from Schiller7 through Herbert Spencer8 to Karl Groos9 and Konrad Lange.10 The third of these ideas emerges from a concept of an aesthetically necessary "psychical distance" between spectator and aesthetic object, and finds its fullest statement in the work of Edward Bullough.11 All three of these ideas -- empathy, play, and psychical distance -- have materially conditioned our present interpretations of art, but none of them seems to be receiving active attention from a significant number of psychologists now at work, at least in this country and in this language. The ideas appear to have

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*
[From The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. IX, No. 2 ( December 1950). Reprinted by permission of the author and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.]

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