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Costello, M. (2004). Aesthetic Experience in Visual Art. Free Associations, 11(3):353-399.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(3):353-399

Aesthetic Experience in Visual Art

Marie Costello


The Discovery of The relevance of dynamic unconscious processes, which started with Freud's explorations of the mind over a century ago, ushered in a way of thinking that has been applied to many aspects of human relations and cultural life. One of these aspects is a particular trajectory of creative enquiry into the nature of artistic endeavour and the approach to the study of aesthetics. Psychoanalytic concepts can be used to help us understand a particular way of thinking about what constitutes a successful work of art, the creative urge in artists, and the reasons why the beholder derives so much pleasure from an artefact. It is the purpose of this study to explore aesthetic experience in visual art, understood in terms of psychoanalytic concepts, using the work of the artist Paul Cézanne to help illustrate the thesis.

Broadly speaking, the word ‘aesthetic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘aisthetikos’ meaning ‘things perceptible by the senses’ (Onions, 1966). Already inherent in this definition is a concept of something perceived or taken in from outside, or other than self, which has an impact on the senses. Aesthetic issues have been discussed since classical times, but they would not then be so described. The word ‘aesthetics’, was coined by the German philosopher, Alexander Baumgarten, in the middle of the eighteenth century. By it he meant the ‘science of sensory knowledge’, though the term soon began to be confined to a particular area and understood as ‘the science of sensory beauty’, i.e. the examination of taste (Cooper, 1997, p. 1).

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