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(1940). Applied: W. R. D. Fairbairn. 'The Ultimate Basis of Aesthetic Experience. British Journal of Psychology, 1938, Vol. XXIX, pp. 167–181.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 21:96-97.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Applied: W. R. D. Fairbairn. 'The Ultimate Basis of Aesthetic Experience. British Journal of Psychology, 1938, Vol. XXIX, pp. 167–181.

(1940). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 21:96-97

Applied: W. R. D. Fairbairn. 'The Ultimate Basis of Aesthetic Experience. British Journal of Psychology, 1938, Vol. XXIX, pp. 167–181.

Having considered the significance of the work of art as a product of artistic activity in a previous paper, the author now proceeds to consider the significance of the work of art as a source of æsthetic experience. For this purpose the so-called 'found objects' of the Surrealist are chosen as the starting-point of investigation. These 'found objects' are objects in which the Surrealist discovers a hidden symbolic significance dependent on the fact that they represent for him a union between the outer world of reality and the inner world of wish-fulfilment. Such a discovery is accompanied by an æsthetic experience, which leads the discoverer to isolate and preserve the symbolically significant object and so to effect a transition from the rôle of beholder to that of artist. In conformity with this transition, the 'found object' itself must be regarded as just a work of art and no more. There are reasons for concluding (1) that the historical origin of art is to be traced to the discovery of 'found objects' by prehistoric man, who subsequently made these the nuclei of works of art in the accepted sense, (2) that even the most developed forms of artistic creation merely represent an elaboration of the process whereby symbolically significant objects are discovered and perpetuated.

When we consider the æsthetic experience afforded by a 'found object' in isolation from the urge to perpetuate it as a work of art, we seem justified in concluding that oesthetic experience is a specific emotional reaction occurring in the beholder when he discovers an object which functions

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for him symbolically as a means of satisfying his total unconscious emotional needs. The essential character of this experience remains unaffected, whether the 'found object' belongs to the world of nature, where such objects are incidental, or the world of art, which is composed specifically of such objects. Where the contemplation of works of art is concerned, æsthetic experience depends upon the capacity of the beholder to identify himself with the artist and so to share the artist's discovery. Nevertheless the beholder may fail to identify himself with the artist either (1) because the artist's super-ego imposes so great a need for disguise that the symbolic reference of the work of art becomes completely obscured and no appeal is made to the beholder's repressed impulses (over-symbolization), or (2) because the artist's super-ego imposes so little need for disguise that the work of art barely reaches the stage of becoming symbolic at all and so fails to satisfy the demands of the beholder's super-ego (under-symbolization). In either case the work of art lacks sufficient symbolic significance to enable it to present itself to the beholder as a 'found object' and æsthetic experience is precluded. In conformity with the author's previous conclusion that the creation of a work of art represents a restitution of objects menaced by the artist's repressed destructive impulses, it is further implied in the identification of the beholder with the artist that the æsthetic appeal of a work of art depends upon its capacity to present itself to the beholder, not only as a 'found object, ' but also as a 'restored object'.

Author's Abstract.

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Article Citation

(1940). Applied. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 21:96-97

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