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Fenichel, O. (1943). Probleme Der Ästhetik. (Problems of Aesthetics.): Ernst Kris. Int. Ztschr. f. Psa. u. Imago, XXVI, 1941, pp. 142–179.. Psychoanal Q., 12:286-288.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Probleme Der Ästhetik. (Problems of Aesthetics.): Ernst Kris. Int. Ztschr. f. Psa. u. Imago, XXVI, 1941, pp. 142–179.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:286-288

Probleme Der Ästhetik. (Problems of Aesthetics.): Ernst Kris. Int. Ztschr. f. Psa. u. Imago, XXVI, 1941, pp. 142–179.

Otto Fenichel

This paper consists of three very instructive lectures about certain problems in art and is distinguished by the clarity and precision with which it treats these complicated matters. Kris says, 'Every individual work of art is deeply rooted in the economic, social, and psychic circumstances of the time of its creation. It is equally determined by the amazing and mysterious human being who has been its creator. The research of both sides of its origin is the field which has to be investigated.' Kris limits himself more or less to the psychological field.

The first lecture concerns the 'æsthetic illusion', namely the specific attitude on which the enjoyment of art is based. This attitude differs from that which confuses the world of art with the world of reality, a disturbance of the function of reality-testing which occurs in many forms. One who delights in art, though deeply touched by it, must know that what he experiences is not fully based on

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external reality and that his reactions are, in a sense, autistic. The forerunner of this attitude is found in children's games in which 'what is unpleasant becomes pleasant when the affect is mastered'. But the reassurance that unpleasant affects can be mastered is not the only function of children's games. They are simultaneously used as a substitute satisfaction for wishes which cannot be satisfied in reality. 'This is the origin of what is later called æthetic illusion.' In the next step: 'Instead of his own fantasies the child also readily accepts the fantasies of others, stories and fairy tales which are presented to him'. Although these stories must really express the fantasy world of the child and must follow certain childhood verbal conventions, yet one thing more is necessary in order to turn them into art. 'Art is a social phenomenon. A collective reacts to what has been invented by a single individual.' The collective individuals identify themselves with the emotions of the creator. In practice this attitude of identification is always combined with another in which the spectator retains a certain distance from the work of art and admires the structure which the artist has given to his fantasies. Historically the drama has been developed out of ritual. 'Everybody was actor, and everybody was audience.' Today something similar occurs in, for example, collective singing at political mass meetings.

The second lecture has as its subject 'Art and Magic' and deals with the effects of plastic arts. Here also the work of art is never reality although a similarity to reality always has been the highest praise for a work of art. This contradiction is rooted in the magical predecessor of art, in times when that which had been copied and the copy itself were looked upon as identical. Where now is the border line between the realm in which the copy was something (magically) real and art in which the copy is recognized as the representation of something real? This border line is never a distinct one. Even today art is used for magical purposes in various ways. If one assumes that magic idols originally aroused more or less the same affects in everyone and had therefore more or less the same significance for everyone, it becomes clear that later, when individual differences became more marked, a change of meaning took place. 'When the identity of the comprehension was disturbed, the work got a new meaning in which we perhaps may see the root of its social significance; it served the purpose of communication.' From this point art branches off to writing. Plastic arts also acquired the purpose of communication although it was originally a magic one. 'The clan was supposed to see what the medical man had drawn. For them, for their eyes it had been done, in order to recall to their memory the fight with a game, or to anticipate it, to show to them what was alive in their thoughts as memories of the past and as images of the future.' Even today creative ability is unconsciously likened to the work of God and is admired and feared.

The third lecture, 'Daydream and Art', refers to the literary arts. The social character of a world of art differentiates it from a daydream. Art does not solely afford simple wish fulfilments, nor does it rush from one climax to another as does the daydream. It must not only satisfy the creator's emotional needs but it must also create an object for the affective reactions of a presumptive audience. 'What a work of art expresses is intended for an audience. The purpose of relaxation for the creator could be achieved in a more primitive way.' The problem then arises as to when and how the daydream turns into

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art. After various discussions concerning this problem Kris arrives at the conclusion that the social character of art is determined by a different relationship between the ego and the unconscious primary process than that found in daydreams. 'Whereas in other states of mind the affects of the primary process overwhelm the ego, in the artistic creative process the creator masters the primary process and uses it for his purposes.' This mastery is not always conscious but it is the means by which the artist influences his audience. 'The artist gives us allusions, he invites us to reactions, he initiates a psychic process which is similar to the process he himself has gone through. We are not supposed to repeat this process but to experience an analogous one. The artist gives us the freedom to use the mechanisms of the primary process as he has done before us.'

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Article Citation

Fenichel, O. (1943). Probleme Der Ästhetik. (Problems of Aesthetics.). Psychoanal. Q., 12:286-288

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