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Balter, L. (1999). On the Aesthetic Illusion. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1293-1333.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1293-1333

On the Aesthetic Illusion

Leon Balter

The aesthetic illusion—the experience of the content of a work of art as reality—occurs through the mobilization and intensification of typical infantile fantasies in the beholder. This necessarily evokes intrapsychic conflict in the mature adult. Two illusion-producing strategies ameliorate this conflict and effect the aesthetic illusion. The first illusion is that the artist's proffered fantasy is the beholder's own personal and private fantasy. This isolates the beholder from the shame-and guilt-evoking social surround. The second illusion is that the protagonist depicted in the work is an actual person. This defends the beholder from the painful emotions attendant upon his instinctually gratifying identification with the protagonist. The first illusion is necessary for the establishment of the second, but it is the second that establishes the aesthetic illusion. The aesthetic illusion exists in a highly unstable dynamic equilibrium with the beholder's usual reality orientation. If either orientation is too powerful, the dynamic equilibrium is disrupted and the aesthetic experience as such is abolished.

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