Aesthetic emotions in Vygotsky‘s psychology of art

Высшее учебное заведение: 

Aesthetic emotions in Vygotsky‘s psychology of art // Мышление и речь: подходы, проблемы, решения: Материалы XV Международных чтений памяти Л.С. Выготского. - 2014. - Т2.

Aesthetic emotions in Vygotsky‘s psychology of art

W. Reinecke Free University Berlin Germany, Berlin

In Thinking and speech Vygotsky drew on similar sources like Bakhtin and Voloshinov, e.g. on Lev Yakubinsky‘s On dialogic speech (1923). Vygotsky explains the development of a socially conditioned consciousness by means of contradictory elements (thought and speech, outer and inner speech). This is a series of dialectical steps. At the same time, Vygotsky conceived of inner speech as a phenomenon of a certain decomposition of language. Insofar as inner speech is not so easy to translate into outer speech it has qualities of dialogics. Especially in Bakhtins work the reflection about dialogic elements was also a criticism of the formalist theories of literature.

In my presentation I‘ll try to link this shared critical approach in Bakhtin and Vygotsky to some considerations in the Psychology of Art. Vygotskys dissertation was finished in 1925, a time of an intense debate about form, content and material of artworks. Mostly adressed by scholars like Shklovsky, Ejchenbaum and Tynjanov, Vygotsky is very much aware of the importance of the literary device (priem). Nevertheless he criticises Shklovskys misunderstanding of the importance of effects of art, especially the emotional effects. What Vygotsky conceived of as an aesthetic emotion is deeply connected to the contradiction between form and material. The formalist notion of sujet stresses mostly form to overcome the limits of content. Vygotsky takes both levels into consideration. The affection derived by material (content) can be juxtaposed to the one derived by form (composition, tonality). The analysis of Bunins novella Gentle breath (Legkoe dychanie; actually a povest) shows Vygotskys very subtle ability to merge a very broad range of humanist thought into his concept of aesthetic response: Aristotelian catharsis, empirical aesthetics, formalist theory.

Whereas the Psychology of Art was not published in Russia before 1965, his 1925 book about Educational psychology also explores the tension of emotional situation: An emotion should be understood as «reaction in the critical and catastrophic moments of behaviour» (Vygotsky L.S., 1996). Although this is not by any means referring to aesthetics, the analysis of the «aesthetic reaction» also shows a crisis in affection (affektivnoe protivorechie), at least a contradiction leading to cathartic phenomenons. Vygotskys later theory of thinking and speech still kept a framework of dialectic and contradictory elements to explain interiorisation and the process of developing consciousness.

Not accepting the dichotomy of mind and body, emotion and intellect, individual and society, Vygotsky claims the interconnectedness of psycho– physiological processes (Vygotsky L.S., 2001). The special feature of the aesthetic response is imagination as a result of affective contradictions. Imagination therefore is an «inhibited feeling» (Vygotsky L.S., 2001). This aesthetic emotion is meant to mediate personal experiences with the collective experience of society.


  1. Vygotsky, L.S., Analiz esteticheskoj reakzii: Tragedija o Gamlete, prince Datskom y Shekspira; Psichologija iskusstva. Moscow, Labirint, 2001.
  2. Vygotsky, L.S., Pedagogicheskaja psichologija. Pod red. V.V. Davydova. Moscow, Pedagogika–Press, 1996.

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