Psychology and the Arts Part 4

Written by Kate Siner Francis Ph.D.

Many psychologists, who study creativity, base their ideas on theories from Social psychologists and use Social Psychology terms. However, there is much epistemological confusion within Social Psychology, which directly influences art research based on this orientation. Standing with one foot in Experimental Psychology and the other in Marxist ideology (Wilson, 1986), Social Psychology has stayed connected to personality theory and the humanistic movement for sentimental and ideological reasons. Social Psychology concerns itself with how people affect each other (Wilson, 1986). Most Social psychologists are concerned with creativity as it manifests in many activities, abilities, or relationships.

Key Contributors
James Dewey was an American psychologist whose theories are most often used by Social psychologists. Dewey’s, Art as Experience, (1934) was based on William James 1931 Harvard University Lectures. This book €œevoked some criticism from Dewey’s followers, most notably Stephen Pepper, who believed that it marked an unfortunate departure from the naturalistic standpoint of his instrumentalism, and a return to the idealistic viewpoints of his youth (Field, p. 1, 2006). However, Art as Experience can also be seen as Dewey’s attempt at expanding his theories to the study of art. Dewey believed there was value in all human experiences and believed that the aesthetic experience was something experienced by everyone. He believed that the aesthetic experience was both the result of the sense perceptions of the moment and connections to previous experiences Dewey, p. 35-57, 1934). Dewey also discussed the social implications of art and believed that in order for art to fulfill its social function it must be reintegrated into everyday life (Dewey, p. 334-349, 1934).
Sarason considered his view a continuation of Dewey’s (Sarason, p. 4, 1990). Sarason felt that Dewey, like James, was a major contributor to the field, who was not seen as such because he was considered as a philosopher rather than a psychologist (Sarason, p.83, 1990) His book (1990), The Challenges of Art to Psychology, acknowledges the lack of scholarship on the arts in psychology and the difficulty of creating it. He joins Hillman and Vygotsky in the belief that the arts and artistic modes of thinking are essential to the betterment of society and the understanding of the human experience.
Vygotsky stated, Psychological investigation reveals that art is the supreme center of biological and social individual processes in society, that is a method for finding logical and social individual processes in society, that it is a method for finding an equilibrium between man and his world, in the most critical and important stages of his life (Vygotsky, 1971, p. 523). He believed that whatever the future of people might be it would be intricately related to the development of art. However, he also believed that art was difficult to study because the scholarship followed no clear line but instead was formulated to address individual cases (Vygotsky, 1971).
Mihály Csiksentmihalyi’s books on art include: The Art of Seeing (1990) and Creativity (1996). He is well known for his concept of flow. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost” (Channels, 2000). His book Creativity, flow and the psychology of discovery and invention is the result of his interview of 90 creative people (Csikszentmihali, 1996).  He uses his finding to support his theory of flow and how it manifests in the creative process.

Current Applications
A majority of creativity research takes its cues from Social Psychology(Eisner, 1972; Fischer, 1961; Henesey, 2005; Montuori, 1994; Richards, 1988; Wilson, 1986).
They discuss creativity in terms of systems and uses quantitative approaches for justification. Two of the most well-known books on Social Psychology and the domains of art are Amabile’s Creativity in context (1996) and Koestler’s The act of creation (1994). Creativity has become a rather popular area of study in comparison to other aspects of the study of art. Current examples include Csiksentmihalyi’s project,  Pritzker and Runco’s multi-volume book Creativity (Runco, 1999a, 1999b), which details some of the major contributors and theories of the field, and Runco and Richards studies of Everyday creativity (Richards, 1990, 1988).

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