Psychology of the Arts by Hans Kreitler and Shulamith Kreitler

Duke University Press


Part I treats the arts and their elements separately, from the viewpoint of perception; Part II considers them together as a life-enhancing totality. First we learn how the mind works about art; then why we mind about art-works. The, resulting book of-500 pages and 17 plates is (to use its own terms) a multi-levelled structure and a good Gestalt. It feels as solid as its own merits; it looks as stylish as its own prose. The latter is always alert and often exciting; the invitation to skip (p. ix) is unnecessary. The whole massive corpus of erudition moves lightly and easily (though it might have been even easier had more of the refer­ences included page numbers). The positive achievements are impossible even to summarize adequately. They include a compelling theory of consonance (pp. 126-130) and an equally convincing conception of the artistic stimulus as elicitor both of arousal and of meaning processes (p.31) an anti-formalist approach which seems to me as valuable as it is original.

    So does the final analysis (p.366) of ways in which the work of art functions, i.e. (I) tension and resolution; (2) predisposition to involvement; (3) empathy; (4) 'distance'; (5) wish-fulfilment; (6) symbolization; and (7) enhanced cognition. This sevenfold approach is rightly and rewardingly eclectic, as its complex subject demands. Its first six branches clearly owe much, as is readily acknowledged, to such pathfinders as Meyer, Gibson, Lipps, Bullough, Freud and Langer respectively; but much of the seventh, and some aspects of all the others, are original Kreitleriana. I reached the bibliography with the added conviction that each of its 1200 or so items had been read (or written) and enjoyed by one Kreitler or another, and probably by both. The material and its shaping are eloquent of natural organic growth, and of that true integration which only integrity can bestow. The book's total impression of self-denying shared en­deavour suggests a kind of collective or settlement of scholarship, planned to irrigate the desert of its subject and make the psychology of the arts blossom like a rose.

    However, the lone and level sands continue to stretch far away (so far as I can see, that is), while the oasis of art remains obstinately invisible or illusory. Thus in nearly 100 pages devoted to the actual ex­perience of music, there is no question of any real musical experience. Almost no musical work is even mentioned, except Tristan(chromatic) and Meistersinger(leitmotivic). The vacant chair of aesthetics has not of course been overlooked. Indeed, we are told at the onset (p.3) that the empirical methodology of art psychology sets it apart from philosophical aesthetics. Very true. But all the most significant and durable pronouncements about art have been made (as it seems to me) by philosophers, artists, even critics; never by psychologists, whose experiments often seem merely to pose further testing problems. As Professor Sparshott has pointed out, the results of such inquiries are seldom startling; their interpreta­tion is often problematical; and it is difficult to show that the cases studied are really typical. All three points can be all' too amply exemplified from this book. “The higher their musical training in general, the more [people] enjoy musical sequences of greater unexpected­ness and complexity or of lesser redundancy” (p.139); but of course. “Volume in tones... was found to correspond to both brightness and darkness” (p.143); but so what? As to typicality, even the Kreitlers' own perceptive studies in Haifa and Tel Aviv seem mainly to show that Israelis are no Philistines.

    So not even these quarter of a million words can wholly traverse the gulf which sunders the psycho­logist from the artist. The former experiments with perception and viewpoint, the latter experiences with perceptiveness and vision. They can never see eye to eye (except perhaps as doctor and patient). Of course psychologists will remain professionally undisturbed. This book provides them with a purpose-built and spacious craft which may one day make these deep waters navigable. But artists are bound to be concerned at an approach which not only defines their experience in terms of stimuli, and conversely, but often seems to lose sight of art as such altogether. To them the whole argument may well seem circular and lacking in central interest. Still, the same could be said of a lifebelt, which is also a good thing to have handy when out of one's depth. 


The Musical Times, Feb. 1973 (pp. 151-152) © the estate of eric sams