Author(s)Fróis, João Pedro, 1957-
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AbstractIn his chapter on the contributions of Lev Vygotsky to twentieth century aesthetics
João Pedro Fróis provides insights into Russian and Eastern European psychology
and philosophy from around the time of the Russian Revolution, into the 1950s,
when Vygotsky’s work was first introduced to Western readers. Frois introduces us
to the historical context of Vygotsky’s education and brief but highly influential
academic career. (Vgotsky died at age thirty-eight, of tuberculosis.)
While educators outside the field of art education are familiar with Vygotsky’s
theories on language development, less familiar is his work on aesthetics. Thus, in
The Psychology of Art, (1926/1971) the result of his work over the years 1915–1922,
Vygotsky addressed the following questions: “What is the relation between aesthetic
response and all other forms of human behavior? How do we explain the role and
importance of art in the general behavioral system of man?” (p. 240). His text is an
investigation into those questions.
Frois’s chapter draws our attention to what Vygotsky considered to be key
elements of human behavior. These include imagination, creativity, and Vygotsky’s
particular interpretation of catharsis as it emerges from aesthetic response.As Fróis points out, Vygotsky’s work was not only influential in his day, even
anticipating the work of some of his contemporaries, but continues to have an
impact on writers in the fields of education, psychology and aesthetics today. What
is unusual about Vygotsky’s work is the breadth of his influences and interests.
Thus Fróis introduces us to Vygotsky’s early studies of literature, particularly of
Hamlet, and shows how Vygotsky branched out from literature to incorporate the
other arts into his spectrum of interests. Indeed, the arts seemed to provide
Vygotsky with the grounding for his theory development from three perspectives—
instrumental, cultural, and historical. Revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russia
was a fertile ground for cultural and societal self-examination, after all, and the arts
lent themselves to such examination.
But Vygotsky’s interests spanned the human sciences as well as the arts. In
particular, Vygotsky began to examine the psychology of the day and to bring it to
bear on his study of the arts. Thus, his Psychology of Art (1926) draws heavily on
his earlier critiques of Hamlet. It is in this text that Vygotsky draws analogies
between perception and artistic creation, from the perspective of psychology. That
is, he sees creativity as emerging from “those sensations that arise in the nervous
system”, in other words perception, but that these only hint at possibilities there for
development. Vygotsky’s assertion that “our capacities exceed our activity”
foreshadows his theory of the zone of proximal development, a theory that educators
today still find compelling.
Perhaps the most surprising component of Vygotsky’s work, however, was his
insistence upon a focus on the artwork as opposed to the viewer, in order to arrive
at an understanding of aesthetic response as a general principle, as opposed to an
isolated instance of idiosyncratic behavior. This gives Vygotsky’s work a distinctly
empirical flavour, one with which Fróis obviously sympathizes. Fróis does an
admirable job of guiding us through Vygotsky’s thinking in this regard. The point
of being able to arrive at some kind of general principle of aesthetic experience is,
as Fróis points out in his conclusion, that then aesthetic responses are capable of
not only individualized meanings but of shared realities as well. The capacity for
shared meanings puts aesthetic experience firmly within the educational realm.
Essays on Aesthetic Education for the 21st Century, co-edited by Tracie Costantino and Boyd White, brings together an international collection of authors representing diverse viewpoints to engage in dialogue about the ongoing critical relevance of aesthetics for contemporary art education. Inspired by a conference symposium in which the four authors in the first section of the text, titled Initiating a Dialogue, explore a range of concepts including aesthetic experience, beauty, wonder, and aisthetics, this book enlarges the dialogue with eight additional chapters by authors from North America and Europe. In addition to chapters that address issues of social awareness, curriculum theory and research, and applications to practice with pre-service teachers, there are several chapters that acknowledge historical influences on current notions of aesthetics as a basis on which to open the gate into the twenty-first century. This book will be a valuable resource for graduate students in art education and curriculum studies, as well as practicing art educators, pre-service teachers, and anyone interested in the significance of aesthetics, not only in contemporary art education but the wider field of general education as well.