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Between the audience and the visual art work: the potential therapeutic space

posted on 22.03.2017, 01:30 authored by Ng, Liza Bee Kuan
While psychoanalytic speculations on aesthetics have often been from the perspective of the artist who creates rather than that of the audience who contemplates the work of art, I propose, in this thesis, to study aesthetic experience from the receiving end. Moreover, while the psychoanalytic literature has been predominantly based on the Freudian notion that the impulse to create stems from the need to satisfy id impulses, or the Kleinian one of reparation to the internal object, Winnicott's theory of transitional phenomena has been relatively neglected, in spite of offering a promising alternative approach. Winnicott held the view that artistic creativity stems from the capacity for creative living which is manifested in play, and its derivatives such as cultural, religious and artistic experience, within what he calls potential space. In this thesis, I propose to study aesthetic experience from the perspective of Winnicott's theory. My focus will be on the visual appreciation of art, visual interaction being one of the earliest and most important forms of communiation prior to the development of language skills. My overall aim is to understand the psychic contribution of the audience to visual aesthetic experience, and how the quality of this depends on the way in which the space between the audience and the work of art is utilized. I attempt to explore the psychological processes and interactions that enable this space to become a creative space, with the possibility of 'therapeutic' potential for the audience. Part 1 of the thesis is, therefore, an exploration of those concepts within Winnicott's theory that are relevant to aesthetic experience. I discuss his use of the terms object, object usage, transitional object, transitional phenomena and potential space, and attempt to elucidate what he means by the capacity for creatie living, symbolisation and playing. Part II of my thesis is a phenomenological study which fills out the idea of potential space with concrete examples. These point to ways in which aesthetic experience as the space between the audience and the visual art work may have therapeutic potential by allowing issues of separation and non-separation to be worked through in relation to the visual object, thereby ameliorating ego-disintegration. I consider examples in which DaH, Van Gogh and Bacon discuss their experience of other artist's work and, in the last part of my thesis, I discuss the development of visibility in infancy and Bonomi's notion of the disembodied gaze. Boththese concepts are relevant to an understanding of aesthetic experience.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Philip Greenway

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Graduate Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education