The solid core of what the art world today defines as „Contemporary art“ contains a constant response to the two great revolutions that took place simultaneously in the 1960s, namely the revolutions of Conceptual Art and Minimalism. The immeasurable consequences of these two artistic revolutions after the mid‑1970s began to be interpreted with the terms Post-conceptual art and Post-Minimalism. Minimalism deals with a radical redefinition of the image in art. The artist does not depict, express, or represent, but is in the spectator's field. Thus the one who creates and the one who perceives the image are present intertwined both within the manifestation of the work as a phenomenon. The minimalist work frees our perception from all prejudices and imaginary ideas through the purity of perceptual experience. The work does not reproduce ideas but creates a completely new experience. Post-Minimalism as a generator of new genres and artistic activities has never lost its influence and has never left the scene of Contemporary art. But more interestingly, in its vast and open range of difficult to articulate sensory and structural innovations, there remains a special space turned to some deep impersonal drama. I am tempted to say that if in its monumental purity Minimalism remains rigidly turned to the absolute idealizations of the perceptual, then Post-Minimalism is strangely turned to the hidden identity of experience .
Some of the works of Post-Minimalism and Post-Conceptual Art contain influences from the concepts and terms of Lacanian psychology and Situationist Social Psychology. The American art historian Hal Foster in his groundbreaking book The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century – a book in which the most cited author is Jacques Lacan – argues that Minimalism completes and overcomes the modernist trajectory of self-criticism, moving from the formal nature of categories to perceptual conditions and boundaries of art . Placing the psychology of art within the structural mechanism of art itself, rather than as an external explanatory context, is a new approach that defines Lacan’s special place as a thinker in the field of art psychology. Lacan assembles new unusual psychology of gaze that turns the place of art from an object of study into an investigative apparatus . In the work of Dan Graham Public Space/Two Audiences (1976), the viewers watch themselves and watch others, and at the same time, the viewers watch others being watched and watch themselves, being watched.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Hugo Münsterberg, one of the pioneers in applied psychology, divided two sections into applied psychology: cultural psychology and psychotechnics. According to him, the psychology of culture is oriented towards rethinking the past of culture, and psychotechnics towards the future of culture. Münsterberg believed that psychotechnics is not identical to applied psychology, but refers only to that part of it in which it is a question of achieving goals aimed at the future . The development of Münsterberg’s idea of the artist as a psychotechnician in the field of art gained great popularity in the 1920s in Germany and Russia. In September 1921 five Russian avant-garde artists organized an exhibition, which was called 5x5=25, as a farewell to the bourgeois practice of painting, and embarked on a search for new forms of art that would be “useful” to everyday life such as graphic design, advertising, and photography. Alexander Rodchenko exhibited a triptych of monochrome canvases Pure Red Colour, Pure Yellow Colour, and Pure Blue Colour, which reduced the pointlessness of painting to its logical conclusion. After the exhibition, Rodchenko turned to photographing and designing posters (table 1).
Mustenberg’s book Fundamentals of Psychotechnics was translated and published in Russian in 1922, and in the same year, Isaac Spielrein established the first Psychotechnical laboratory in Moscow. In 1923 a section of psychotechnics was established at the Institute of Psychology at Moscow State University. The Psychotechnische Zeitschrift (Psychotechnical Review) was published in Germany in 1925, and the Russian Society of Psychotechnics and Applied Psychophysiology was established in Moscow in 1927.
In 1923, Malevich made his first three-dimensional Suprematist structures, which he called “architectons”. Architectons are not real architectural projects, but imaginary structures designed to transform our perception of the living environment we inhabit. Architectons are immortal psychological structures. For Malevitch „all that is created by art remains forever, and neither time nor new types of social relations can alter it“ . In 1927, the avant-garde artist and theorist Alexei Gan defended Malevich's Suprematist architectons as follows: “During recent years comrade Malevich has worked exclusively in the field of volumetric Suprematist compositions…what Malevich does, we repeat, has great psychological importance…This is where Suprematist studies can be very important. They could be very beneficially introduced into the Basic Course of the VKhUTEMAS, in parallel to those exercises currently conducted under the influence of the psychologist Münsterberg’s Harvard Laboratory. The novelty, purity, and originality of abstract Suprematism foster new psychology of perception. This is where Malevich’s great contribution will lie.” (Gan 1927). Malevich stated in 1928 in the pages of the journal New Generation: “Our contemporaries must understand that life will not be the content of art, but rather that art must become the content of life, since only thus can life be beautiful.” .
Turning art into a psychological project means that art becomes an activity that introduces new psychological values. The introduction of new psychological values in life is an endless process and therefore the program of psychotechnics as a form of “psychological futurism” in art acquires the all-encompassing claims of psychological utopia. For psychotechnics, art as a psychological project means the realization of a permanent psychological revolution. It is no coincidence that the head of Soviet psychotechnics, Isaak Spielrein was a supporter of Trotsky’s idea of a permanent world revolution and has believed that psychotechnics was part of its means. Spielrein was arrested on January 26, 1935, and shot on December 26, 1937. It is symptomatic that in the same years when psychotechnical organizations and institutes were closed and liquidated in the Soviet Union, psychotechnics was also criticized in Nazi Germany, where, like psychoanalysis, it was denounced as reactionary Jewish science.
After the Second World War, Applied Psychology did not develop as a specific psychological system or school but became a collective term denoting all approaches and disciplines within psychology that seek to apply the principles, discoveries, and theories of psychology in practice in intermediate fields such as clinical psychology, counseling psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, forensic psychology, engineering psychology, as well as areas such as school psychology, and sports psychology. The British historian of psychology Graham Richards believes that applied psychology emerged as a discipline that aims to solve practical problems in society, as opposed to more abstract scientific and philosophical studies of the human psyche and behavior. In many areas, psychology faces the specific problems of children, criminals, and the mentally ill, and these differentiated groups are gradually expanding to new categories such as the military, workers, parents, the socially disadvantaged, athletes, or even more general categories such as consumers .
Neo-Pop art in the form of an ironic avant-garde produces artistic fetishes by transforming kitsch into high art. In 1986, Jeff Koons created his sculpture Rabbit (currently the most expensive artwork sold by a living artist). In the same year, the American professor of psychology at Duke University James Bettman had published his article Consumer Psychology (Bettman 1986) which preceded the appearance of the Journal of Consumer Psychology that was established in 1992 for theoretical and empirical research of the psychology of consumer behavior.
Archetypal psychology was created in 1975 by American psychologist James Hillman as a continuation of Analytical Psychology, but at the same time, it was a form of radical deviation from it. According to Hillman, the task of Archetypal psychology is not social adaptation or personal individualization, but the return of the individual to the imaginary reality of archetypal images. In his magnum opus, Re-Visioning Psychology, Hillman writes: „By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens…In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy – that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.“ .
Archetypal psychology continues a line that can be found in the Philosophy of Life of Dilthey and his followers such as Ludwig Klages, who insisted on the psychological connection between the soul and the power of images. Also, Hillman's ideas are close to the Object-oriented ontology developed by Graham Harman and especially the Speculative psychology proposed by him in 2011.
Since the 1980s, the artist Haim Steinbach has been assembling found objects into surprising and compelling groupings that play upon the malleability of perception and meaning. Steinbach “arranges” objects and he does so with the belief that in his presentation he is revealing something about them as the objects they are. In Steinbach’s words: “an object’s meaning is inherent in what it is in itself, not because I glued it to another object or something like that. I simply place the objects. I don’t draw them, I don’t alter them. They are basically already existing objects, I just make arrangements of them.” (Steinbach as cited in Sherritt 2019). Steinbach has created art that tries to bring out the object in its own right prior to the establishment of object-oriented ontology, but as Megan Sherritt argues, now he has a philosophical (I think also a psychological) framework for his art.
Different schools and movements of modern art and modern psychology at certain points in their historical development have shared common epistems . This closeness is not always stated directly with reference to specific concepts or terms. Art and psychology experiment with human impermanence, capturing nuances of human imagination and behavior that avoid stable and long-lasting structures. The dialogue between art and psychology has never been institutionalized in scientific paradigms. It is no wonder that sometimes the connections between art and psychology are invisible, because they deal with things that are unsuitable for objectification.
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