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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 12.4 (2005) 307-310

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Aesthetics, Criticism, and Psychotherapy

aesthetics, psychiatry, psychotherapy, Sibley

In his wide-ranging survey of how Kantian aesthetic theory is implicated in psychothera-py, John Callender has raised at least a dozen potentially profound and rewarding possibilities in applying aesthetic theory to psychiatry and psychotherapy. Although the idea of marrying aesthetic theory to psychiatry and psychotherapy is not new, Callender's direction of the merger is distinctively novel. The mid-twentieth century had a distinct literature in applying psychoanalytic and psychiatric theory to aesthetic experience, summarized by the sizable bibliography by Norman Kiell, Psychiatry and Psychology in the Visual Arts and Aesthetics: A Bibliography (1965). This line of interdisciplinary work influenced a later generation of art historians and literary theorists in applying (particularly) psychoanalytic theory to interpretation and appreciation of the arts, contributions that are still being developed today, along with the emergence of complementary viewpoints from cognitive neuroscience (Peretz and Zatorre 2003; Rose 2004; Zeki 1999). Callender's project, however, is quite the converse—he wishes to show how philosophical aesthetics can contribute to psychiatry and clinical psychology. Exploring the aesthetics of psychiatry is the innovation.

Before focusing my own comments on a few of Callender's points, I wish to call attention to the substantive questions he has directly raised or implied by his discussions. These questions are worthy of further development in this and other journals, and I hope that Callender will succeed in engaging the minds of his readers and inspire them to work in this exciting area in the philosophy of psychiatry. In his elegant review of Kant's key theoretical points of aesthetics, his discussion provokes us to consider the kinds of evaluations that patients make of themselves (moral? aesthetic? others?), as well as the kinds of evaluations clinicians make in their judgments of psychopathology. Evolutionists may wonder about the adaptive significance of aesthetic capacities (e.g., derivatives of grooming? mating displays?). In presenting Kant's notion of "disinterestedness" or contemplative judgment, readers may wonder about overlap with notions of therapist neutrality and unconditional positive regard. Should therapist relationships with patients be dominated by a similar aesthetic sensibility? What does the aesthetic posture have to do with the therapist posture?

Importantly, Callender notes the connections and ambiguities between moral values and aesthetic values. This is borne out in his later discussions of clinical case material (considered again below). He focuses primarily on the duplication of aesthetic and moral values in the same terms of praise (honesty, integrity, originality), but there is no question that aesthetic experiences are had by viewers of art exhibiting perverse or depraved [End Page 307] imagery (consider, for instance, Francis Bacon's "3 Screaming Popes" or, even more extremely, the grotesque staged photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin). The implication here is that (as an example) to understand the aesthetics of sadomasochistic art may help us to understand the psychology of sadomasochistic people.

By the time he introduces his case material, Callender has raised the issue of intersubjectivity in aesthetic experience, an experience that may be devoid of discursive cognitive content but may be profound with emotional content, thus challenging tenets of cognitive psychology and psychotherapy. His discussion of cases reflecting elements of Kant's components of aesthetic judgment point toward new ways of understanding psychopathology as disturbances in aesthetic self-appraisal.

I would like to return to the problem of moral and aesthetic judgments in psychotherapy and in psychopathology. Dr. Callender presents three cases—a woman who has been traumatized by multiple instances of sexual abuse, a young girl with postpartum depression with fears of losing her child because of bad mothering, and a third patient with anorexia nervosa who demonstrates the typically distorted body self-image. I suggest that the aesthetic nature of these patients' self-judgments is not so clear cut as Callender suggests. His sexual abuse case summary certainly suggests a woman consumed by shame. Because shame is a typical "moral emotion," the question is raised of moral badness being involved in her self-concept as well as, or perhaps...


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