Lev S. Vygotsky on the visual arts followed by a translation of the essay: The graphic art of Alexandr Bykhovsky

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During his studies at Moscow University and thereafter, Lev S. Vygotsky’s (1896–1934) interests focused mostly on the scholarly study of literary and theatre criticism. Shakespeare’s Hamlet served as a leitmotiv to understand the specificity of the arts within western culture: through analysis of the structural particularities of Hamlet, he provided a model for an understanding of how the mind functions during interactions with artworks and reconstructed the internal activity caused by art. His thoughts on the visual arts are few, but fragments are found in his seminal work entitled Psychology of Art (1926). Here, he showed the function of catharsis, the main concept of his theory of aesthetic experience. This paper presents a translation of Vygotsky’s essay published in 1926, dedicated to the art of Alexandr Bykhovsky (1888–1978), a companion since his Gomel period (1919–1924). The significance of this essay is twofold. First, it represents a concise and lasting testimony to the creativity of an important Russian artist; second, the essay goes beyond formal analysis of the artwork. Instead, Vygotsky’s analysis explains the phenomenon of aesthetic experience as the viewer and the artwork interact and transform each other. The paper is preceded by a note on the contextual and biographical settings in which both Vygotsky and Bykhovsky worked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454–468
Number of pages14
JournalCulture and Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • Aesthetic experience
  • Alexandr Bykhovsky
  • Graphic catharsis
  • Lev S. Vygotsky
  • Psychology of Art


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