Essay on Bullough Psychical Distance

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"'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle"
by Edward Bullough
British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 5 (1912), pp. 87-117
Editor's Note: This article is in the public domain, as the copyright has expired. The discussion questions, bibliographic references, and hyperlinks have been added by Julie Van Camp. (Copyright Julie C. Van Camp 1997) They may be freely reproduced, so long as this complete citation is included with any such reproductions.
About the Author: Edward Bullough (1880-1934) is best known for this article, which has been reprinted extensively and discussed widely in twentieth-century aesthetics.
Paragraph numbering below has been added to facilitate class discussion. It was not included in the original publication.

#1. 1. The conception of 'Distance' suggests, in connexion with Art, certain trains of thought by no means devoid of interest or of speculative importance. Perhaps the most obvious suggestion is that of actual spatial distance, i.e. the distance of a work of Art from the spectator, or that of represented spatial distance, i.e. the distance represented within the work. Less obvious, more metaphorical, is the meaning of temporal distance. The first was noticed already by Aristotle in his Poetics; the second has played a great part in the history of painting in the form of perspective; the distinction between these two kinds of distance assumes special importance theoretically in the differentiation between sculpture in the round, and relief-sculpture. Temporal distance, remoteness from us in point of time, though often a cause of misconceptions, has been declared to be a factor of considerable weight in our appreciation.
#2. It is not, however, in any of these meanings that 'Distance' is put forward here, though it will be clear in the course of this essay that the above mentioned kinds of distance are rather special forms of the conception of distance as advocated here, and derive whatever aesthetic qualities they may possess from distance in its general connotation. This general connotation is 'Psychical Distance.'
#3. A short illustration will explain what is meant by 'Psychical Distance.' Imagine a fog at sea; for most people it is an experience of acute unpleasantness. Apart from the physical annoyance and remoter forms of discomfort such as delays, it is apt to produce feelings of peculiar anxiety, fears of invisible dangers, strains of watching and listening for distant and unlocalised signals. The listless movements of the ship and her warning calls soon tell upon the nerves of the passengers; and that special, expectant, tacit anxiety and nervousness, always associated with this experience, make a fog the dreaded terror of the sea (all the more terrifying because of its very silence and gentleness) for the expert seafarer no less than the ignorant landsman.
#4. Nevertheless, a fog at sea can be a source of intense relish and enjoyment. Abstract from the experience of the sea fog, for the moment, its danger and practical unpleasantness, just as every one in the enjoyment of a mountain-climb disregards its physical labour and its dancer (though, it is not denied, that these may incidentally enter into the enjoyment and enhance it); direct the attention to the features 'objectively' constituting the phenomenon - the veil surround you with an opaquensss as of transparent milk, blurring the outline of things and distorting their shapes into weird grotesqueness; observe the carrying-power of the air, producing the impression as if you could touch some far-off siren by merely putting out your hand and letting it lose itself behind that white wall; note the curious creamy smoothness of the water, hypocritically denying as it were any suggestion of dancer; and, above all, the strange solitude and remoteness from the world, as it can be found only on the highest mountain tops; and the experience may acquire, in its uncanny mingling of