Gestalt 508

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Art 508 paper for Marco Deyasi

Transcript of Gestalt 508

  • 1. GESTALT USES IN THEORY AND PRACTICE: WEAVING A UNIVERSAL PERSPECTIVEByRede Ballard Submitted to Marco Deyasi In Partial Fulfillment for Art 508, Sec 1Philosophy and Art Art Department University of IdahoMay 2009

2. 2 Introduction The major contention I would like to establish in this work is how gestalt, whenused affectively, is a more reliable connective psychological tool in visual communicationthen the psychoanalytical approach that has dominated aesthetics over the past century. Gestalt has become the guiding influence in my work as well as in my teaching. Itis critical not only in terms of its practical design application to my work, but in myunderstanding of what defines visual communication and teaching pedagogy as well; whathas become for me a psychology of connectedness. I feel that it is within most, if not all,student or viewers to reason through a set of stimuli and diagnose a logical individuallyrelevant conclusion. Many of Gestalt theories lay in direct conflict to the psychoanalytical approach toaesthetics, which emphasizes an emotional nexus as the focus of aesthetic evaluation. Thisapproach has dominated the field of art criticism as well as production in recent times andhas, I feel, led artist away from the effective potential of their image making. Gestalt is perhaps summed up best by Max Werthheimers quote that thefundamental formula of Gestalt theory might be expressed in this way: there arewholes, the behavior of which is not determined by that of their individual elements, butwhere the part-processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. Itis the hope of gestalt theory to determine the nature of such wholes. 1 Through its basic premise of constructing a universal experiential aesthetic Gestaltallows for me a broader sense of the importance of the artist in human existence.We are the keepers of dialogue, our role as both mirror and interpreter make us theguardians of human experience. It is through these theories and shared experience that I 3. 3am able to look back retrospectively through the history of art and see why it is that I havefelt connection to a particular number of works by others, and in turn borrowed aspects oftheir solutions in an attempt to express a similar human story.While my ability to fully comprehend the full potential of gestalt theory on mywork and teaching is not complete, it has been instrumental in my thinking about how, andultimately why, I, and my students produce art.Much more than mere perception, an image of humanity attaches to orderedPerception. We perceive the bounty afforded by some things and the lack missingIn others. 2Historic OverviewThe psychological theory of Gestalt began in Germany in the early 1900s. It isderived from investigations in psychology, logic, and epistemology. Gestalt has evolvedinto a mixture of existential philosophy, phenomenology, holism, humanism, orthodox andinterpersonal psychoanalysis, and Eastern philosophies. It was developed by a group ofGerman psychologist most notable Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, Wolfgang Kohler, andChristian von Ehrenfels. Gestalt theory can be traced back to the romantic humanism ideasof Spinoza. Harvard professor Rudolf Arnheim the leading expert on Gestalt and itsinfluences on art writes how Spinozistic was the notion that order and wisdom are notimposed upon nature but are inherent in nature itself; of great interest also was Spinozasidea that mental and physical existence are aspects of one and the same reality andtherefore reflections of each other. 3It can then be asserted that in the Gestalt view thehuman mind and nature are bound by the laws of order, and that by applying this notionthere can exist a cohesive effective approach to visual communication. 4. 4Even in its infancy the influence of perception of external stimuli on apsychological interpretation was evident. In 1890, Christian von Erenfels publish his paperentitled On Gestalt Qualities where he pointed to the fact that a piece of music can stillbe recognized even when played in different keys, or when notes where left out. This ledto his argument that if a melody and the notes that comprise it are so independent, that awhole is not simply the sum of its parts, but a synergistic whole effect, or gestalt. 4In a similar effect on a visual form of this theory Max Wertheimer, who studiedunder Erenfels, experimented with the ideas of a motion picture in which he used azoetrope to view a single framed image in a running series much like a flipbook (Fig. 1). Itwas Werthheimers assumption that when viewed in sequence, continuously, these singleimages would combine to affect a common narrative. Rather a quant notion nowadaysconsidering advances in film technology, yet somewhat ground breaking in the later half ofthe nineteenth century. These early works demonstrated that an individual organizeshis/her perceptions into meaningful sets. This principle of perception became a basicconcept in Gestalt Theory. These experiences with perception have influenced othertheorist and psychologist to link the potential of Gestalt theory to many other fieldsincluding linguistics, art therapy, musicology, instructional design, human computerinteraction, architectural design, and visual communication. 5It was after the establishment of Werthheimers apparent movement theory basedon the illusion of motion pictures, and the subsequent five-year period at the PsychologicalInstitute in Frankfurt further investigating his theory, that he met with psychologists KurtKoffka and Wolfgang Kohler to form the nucleus of gestalt theory.In 1923 Werthheimer published the Theory of Form, which became known as 5. 5the dot essay because it was illustrated with abstract patterns of dots and lines.Werthheimer concluded in the work that certain gestalts are enhanced by our innatetendency to constellate, or to see as belonging together elements that look alike (calledSimilarity grouping), are close together (proximity grouping) or have structuraleconomy (good continuation). 6 That such tendencies are inborn, not learned, issuggested by the cross-cultural effectiveness of sleight-of-hand magic and camouflage,both of which work by subverting the laws described in Wertheimers paper. But theinterplay of such grouping tendencies is far from simple, because: (1) as the effective ofsimultaneous contrast demonstrates, the appearance of parts is determined by wholes; (2)judgments about similarity or proximity are always comparative; and (3) in compositionsas intricate as paintings, posters and page layouts, parts may be purposely made to connectby one grouping tendency (similarity of color, for example, or differences of shape, size or7 direction).Many artist where directly influenced by these assertions including VasilyKandinsky and Piet Modrian. One artist who was directly influences by Werthheimers dotessay was Paul Klee, who attended Werthheimer lectures and used some of its diagrams inhis paintings in the 1930s (fig.2). 8 Most other artist have become familiar withWerthheimers laws of visual organization through the two important texts: Language ofVision (1944) by Gyorgy Kepes, and Art and Visual perception: A Psychology of theCreative Eye (1954) by Rudolf Arnheim. It is Rudolf Arnheim who has had the mostlasting influence. Arnheim, a German immigrant, has published 13 works on gestalt theoryand art also became professor of the Psychology of Art at Harvard University. Arnheim 6. 6The Gestalt Psychology of ArtIf we are to understand Rudolph Arnheims approach to gestalt aesthetics we mustfirst apply a definition of Psychology and its aims as well as look to how the gestaltaesthetic method attempts to segregate itself from a psychoanalytical approach toaesthetics.It is Arnheims contention that if the psychology of art is to hold itself to ascientific definition it must then have at its disposal methods of perception that arescientifically arguable. This scientific reasoning is what Arnhiems points to as ashortcoming in the psychoanalytical aesthetic model.According to Ian Verstegen What Arnheim would object to is a somewhat naveepistemological idea common to many psychoanalytic treatments that sees unconsciousdrives as working blindly without feedback from the environment. Furthermore, Arnheimhas been disappointed with the inability of most psychoanalysis to respond to the greatnessof works of art. 9 Over the past half a century or more it is this psychoanalytical model ofperceiving aesthetics through the unconscious that has dominated approaches to not onlyproduction, critical observation and analysis as well.Although the definition ofpsychoanalysis has changed from its Freudian roots it still continues to emerge from thesame epistemological standpoint and is thus not an effective scientific method to be used itperceptual psychology.Because Gestalt psychology attempts to explain many aspects of meaningfulperception at an elementary level, it promises to serve as an important fundamental level ofanalysis. If, as Arnheim argued many years ago, a round form represents for a childthingness, it cannot be interpreted as representing some other idea that psychologists 7. 7might like to foist upon the child. 10 Without a psychology sensitive to such factors, thespeculative psychologist as Verstegen sees it will operate at a level of generality that istoo great to exhaust certain formal characteristics of the work that are necessary to dispensewith before further speculation is possible. 11If we now view the Arnhiem model of Gestalt as a perceptual model ofunderstanding it then has the advantage of not only demonstrating how the work of artistcan be dissected through design, it additionally presents us now with a contextualframework for understanding the psychological emotional connectivity the work shareswith those who view it.Gestalt theory represents what is seen as a weaving of realism and the formativepower of the human m