Notebook, 1993-


Four Principles of
- Gestalt Principles to the
Ordering of Sense Data

The principles formulated by the German psychologist Max Wertheimer in the second and third decades of this century provide userful guide to the ordering of sense data from the realm of light, space, form, color, texture, and movement. Wertheimer's most cited contribution to Gestalt psychology (sometimes called configurationsim) was the identification of four principles by which the organs of sight create order out of what would otherwise be optical chaos. According to his findings, objects, shapes, figures, and qualities are related to one another perceptually by: Principles of Proximity, Similarity, Orientation and Closure:

Proximity. Proximity or nearness (similarity of location) - The eye is able to focus sharply on small shapes and objects located within very little distance of one another. These become related as a group, even if they are dissimilar in almost every way--in form, texture, value, or color (the principle of proximity).

Similarity. Similar form pattern, as well as size, color, and texture - If they are alike in one of several ways, the eye will have less difficulty relating them to one another, whether they lie lose together or at some distance apart (the principle of similarity).

Orientation. Similarity of direction, orientation, continuance, or speed - If points, lines, or shapes fall along a definite path, share the same kinetic energy or speed, or are long in general outline and are aimed in the same direction (like arrows), or even if they divide into two or more directional movements (as, for example, in choreography or team sports), the eye will establish immediate sense and order (the principle of orientation or "good continuation").

Closure. (evidently an extension of direction or continuance--The way lines, shapes, forms, even colors seem to want to achieve wholeness). If possible the eye will reduce even the most battered shape to its simplest ordered structure. It will complete a semicircle by "seeing" it whole. It will "finish" a broken arch or doorway, "correct" a faulty square, and, in so doing, make these comprehensible (the principle of closure).

Moreover, the eye seems to want to group elements of "good form" that is, shapes or figures that are symmetrical, completed, made of clean contours, and the like--the very opposite of what the art of comouflage tries to do to form.

One or more of the principles will be operative in these point-line studies, although they may not be immediately evident. The elements and coordinates of a design set up a system of tensions the moment they are placed in a field ["tension connects," Paul Klee said]. It could be said that we take advantage of perceptual factors, pointed out by Wertheimer, Arnheim, Gombrich, and others, by developing them consciously or unconsciously in the design. Some become powerful integrating forces. Working against these are the various counter-forces --wayward elements --that give life to many designs. We have to remind ourselves again and again, to place points and lines at both wide and narrow intervals, risk far-flung positions, like those observed in certain constellations. A single isolated point may take on extraordinary importance and balance off a large cluster of points lying some distance away from it. Inasmuch as these studies develop a keen eye for weights, tensions, groupings, and alignments, they should be repeated in as many ways as possible. Sooner or later, the student will discover the useful trick of unfocusing or "self-focusing" the eyes for a more comprehensive assessment of forces that have been set to work in the design. [pg. 32]

[Harlan, Calvin. Vision & Invention, An Introduction to Art Fundamentals. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986]



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