Notebook, 1993-



A structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psycholological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts . . . .

Gestalt - Principles to the Ordering of Sense Data
Discussed in the text below:
Max Wertheimer
Four principles by which the organs of sight create order
Elements of "good form"
System of tensions
Unfocusing or "self-focusing" the eyes for a more comprehensive assessment of forces . . . .

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 & 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.

[Harlan, Calvin. Vision & Invention, An Introduction to Art Fundamentals. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986, pg. 32]

Gestalt Theories of Percepual Experiences - A purist would insist that there are no lines in nature, not even in a single hair--only contours, horizons--rejecting the fact that the visual system tends to see contours as linear percepts. According to the Gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, ^percepts give us general sensory categories or qualities, significant structural patterns that stand for the particular stimulus material out there in time, space, and light. We see, for instance, "dog-ness" rather than the "raw material" dog, as such. We assimilate the stimulus "apple" as a pattern of general sensory qualities: "roundness," "solidness," "greenness" (or "redness," as the case may be). "Squareness" seems to come with the stimulus square drawn on the paper or blackboard; and so on. Paraphrasing the old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees, Arnheim seems to be telling us that, if some incredible type of thinking isn't going on in the whole visual apparatus, the "forest" of the world would be an even more confused panorama than it is! Which leads Arnheim to declare that "eyesight is insight." Meaning that perceiving is a spontaneous type of thinking, a formation of perceptual concepts--not concepts in the usual application of the term (that is, ideas, theories, spectral entities), but in a creative activity of the mind, a thinking with forms, shapes, images. So then, "representational concepts," as Arnheim calls them, are an extension of this into the medium itself, whatever its properties may be (that of pencil, paint, glass, stone, wood, metal, and so forth), in the process of creating a work of art. Very likely Arnheim would agree with Henri Focillon's statement about the artist's "special privilege," which, he says, "is to recollect, to think, to feel in forms."

The perceptual psychologist Margaret A. Hagen . . . . offers what she calls a "generative theory of perception" that would embrace much more of what she believes perceiving and the making or art have involved across styles of art from the "rock art" of Altamira of 10,000-12,000 years ago, to ancient Egyptian art, to modern art--not a theory of art, she insists, but "a theory of the nature of the perceptual information that makes successful picture making possible." An adequate theory , according to her reasoning, must conceive of visual perception as consisting of three interrelated components, three choices, that confronted the Egyptian artist and that still confront the modern painter and graphic artist:

1. Station point or points (near/distant, central/oblique), an inherited and/or chosen projection system, extending to what is called perspective and even to "mixed systems";

2. Relative degree of emphasis on variant (immediate, transitory) versus invariant (ideal, timeless) features of the object or objects.

3. Relative emphasis on two- versus three-dimensional components of objects and of the total pictorial environment, inclusion/exclusion, degree of transformation, abstraction, distortion, and the like.....

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

R  E  F  E  R  E  N  C  E  S 
Gestalt n [G, lit., shape, form] [1922]: a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psycholological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts

[Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition. Springfield, MA, USA: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1995.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].