Rudolf Arnheim has been known, since the publication of his groundbreaking _Art and Visual Perception_ in 1974, as an authority on the psychological interpretation of the visual arts. Two anniversary volumes celebrate the landmark anniversaries of his works in 2009. In _The Power of the Center_, Arnheim uses a wealth of examples to consider the factors that determine the overall organization of visual form in works of painting, sculpture, and architecture. _The Dynamics of Architectural Form_ explores the unexpected perceptual consequences (...) of architecture with Arnheim's customary clarity and precision. (shrink)
Since its publication fifty years ago, this work has established itself as a classic. It casts the visual process in psychological terms and describes the creative way one's eye organizes visual material according to specific psychological premises. In 1974 this book was revised and expanded, and since then it has continued to burnish Rudolf Arnheim's reputation as a groundbreaking theoretician in the fields of art and psychology.
The habit of separating the intuitive from the abstractive functions, as they were called in the Middle Ages, goes far back in our tradition. Descartes, in the sixth Meditation, defined man as "a thing that thinks," to which reasoning came naturally; whereas imagining, the activity of the senses, required a special effort and was in no way necessary to the human nature or essence. The passive ability to receive images of sensory things, said Descartes, would be useless if there did (...) not exist in the mind a further and higher active faculty capable of shaping these images and of correcting the errors that derive from sensory experience. A century later Leibnitz spoke of two levels of clear cognition.1 Reasoning was cognition of the higher degree: it was distinct, that is, it could analyze things into their components. Sensory experience, on the other hand, was cognition of the lower order: it also could be clear but it was confused, in the original Latin sense of the term; that is, all elements fused and mingled together in an indivisible whole. Thus artists, who rely on this inferior faculty, are good judges of works of art but when asked what is wrong with a particular piece that displeases them can only reply that it lacks nescio quid, a certain "I don't know what." · 1. Leibnitz, Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain , bk. 2, chap. 29. Rudolf Arnheim is the author of Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, Toward a Psychology of Art, The Dynamics of Architectural Form, and Visual Thinking. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "On the Nature of Photography" and "A Stricture on Space and Time". (shrink)
When a theorist of my persuasion looks at photography he is more concerned with the character traits of the medium as such than with the particular work of particular artists. He wishes to know what human needs are fulfilled by this kind of imagery, and what properties enable the medium to fulfill them. For his purpose, the theorist takes the medium at its best behavior. The promise of its potentialities captures him more thoroughly than the record of its actual achievements, (...) and this makes him optimistic and tolerant, as one is with a child, who has a right to demand credit for his future. Analyzing media in this way requires a very different temperament than analyzing the use people make of them. Studies of this latter kind, given the deplorable state of our civilization, often make a depressing reading. Among Rudolf Arnheim's latest publications are Toward a Psychology of Art, Visual Thinking, and Entropy and Art. A new version of Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, will appear this fall. He is professor of the psychology of art, emeritus, at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University. Other contributions to Critical Inquiry are "A Stricture on Space and Time" and "THE LANGUAGE OF IMAGES: A Plea for Visual Thinking". (shrink)
In the fall of 1957 the University of California Press expanded Arnheim’s 1933 book _Film_ by four essays and brought that landmark work back into print as _Film as Art._ Now nearly fifty years after that re-edition, the book continues to occupy an important place in the literature of film. Arnheim’s method, provocative in this age of technological wizardry, was to focus on the way art in film was derived from that medium’s early limitations: no sound, no color, no three-dimensional (...) depth. (shrink)
From the Introduction: The papers collected in this book are based on the assumption that art, as any other activity of the mind, is subject to psychology, accessible to understanding, and needed for any comprehensive survey of mental functioning. The author believes, furthermore, that the science of psychology is not limited to measurements under controlled laboratory conditions, but must comprise all attempts to obtain generalizations by means of facts as thoroughly established and concepts as well defined as the investigated situation (...) permits. Therefore the psychological findings offered or referred to in these papers range all the way from experiments in the perception of shape or observations on the art work of children to broad deliberations on the nature of images or of inspiration and contemplation. It is also assumed that every area of general psychology calls for applications to art. The study of perception applies to the effects of shape, color, movement, and expression in the visual arts. Motivation raises the question of what needs are fulfilled by the production and reception of art. The psychology of the normal and the disturbed personality searches the work of art for manifestations of individual attitudes. And social psychology relates the artist and his contribution to his fellow men. A systematic book on the psychology of art would have to survey relevant work in all of these areas. My papers undertake nothing of the kind. They are due to one man's outlook and interest, and they report on whatever happened to occur to him. They are presented together because they turn out to be concerned with a limited number of common themes. Often, but unintentionally, a hint in one paper is expanded to full exposition in another, and different applications of one and the same concept are found in different papers. I can only hope that the many overlappings will act as unifying reinforcements rather than as repetitions. These papers represent much of the output of the quarter of a century during which I have been privileged to live, study, and teach in the United States. To me, they are not so much the steps of a development as the gradual spelling-out of a position. For this reason, I have grouped them systematically, not chronologically. For the same reason, I did not hesitate to change the words I wrote years ago wherever I thought I could clarify their meaning. Removed from my original intimacy with the content, I approached the text as an unprepared reader, and when I stumbled, I tried to repair the road. In some instances, I recast whole sections, not in order to bring them up to date, but in the hope of saying better what I meant at the time. Some of the earlier papers led to my book, _Art and Visual Perception_, which was written in 1951 and first published in 1954- Sections of the articles on perceptual abstraction, on the Gestalt theory of expression, and on Henry Moore are incorporated in that book. Others continued where the book left off, for instance, the attempts to describe more explicitly the symbolism conveyed by visual form. The short piece on inspiration provided the substance for the introductory chapter on creativity in my more recent book, Picasso's Guernica. Finally, in rereading the material, I was surprised to find how many passages point to what is shaping up as my next task, namely, a presentation of visual thinking as the common and necessary way of productive problem solving in any human activity. Ten of the papers in this book were first published in the _Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism_. To mention this is to express my indebtedness to the only scholarly periodical in the United States devoted to the theory of art. In particular, Thomas Munro, its first editor, showed a great trust in the contribution of psychology. He made me feel at home among the philosophers, art historians, and literary critics whose lively propositions inhabit the hostel he founded and sustained. To him, as well as to my friends of the University of California Press, who are now publishing my fourth book, I wish to say that much of what I thought about in these years might not have been cast into final writing, had it not been for their sympathy, which encouraged the novice and keeps a critical eye on the more self-assured pro. There are a few scientific papers here, originally written for psychological journals but free, I hope, of the terminological incrustation that would hide their meaning from sight. There are essays for the educated friend of the arts. And there are speeches, intended to suggest practical consequences for art education, for the concerns of the artist, and for the function of art in our time. These public lectures are hardly the products of a missionary temperament. In fact, I marveled why anybody would go to a theorist for counsel, illumination, and reassurance in practical matters. However, when I responded to such requests I noticed, bewildered and delighted, that some of my findings pointed to tangible applications, which were taken to be useful. (shrink)
This essay is an attempt to reconcile the disturbing contradiction between the striving for order in nature and in man and the principle of entropy implicit in the second law of thermodynamics - between the tendency toward greater organization and the general trend of the material universe toward death and disorder.