October 21, 2012

Art and visual perception by Rudolf Arnheim

Art and visual perception by Rudolf Arnheim

A Psychology of the Creative Eye.

[A great book on study of arts - explains how the eye organizes visual material according to definite psychological laws. There so much to take notes from this book and hence I am writing down couple of them]

Any stimulus pattern tends to be seen in such a way that the resulting structure is as simple as the given conditions permit.

In an absolute sense, a folks song is simpler than a symphony and a child’s drawing is simpler than a painting by Tiepolo. But we must also consider relative simplicity which applied to every complexity level. Compositions by adults are rarely as simple as the conceptions of children; when they are we tend to doubt the maturity of the maker. This is because the human brain is the most complex mechanism in nature and when a person fashions a statement that is to be worthy of him, he must make it rich enough to reflect the richness of his mind. Simple objects may please and satisfy us by serving limited functions appropriately, but all true works of art are quite complex even when look ‘simple’.

Great works of art are complex, but we also praise them for “having simplicity’, by which we mean that they organize a wealth of meaning and form in an overall structure that clearly defines the place and function of every detail in whole. This way of organizing a needed structure in the simplest way may be called its orderliness.

Appearance of any part depends, to a greater or lesser extent, on the structure of the whole, and the whole in turn is influenced by the nature of its parts. If they carried too much expression of their own, they would have marred the unity of the whole work. This is why dancers, who speak through their bodies, often wear deliberately blank facial expressions; and it is why Picasso, after experimenting with sketches of rather complex hands and figures for his Guernica, made them much simpler in the final work.

At the first stage of the first dimension, spatial conception is limited to a linear track.  There is no specification of shape. A two-dimensional conception brings two great enrichments. First, it offers extension in space and therefore the varieties if size and shape: Second, it adds to mere distance the differences in direction and orientation. Three-dimensional space, finally, offers complete freedom: shape extending in any perceivable direction, unlimited arrangements of objects, and the totally mobility of a swallow. Beyond these three spatial dimensions visual imagery cannot reach; the range can be extended only by intellectual construction.

In colors, red and green, being of equal intensity, divided retinal activity into equal halves, whereas yellow and violet were produced by a ratio of three to one and orange and blue in the ratio of two to one.  (Green & Red -1/2; Blue (1/3)& orange(2/3), violet(1/4)& yellow(3/4), black(0) & white(1))

A motion is the strongest visual appeal to attention. Motion implies a change in the conditions of the environment, and change may require reaction.  The three variables of the later system are qualitative: space refers to the path of the movement, which may be straight and direct or flexible and indirect; Force indicates the difference between vigorous strength and delicate weightlessness; Time distinguishes between slow lingering and a sudden start. In conceiving of his or her activities from the outside but by understanding the impulses that produce the desired effect. What a dancer or actor wishes to obtain is not like the sign language of a semaphore transmitting its coded message to the intellect of the recipient by gesticulation. It is rather a pattern of visual forces, whose impact is immediately felt.

Since, however to speak of movement is obviously metaphorical when one refers to painting, sculpture, architecture, or photography, where nothing moves physically, what precisely is the nature of the visual phenomenon thus desired? The one theory prevalent among philosophers and psychologists avoids the challenge by asserting that in such cases the observer is under the illusion that actual locomotion is taking place or more subtly but less clearly that the image feels as though it were in motion – perhaps because the viewer generates within his own body appropriate kinesthetic reactions. This latter theory can be found in Hermann Rorschach’s discussion of movement response to his inkblots.

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