Follow the Trails

There are some texts that I never adopted in my annotated bibliography, but they provided very useful information to lead me to the primary sources. They sometimes showed me a glimpse of the overall gestalt movement, or sometimes summarized some important events in history. Above all, they bought me some clues to get the text that I was longing for.

Fig. 1. W.G. Horner, illustration from ‘Art, Design and Gestalt Theory’, 1998 (Leonardo)

One of them is Roy R. Behrens’ ‘Art, Design and Gestalt Theory’ which I obtained it from Goggle Scholar. Besides briefly introducing the background of Max Wertheimer, the founder of Gestalt psychology, it’s interestingly to find out that how Wertheimer got his interest and curiosity over a motion picture toy called ‘zoetrope’ (Fig. 1) and reading Christian von Ehrenfels’ well-known “On ‘Gestalt Qualities’” before initiating the whole Gestalt movement. This somehow led him to do research and published the first most critical journal happened in Gestalt history — “Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement”. In addition, the author also introduces another two prominent founding members — Koffka and Kohler.

Most importantly, Behrens also directs me the links in between Gestalt and art/design. He states, “None of the gestalt psychologists were artists, much less designers, but early on there were signs of a mutual interest between the two disciplines.” (Behrens, 1998, p. 300) There are some important scholars, artist and designed mentioned in this text, they somehow connected or got influenced under Gestalt movement, such as Rudolf Arnheim, Paul Klee, Josef Albers, Michel-Eugene Chevreul, Friedrich Froebel’s, Gy6rgy Kepes, John Ruskin, Elle Lupton, Ernest Fenollosa, etc. As such, I started to search for their journals and books and eventually some of the text was adopted as part of my bibliography, like Cherreul’s The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours and Their Applications to the Arts, Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the creative eye, Kepes’ Language of Vision, and Ehrenfels’ well-known “On ‘Gestalt Qualities’”. Through Ehrenfels’ text, I learned how he got the inspiration from Ernst Mach’s The Analysis of the Sensations. Besides, Behrens’ interpretation on James A.M. Whistler’s theories also caught my attention because it connected to one of the Chinese important philosophy Taoism, which was one of my intentions. Behrens (1998, p. 300) explains in this way:

“There is a persuasive resemblance between gestalt principles and the Japanese-inspired aesthetics that Dow and others propagated. For example, the gestalt emphasis on the dynamic interplay of parts and wholes had been anticipated as early as the third century B.C. in China by a passage in the Tao Te Ching that states that although a wheel is made of 30 spokes, it is the space between the spokes that determines the overall form of the wheel. The phenomenon of reversible figure-ground has precedents in the yin-yang symbol and, in Japanese art, in the compositional equivalence of light and dark, called notan.”

The information not only leads me to the origins, but also saves my time while dateline is approaching.

Behrens, Roy (1998) Leonardo ‘Art, Design and Gestalt Theory’. Leonardo 31 (4), 299-303


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