Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday June 15, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — m759 @ 1:00 PM
A Study in
Art Education

Rudolf Arnheim, a student of Gestalt psychology (which, an obituary notes, emphasizes "the perception of forms as organized wholes") was the first Professor of the Psychology of Art at Harvard.  He died at 102 on Saturday, June 9, 2007.

The conclusion of yesterday's New York Times obituary of Arnheim:

"… in The New York Times Book Review in 1986, Celia McGee called Professor Arnheim 'the best kind of romantic,' adding, 'His wisdom, his patient explanations and lyrical enthusiasm are those of a teacher.'"

A related quotation:

"And you are teaching them a thing or two about yourself. They are learning that you are the living embodiment of two timeless characterizations of a teacher: 'I say what I mean, and I mean what I say' and 'We are going to keep doing this until we get it right.'"

Tools for Teaching

Here, yet again, is an illustration that has often appeared in Log24– notably, on the date of Arnheim's death:

The 3x3 square

Related quotations:

"We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn't merely sensational, that doesn't get its message across in 10 seconds, that isn't falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media. For no spiritually authentic art can beat mass media at their own game."

Robert Hughes, speech of June 2, 2004

"Whether the 3×3 square grid is fast art or slow art, truly or falsely iconic, perhaps depends upon the eye of the beholder."

Log24, June 5, 2004

If the beholder is Rudolf Arnheim, whom we may now suppose to be viewing the above figure in the afterlife, the 3×3 square is apparently slow art.  Consider the following review of his 1982 book The Power of the Center:

"Arnheim deals with the significance of two kinds of visual organization, the concentric arrangement (as exemplified in a bull's-eye target) and the grid (as exemplified in a Cartesian coordinate system)….

It is proposed that the two structures of grid and target are the symbolic vehicles par excellence for two metaphysical/psychological stances.  The concentric configuration is the visual/structural equivalent of an egocentric view of the world.  The self is the center, and all distances exist in relation to the focal spectator.  The concentric arrangement is a hermetic, impregnable pattern suited to conveying the idea of unity and other-worldly completeness.  By contrast, the grid structure has no clear center, and suggests an infinite, featureless extension…. Taking these two ideal types of structural scaffold and their symbolic potential (cosmic, egocentric vs. terrestrial, uncentered) as given, Arnheim reveals how their underlying presence organizes works of art."

— Review of Rudolf Arnheim's The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1982). Review by David A. Pariser, Studies in Art Education, Vol. 24, No. 3 (1983), pp. 210-213

Arnheim himself says in this book (pp. viii-ix) that "With all its virtues, the framework of verticals and horizontals has one grave defect.  It has no center, and therefore it has no way of defining any particular location.  Taken by itself, it is an endless expanse in which no one place can be distinguished from the next.  This renders it incomplete for any mathematical, scientific, and artistic purpose.  For his geometrical analysis, Descartes had to impose a center, the point where a pair of coordinates [sic] crossed.  In doing so he borrowed from the other spatial system, the centric and cosmic one."

Students of art theory should, having read the above passages, discuss in what way the 3×3 square embodies both "ideal types of structural scaffold and their symbolic potential."

We may imagine such a discussion in an afterlife art class– in, perhaps, Purgatory rather than Heaven– that now includes Arnheim as well as Ernst Gombrich and Kirk Varnedoe.

Such a class would be one prerequisite for a more advanced course– Finite geometry of the square and cube.

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