Gestalt Theory and Arts

Dealing with sensitive qualities (“Gestalt qualities”) from the earliest days of its history, Gestalt theory has been interested in the creation and development of sensual experiences (melodies, image sequences, motion processes). According to Gestalt theory, the processes of perception and imagination do not comply with logical or rational rules, but rather follow and testify to an aesthetic order of sensual experience (“Gestalt laws”). The aesthetics of sensuality are consolidated by the production of the arts, concentrating creative and perceptive processes in prototypical patterns (pulse, symmetry, polarity) and at the same time introducing ambiguity, overload and metamorphosis in the order of perception.

As first proofs of Gestalt thinking in psychology, over-summativity (Übersummativität) and transposition (Transponierbarkeit) are known as the “Ehrenfels criteria” of perceptive experience. The Berlin school of Gestalt theory focused its interest on the mechanisms of grouping and regrouping in the visual field. Rudolf Arnheim, an outstanding representative of Gestalt theoretical aesthetics, started to work on the Gestalt qualities of the imaginative arts, film, radio and architecture, and did so for three quarters of a century, beginning in the powerful twenties of the Weimar Republic and continuing his work in America after World War II. From here Gestalt theory of arts divides into several branches represented by prominent aestheticians, psychologists and phenomenologists in the US (Behrens, Verstegen), in Germany (Salber) and Italy (Bianchi, Savardi), bringing together Gestalt theory with the psychology of perception, of creative processes and of depth.

Because of the particular research interests of its early representatives, the Gestalt theory of arts is most frequently applied to visual arts. It has also been applied to works of music, literature and the performing arts. Hardly explored, however, is its connection to core concepts of aesthetics (anthroposophy, Russian formalism) and of art theory (avant-garde, Bauhaus), whose main exponents defined themselves as experts of formation and figuration in the visual field (Kandinsky, Klee, Alpers, Moholy-Nagy, Kepes). Recent applications of Gestalt theory are to be found in art therapy, cultural psychology and economic aesthetics.