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The Meaning of 'Gestalt' in Visual Arts

By Edited Mar 13, 2014 0 0

Gestaltists were the first to consider the importance of contextualization in various perceptive processes. They were keenly interested in how the human mind perceives objects and ideas in different contexts and under varied circumstances. To put it simply, one image – if positioned differently or in the company or other images – attains an absolutely new meaning. The Gestalt theory, derived from the German language, basically relates to the "shape" of things, or their "shapelessness" when it comes to formulating a complete image that is unitary in what it represents and in what it means. Gestaltists asserted that meaning is not fixed, but dependent on the context in which it's read.

The Principle of Figure and Ground
The first principle of Gestalt, "figure" and "ground", was a kind of play with visual representations. It was based on putting together several elements in such a way so as to fool the viewer into thinking that the background differs from the foreground when, in fact, both contained the same compilation of pictures. As a consequence, what is considered to be the background doesn't differ from what is in the foreground. In this way, Gestaltists tried to prove that perception, or more specifically, the logic of perception is instinctive, rather than intelligible.

The Principle of Similarity
Another set of principles includes "similarity" which refers to the perception of wholeness in things merely similar to one another, rather than belonging to the same entity. The idea of completeness, Gestalt proves, is a perceptive convention. Analogically, the idea of "proximity" states that things often only appear to belong together - because they are positioned remotely. "Continuity", for its part, says that perception favors imagined wholeness in visual representations as the simple way out. Overall, human perception of the visual avoids recognition of detail, irregularity, and difference.

The Principle of Closure
"Closure", a subsequent premise of Gestalt, refers to the situation in which human perceptive efforts are directed at recognizing complete images, even if they lack regularity in the distribution of analogical parts. In other words, viewers overlook the missing elements in things they can imagine as complete. Another confusion to which intuitive perception brings viewers is "area". Gestaltists explained that smaller parts are automatically seen as the subject of representation, while the bigger parts are classified, also instantly, as the background. "Symmetry", pretty much like "similarity", is a habit of viewers to concentrate on what an image represents as a whole, rather than how it's put together, and how different parts of it are related and interconnected.

"Gestalt" as such had a considerable impact on formalist and structuralist literary techniques, early phenomenology, and most modernist movements in arts. It was one of the strongest stimuli in the Western humanist thought which allowed of questioning the stability of meaning, the so-called "psychologism" of the 19th century, as well as the ideas of "authority", "universality", and "certainty". Gestalt came to be echoed in many other disciplines, and is currently often applied to modern graphic design.



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