- Paperback: 518 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Second Edition, Fiftieth Anniversary Printing edition (November 8, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520243838
- ISBN-13: 978-0520243835
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye Paperback – Deluxe Edition, November 8, 2004
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"The clear, direct, flexible writing is powerfully reinforced by the numerous illustrations . . . not one of which is superfluous."--"Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
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The book was recommended by one of the instructors at a photography workshop I had taken in Death Valley a couple of years ago, saying he found the book extremely inspiring. Because I admire this photographer's work so much, both his photography and his lyrical writings on the subjects of photography and creativity, I was looking forward to reading a book which, hopefully, would have a similar impact on me. The book does have a number of useful gems, and it's certainly a worthwhile read. However, I don't think reading this book will elevate my photography and writing to this particular photographer's level.
The book begins slowly, starting with the basics, taking up balance first, then shape followed by form. It was easy to see that the author was building, bit by bit, a foundation to support the more complex chapters in the book on growth, space, light, color, movement, and dynamics, concluding with a final chapter on expression which tied all of these elements together. My favorite chapters were the ones on space, light and dynamics, because I gathered the most information useful for my own photography in these chapters.
I liked that Arnheim recognized the importance of the role the observer plays in "creating" a work of art, even though the observer's role may not necessarily be a positive influence:
This explicit acknowledgement of the viewer is at the same
time a violent imposition upon the world represented in the
picture. The perspective dissociations are not caused by
forces inherent in the represented world itself. They are
the visual expression of the fact that this world is being
sighted. (p. 294).
I never had considered my observation of a work of art to be a "violent imposition" but rather one of fervent adulation. I don't just like art, I *love* it. Everywhere I visit, going to the local museum is a priority, and I have gathered a few works for my personal collection. I had to wonder if Arnheim would have viewed my ownership of these works as not just an assault, but a kidnapping as well!
Arnheim makes an interesting point about light. Ordinarily, we humans think of light as the natural state of things, but Arnheim asserts that the opposite is true:
[S]ince man's attention is directed mostly towards
objects and their activities, the debt to light is not
widely acknowledged. We deal visually with human
beings, buildings, or trees, not with the medium
generating their images. Accordingly, even artists
have been much more concerned with the creatures
of light than with light itself. (p. 303).
Arnheim cites Rembrandt as one of the rare artists who recognized that we live in a world full of darkness, brought to life by light.
Arnheim insists that tension is one of the elements necessary for constructing what could be considered an outstanding work of art: "We envisage the mind as an interplay of tension-heightening and tension-reducing strivings." (p. 411). On the following page, he sets out what might well be considered the principal thesis of this text: "Visual perception consists in the experiences of visual forces." (p. 412).
I found the following quotation about the training of artists quite interesting:
If expression is the primary content of vision in
daily life, the same should be all the more true
of the way the artist looks at the world. The
expressive qualities are his means of communication.
They capture his attention, they enable him to
understand and interpret his experiences, and they
determine the form patterns he creates. Therefore
the training of art students should be expected to
consist basically in their sharpening their sense of
these qualities, and in teaching them to look
to expression as the guiding principle for every
stroke of the pencil, brush, or chisel. (p. 455).
It describes very well the approach used by the two instructors of the workshop. It was assumed we already knew basic camera techniques. Their intent was to get us to see the Death Valley scenery in a more visionary manner, rather than just make the snapshots taken so often by tourists visiting the park.
Near the conclusion of his text, Arnheim again stresses the importance of the role of the observer, and amplifies his earlier statement:
[S]ince the pattern of transmitted life-giving energy
is not simply recorded by the sense of vision but
presumably arouses in the mind a corresponding
configuration of forces, the observer's reaction is
more than a mere taking cognizance of an external
object. The forces that characterize the meaning of
the story come alive in the observer and produces
the kind of stirring participation that distinguishes
artistic expression from the detached acceptance
of information." (p. 460).
Arnheim's otherwise tedious text has many more gems such as these four samples which makes this a book worth reading, However, don't expect an exciting ride, as this is a quite erudite book. At first I was planning to slam him for failing to provide proper citations to his sources, but then in a section following the body of the text, Arnheim had drafted an extensive set of notes and citations as well as additional commentary. DO be sure to read the notes. The index, however, is pitiful,
Arnheim did an especially good job of analyzing the artworks he described; they were very much like the analyses a student in an art history class would write. In addition to a decent index, the book also would have benefitted from many more color plates, The book contained only two color plates. A few of the artworks were black and white prints, and others were represented only by line drawings. Most of the art works described in the book were not depicted within the text at all. One would have to seek out the actual images in order to fully appreciate the art works he discussed.
I think that as a designer, be it graphic designer or concept artist. I personally am studying visual development. this an important read. what you learn in class starting out when it comes to universal design principals is dumb down and basic. and you learn the rest from trial and error and experience. and most art books are usually entertaining. this is a thick book with little parting, few pictures and reads like your in college level science class.
if you really really want to beyond the basics and into the science of visual design. read this book. it very informative. and I did help me grow. but honestly I haven't been able to finish it. I kinda started swimming it. I mean to explain one theory it will go on and on for ages. and it sorta became like ok I get it. so I recommend this book but be warned. it's not for everyone.
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