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Definition: Arnheim, Rudolf from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German-born art theorist and psychologist. A pioneering theorist of the psychology of the arts, he is most noted for his influential book Art as Visual Perception (1954), which explores the cognitive basis of observing art.

Arnheim taught psychology of art at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1969–74 and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor from 1974. Other works include Toward a Psychology of Art (1966) and Entropy and Art (1971).

Summary Article: Arnheim, Rudolf (1904-2007)
From Aesthetics A-Z

Contemporary American (German-born) psychologist of art, a proponent of Gestalt theory, and a notable philosopher of film. Most of Arnheim's work focused on perception in its relation to visual art. He argued that perception and cognition are intimately connected, asserting that visual perception is visual thinking. The perception of shape consists in the application of 'visual concepts' – a key term in Arnheim's theory – through which we conceive of an object as three-dimensional, as having a constant shape, and as independent of any particular projective aspect. Thus the main problem of representation is always the same: how to translate the three-dimensionality of the visual concept into the two-dimensionality of the picture plane. Any actual solution to this problem depends on the visual attitude and the conventions of style adopted by the artist. Arnheim believed that pictorial realism is relative to such attitudes and conventions, namely, to a particular emphasis on the structural patterns underlying perception. In this Arnheim seems to be in agreement with Gombrich, who also believed that what we see is fundamentally mediated by conceptual schemes, although Gombrich clearly does not yield to the peculiar phenomenological fusion of seeing and knowing advocated by Gestalt theorists.

See innocent eye; ornamentation; psychology

Further reading: Arnheim 1964, 1969 and 1974

© Eran Guter, 2010

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