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Parables of Sun Light

Observations on Psychology, the Arts, and the Rest

Rudolf Arnheim

Publication Year: 1990

For many years Rudolf Arnheim, known as the leading psychologist of art, has been keeping notebooks in which to jot down observations, ideas, questions, and even (after a stay in Japan for a year) poems in the haiku pattern. Some of these notes found their way into his books—known and prized the world over—such as Art and Visual Perception, Visual Thinking, and The Power of the Center (see list below). Now he has selected, from the remaining riches of his notebooks, the items in this volume. The book will be a joy to ramble through for all lovers of Arnheim's work, and indeed for anyone who shares Arnheim's contagious interest in the order that lies behind art, nature, and human life. It is a seedbed of ideas and observations in his special fields of psychology and the arts. "I have avoided mere images and I have avoided mere thoughts," says Arnheim in the Introduction, "but whenever an episode observed or a striking sentence read yielded a piece of insight I had not met before, I wrote it down and preserved it." There are also glimpses of his personal life—his wife, his cats, his students, his neighbors and colleagues. He is always concrete, in the manner that has become his trademark, often witty, and sometimes a bit wicked.

In the blend of life and thought caught in these jottings, psychology and the arts are of course prominent. But philosophy, religion, and the natural sciences add to the medley of topics—always addressed in a way to sharpen the senses of the reader who, sharing Arnheim's cue from Dylan Thomas, may accompany him through "the parables of sun light and the legends of the green chapels and the twice told fields of childhood."

All of Rudolf Arnheim's books have been published by the University of California Press.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

Not quite arbitrarily, this selection from my notebooks begins with the year 1959. A Fulbright year spent in Japan opened to me a world of new images, which awoke an equally new world of thoughts. This indeed is the formula for what is included in this volume: I have avoided ...

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pp. 1-10

Since the Soviet rocket circled the moon and returned to the Earth a few days ago, my perception of our celestial satellite is beginning to change. No longer do I see it in a class with the lamp on the ceiling, with places at a distance where I will never go. Now the moon looks like a

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pp. 11-28

Mary noticed that the Japanese dogs have Oriental faces; so do, she says, Eskimo dogs. Is this the result of selective breeding? Julian Huxley, in New Bottles for New Wine, has a photo of the Heike crab, which developed a distinct samurai face on its shell because the specimens showing ...

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pp. 29-40

Our times will bejudged by future historians, if there are to be any, as the last gasps of a dying civilization. They will recognize the achievements of our scientists and a few of our artists as the admirable products of an aged spirit. My own work, analytical and critical, is the kind ...

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pp. 41-48

Is it not curious that the same exclusive reliance on what the senses tell us made an empiricist like Berkeley deny the existence of matter in favor of existence in the mind, whereas it led our modern behaviorists to abandon everything mental in favor of the purely physical? ...

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pp. 49-63

The principal reason the phallus has not been represented in Western art is that in our tradition it cannot mean anything but naked sex. Also, however, it is almost impossible in realistic art to integrate with the human figure a small, independent item. The effect is as ridiculous as that ...

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pp. 65-76

At the hospital they have a shorthand language of euphemisms. Having an operation is referred to as "going up," regardless of whether the operating room is on a higher or a lower floor. "What are you going up for?" is asked when they want to know what kind of an operation you ...

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pp. 77-86

Late in the evening, half asleep, I was reading in "La crosse en l'air," a poem by Jacques Prevert, a reference to Pope Pius's father (culminating in the magnificent line: "La pipe au papa du Pape Pie pue")* when I found myself suddenly puzzled by the thought of how it was possible ...

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pp. 87-96

There are reciprocal metaphors, where the two items reflect each other symmetrically, neither of them referring solely to the actual "reality" that is being metaphorized. When T. S. Eliot identifies the dove of peace with a divebomber, neither the Bible nor the battle prevails. When ...

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pp. 97-104

Long ago I observed that tourists use photography to replace response. If a Greek temple seems to call for an articulate reaction, to snap a picture of it means to do something tangible about the challenge and to take something away with you. With photographic facilities increasing, the practice ...

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pp. 105-113

For the first time after having been forced to leave my hometown, I returned to Berlin. On the evening of my arrival, while unpacking my suitcase in the hotel room, I heard a metallic noise and found that a rifle bullet had dropped on the floor. I knew that bullet. It had pierced ...

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pp. 115-126

I compared Pierre-Auguste Renoir's way of shaping foliage in two of his landscapes. In one of them he used a color scheme ranging from a green for the lighted sides of the trees to a dark blue for the shadows. In the other landscape, he modulated from green to a complementary ...

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pp. 127-142

An example of the adaptation effect. The head end of the hospital bed rises and lowers mechanically. When it is lowered after having been raised for a while, the normal position no longer feels horizontal but as though the bed were tilting downward. A Catholic laboratory technician ...

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pp. 143-152

When we look back at the teapots and lamps designed at the Bauhaus, we realize that the simplicity of their shapes did not derive primarily from the demands of practical function, as we had been made to believe, but from a stylistic preference for stark geometry. Something similar ...

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pp. 153-165

The chorus in Haydn's Creation was like the chorus of singers in white robes, carrying palm leaves, in Durer's woodcut illustrating the seventh chapter of Revelation. The blades of the palms rise in visual unison around the heads of the devoted choristers—an abstract upsurge of ...

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pp. 167-177

In a film about the early nineteenth century a stagecoach traveling along a country road was photographed from an airplane. The anachronism might not have been noticeable, had it not been for the characteristic swaying and sweeping of the plane's motion, which transformed the ...

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pp. 179-187

How many bathers have been painted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and how little do they resemble what is seen on the beaches! In a Dutch painting of a tavern, people clearly behave the way they did at the time, and even Degas's laundresses still labor and yawn like ...

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pp. 189-201

In the portrait sketches drawn by artists at court trials the defendants and accusers look disturbingly private, like the neighbors next door. This is so because as parties to a legal case they have a claim to public appearance only as embodiments, types of evil or violence, madness or ...

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pp. 203-214

In the drawings of Goya I discern the rare case of an artist whose form does not work out at the level of the microstructure. The elements of those drawings, the small lines and patches, look neither coordinated nor expressive. They are often downright ugly. Only at the grander scale ...

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pp. 215-224

What better example of the beauty of great scientific conceptions than the "mobile" described in Kepler's second law of planetary motion! A line drawn from the sun to the place of the planet on its elliptical path traverses equal areas of the ellipse in equal times. One must savor the ...

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pp. 225-242

Somebody notes that Leonardo in his famous anatomical drawing of the human embryo drew the uterus "falsely spherical" because of his sense of "divine proportionality." Relate this to the preference for spherical shape in the Renaissance, described by Panofsky in his essay on ...

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pp. 243-255

The crossed beams riding on the thatched roofs of ancient Japanese sanctuaries such as the Ise Shrine may be said to spell out the dynamics of the pitched roof. The ridge of the roof is, ambiguously, not only a peak but also a ...

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pp. 257-266

Nothing more ghostly could happen than if an animal suddenly showed a smile on its face. It would indicate that a human mind had been lurking in the creature, with the whole arsenal of irony, judgment, and the awareness of our frailties. We have long suspected that the cat is ...

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pp. 267-280

Nothing more ghostly could happen than if an animal suddenly showed a smile on its face. It would indicate that a human mind had been lurking in the creature, with the whole arsenal of irony, judgment, and the awareness of our frailties. We have long suspected that the cat is ...

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pp. 281-301

When the alexandrine verse of the French poetic tradition breaks into two equal halves of three feet each, it creates a symmetry that blocks the continuity of the sequence. It endows the two halves with the same weight and the same function. The blank verse of the German classics ...

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pp. 303-323

Do we marvel sufficiently at the paradoxical situation of a world populated by billions of human beings who want only a peaceful existence but are at the mercy, in each country, of a handful of people who work for the very opposite? I ask myself: Where in the social hierarchy is ...

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pp. 325-339

When they passed each other under the trees of the fogged-in park, the old gentleman said to Mary, "Kind of a misdeal morning, isn't it?" On the rug in the middle of the large basement room there stands all by itself a garden chair, arousing a surrealist ...

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pp. 341-353

When the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies was founded at Harvard in 1974, we dreamed of an integrated course of studies that would introduce undergraduates to the visual aspects of our world as a whole. Painting, graphics, and sculpture were to be ...

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pp. 355-369

"The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness" (Eccles. 2:14). One can give the measurements of a person and thereby leave out all that matters. Boccaccio describes Dante: "Medium height, long face, aquiline nose, large jaws, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780520909052
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520065369

Page Count: 379
Publication Year: 1990