In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

mentioned.Shlain knowsthat artists tend to be unaware of the scientificproblem here under discussionbut neverthe lessfind away to expressthemvisually. But he oftensoundsas though the relationwere more direct.Thushe implies that “Giottowas the firstperson to rekindle an interestin thisarcanefieldof geometry. He intuited that itwould be necessary to drawconicsectionsthrough cylindricaland circularformsin order to render accuratelyobjectsseen in perspective ”(p. 66).Actually,Giotto,a painter and not a mathematician,merely observed that the shapeof someobjects gets distortedwhen they areseenfrom abnormalangles. relation between the artsand physics quite in general. Shlainobserves, “If Einsteinlamentedthe absenceof a vocabularywith which to communicate his remarkabletheories,he had only to look to art to find the appropriate images”(p.221).But Einstein himself was a masterof images. What he was lookingforwas conceptsand formulae the artscannotsupply. Thisdifferenceis characteristicof the T O THE RESCUE OFART: TWENTYS~ ESSAYS by Rudolf Amheim. Univ. of Caliiornia Press, Berkeley, LosAngeles, Oxford, 1992.248pp. Paper,$16.95. ISBN 0-52047459-9. Reviewed by David Carrier,Departmt of Philosophy, Came& Mellon University, Pitfih@, PA 15213-3890,U.S.A. As his title indicates,Arnheim believes that at present the situationof artis diflicult .Lotsof people visit museumsand galleries,but artremainspoorlyunderstood .Much artwritingis pretentious, and the fashionablebelief in relativism makes it hard for audiencesto achieve genuinecontactwith the works in the museum.The present-dayartworld is a verbally orientedplace, and so hisview of “imagesas the visual embodimentsof reasoning”(p. 217) is alien to most art lovers. Indeed,using thisvisual metaphor,“hisview”perhapsis revealing .What forAmheim is essentialabout visual artis its capacityto transcend the limits of language. Thisgroup of far-rangingessaysdiscusses suchvaried topics asnegative spacein architecture,abstraction,and artby psychoticsand autisticchildren. Most admirable,in my opinion,are the brief appreciationsof seven worksof art in the Boston Museum of FineArts, wonderfulwritingthat condensesgrand learningin texts that are withouta wasted word. It is hard to be brief and clear and say somethingtrue. In late Picasso, he writes in another essay, “theworld as a whole is subjectedto a mood of violent passion”(p. 113.)That importantstate ment is magnificent,revealingmuch in fewwords. When, elsewhere,he observes that in this centurythe most powerful politicalstatementshave come frompolitically noncommitted artists, he very quicklytouchesupon questions of greatgeneral importance. Arnheimhas never, sofar asI know, been interestedeitherin symbolism, which Erwin Panofskyand his followers focusedon in their discussionsof iconology ,nor in the progressof representation -makingdescribedby Ernst Gombrich. And he caresnothingabout modernismo rpostmodemism. Amheim’sessentiallyahistoridway of thinking,asI identifyit, treatsartfroma l l culturesasimmediatelyaccessibleright now. Becausehe thinks artisa formof thoughtwhich is languageindependent, Amheim has never even been tempted by relativism.The startingpoint of his thought,the point towhich always he returns,is gestaltpsychology. “Howdoes one reasonin images?”(p.46).This has alwaysbeen the centralquestionforhim. It is easyto praise these essays,which are such greatfun to read. But is Amheim right in believing that, right now, art needs to be rescued?That question is hard to answer. Much art isbad, but is that surprisingwhen so much art is being made and ourmuseumsare so large?BaudelaireadmiredDelacroix and knew Manet,but yet how much ghastlywork he describesin his Salons. Nor has most of the painting that Diderotreported on stoodthe test of time. Sowhat is new?Maybe the source of the problem-one which Amheim touchesonly in passing in complaining that television transformsthe world “intoa distantspectacle”(p. 136)-is mass culture. (Hereally doesn’tsay enough to showhow to evaluate this sweepingjudgment.) Insofar as gestalt psychology revealsuniversal ways of seeing ,it doesnot, I suspect,provide any readyway of explainingwhy, in our culture , most artis dreadful.Nor doesit explainwhy relativism has become important.Once artfrom many cultures was admitted into the museum,it became hard to believe in universal ide als of beauty, in those principals of order thatArnheimfindsin all art.But he doesn’tpursue this sociologicalpoint, or considerwhether it is consistentwith gestaltpsychology. Relativists shouldconsiderthe challenge he poses. Whatever the ultimate verdict on Amheim’swork, I think that the artworld will benefitgreatlyfrom suchan eloquentstatementof a position that, in deepways, is opposedto the dominantways of thinkingof almostall art criticsand historians. The last essayis a fascinatingsketchof an autobiography.Amheim,who when young sawEmperorWilhelm 11,found in gestaltpsychology a principleof order that served himwell as a refuge from the fanaticismof post-WorldWar I German and Italianpolitics. Expertat describing the ways in which visual artcan show conflictsin...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 263-266
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.