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VAST Discussion, Round 1

  1. A Problem of Order by Gerhard Stemberger
  2. K.O. Götz and the Psychology of Gestalt Perception by Herbert Fitzek
  3. Is the Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (still) relevant to psychology researchers? by Nils Myszkowski
  4. Discussion on VAST by Riccardo Luccio
  5. The VAST in Psychology today by Thomas Jacobsen, Barbara E. Marschallek, Selina M. Weiler
  6. A designer’s view of (and qualms about) the VAST by Roy R. Behrens

2. K.O. Götz and the Psychology of Gestalt Perception

Text: Herbert Fitzek

Abstract: The history of gestalt psychology shows us that we can present visual stimuli for various purposes: to determine perceptual errors, personality traits and the psychological processes that characterise both art production and reception. K.O. Götz had a firm opinion on this: for him it was about assessing the capacity for visual-aesthetic judgement. However, the visual material he conceived opens up a wider perspective.

K.O. Götz is a world renowned artist. He is neither well known nor trained as a psychologist, but his interests in the perception of abstract figurations directly coincide with the core interests of academic psychology, whose historic beginnings lie in the study of perceptual processes. Whilst in the beginning translation errors of simple optical stimuli played a role (the so-called optical illusions), it was Christian von Ehrenfels at the latest who realised that perception is more than a more or less correct interpretation of stimuli; it is a productive activity and creates meaningful forms with a specific psychological quality (“gestalt qualities”). Beyond point and line constellations, we suddenly see “similarity”, “duration”, “progression”, “contradiction” in figural formations (Ehrenfels 1890). It became less well known that Ehrenfels later assessed these productions according to their “height and purity” (Ehrenfels 1916).

In the 20th century, the question surrounding the rules of the interpretation of sensation (“gestalt laws”) became the main focus in various schools of psychology. Perception conflates that what is similar, goes together, develops itself, describes a shared fate and finds a fitting ending. The holistic psychologists of the Leipzig School focused on the question of the more or less successful process of forming. The main question shifted its focus from general psychology to personality psychology and from the collective perceptual structure to the structural type of the perceivers. Visually gifted viewers do not stop at a vague overall picture (holistic “G-type”); however, they do not lose themselves in the multitude of the perceptible either (atomistic “E-type”). Rather, on the basis of constructive synthesis they reach visual formations of a high gestalt complexity and quality (“GE-type”; cf. Sander 1960). The Leipzig School designed a visual personality test which requires participants to complete simple line formations through drawing and assesses them according to aesthetic criteria (Wartegg test, cf. Roivainen 2013).

Wilhelm Salber also followed this tradition in his approach to gestalt perception and, like Sander and Wartegg, focused on aesthetic relationships — all three psychologists were in constant exchange with artists of their time. In an early work, Salber presented viewers with a Rembrandt sketch, both the original version and a slightly different version, and found that its artistic impact was impaired even through seemingly insignificant changes (Salber 1957). However, Salber was not interested in the gestalt level of perception or of the observers, but rather in the interplay of the seen and experienced constellations in art reception (“the pictorial structures and the structures of perception”). Taking into account another, almost forgotten gestalt concept (of Russian Formalism; cf. Erlich 1973), this led to a morphological art psychology which sees harmony and concision in contrast to tendencies of variation and violation of good form. In analogy to Goethe’s morphology, art stands between gestalt formation and gestalt disruption. Salber thus also defines art as a “disruptive formation”, as a form as well as a disruption (Salber 1977).

The three questions of gestalt perception (perceptual psychology, personality psychology, art psychology) also play a role for K.O. Götz and his visual sensitivity test. It would be most interesting to extend the relevance of his test procedure to other psychological traditions. Even more important is the question of its integrability in the extremely broad field of current test practice. Based on the analogies of his approach towards the psychology of gestalt perception, this question seems to me to be open to discussion: not only methodological questions but also the objectives of assessment — upon which Götz, as we know, clearly expressed himself — determine the test’s usability. The question of recognising objectively more or less balanced stimuli goes back to the Ehrenfels criteria of high or pure forms. It is consistent with classical perceptual psychology and its interest in the sensorium’s sensitivity for differences, but this is not his main focus.

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Ehrenfels, C. v. (1890): Über Gestaltqualitäten. In: Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 14, 249–292

Ehrenfels, C. v. (1916): Kosmogonie. Jena: Diederichs.

Erlich, V. (1973): Russischer Formalismus. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.

Roivainen, E. (2013): A Brief History of the Wartegg Drawing Test. In: Gestalt Theory 31, 55–71.

Salber, W. (1957): Bildgefüge und Erlebnisgefüge. In: Jahrbuch für Psychologie, Psychotherapie und medizinische Anthropologie 5, 72–81.

Salber, W. (1977): Kunst – Psychologie – Behandlung. Bonn: Bouvier.

Sander, F. (1960): Goethe und die Morphologie der Persönlichkeit. In: Friedrich Sander, Hans Volkelt (Hrsg.): Ganzheitspsychologie (321341). München: Beck.

How to cite this article

w/k-Redaktion (2020): VAST Discussion, Round 1. w/k–Between Science & Art Journal. https://doi.org/10.55597/e6145

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