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TitleARNHEIM Visual Thinking
File Size24.2 MB
Total Pages359
Table of Contents
                            1. Early Stirrings
2. The Intelligence of Visual Perception (i)
3. The Intelligence of Visual Perception (ii)
4. Two and Two Together
5. The Past in the Present
6. The Images of Thought
7. Concepts Take Shape
8. Pictures, Symbols, and Signs
9. What Abstraction Is Not
10. What Abstraction Is
11. With Feet on the Ground
12. Thinking with Pure Shapes
13. Words in Their Place
14. Art and Thought
15. Models for Theory
16. Vision in Education
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 179

166 WHAT ASSTRACTION Is NOT

human beings can cite eountless examples to show that in an un-
familiar realm of experience the common properties of its eonstitu-
ents will predominate 10 such an eXlent as 10 make the differenees
invisible. The members of a strange race of human beings look all
alike until one learns to leH them aparto A farmer. a shepherd. a ZOO
keeper pereeives each animal as a di stinet individual. To Ihe out-
sider. sheep are sheep. and monkeys are monkeys. Soldiers in their
uniforms or nun~ in their garb may secm 10 show no individualily.
The waiter. the salesgirl. the barber may be differenlialed by the
cu~lomer only lO the level of Iheir profession, bUI within thal pro-
fess ion there is no observed differemia. The extent of differenlia-
lion will depend on how inleresled Ihe particular person or cultural
group is in Ihe refinement of the initial abstraetion. To the casual
museum-goer all Italian art of the Quattrocento or all Egyplian
sculptllre ma y look alike. The nat uralist Edwin Way Teale tells of
hi s wife's trollble wilh automobile models:

1I w,,~ in Ihi ~ ~ection of the trip Iha! Ne!lie began concenlnlting on the ·fieldmarks'
of automobiles. It was a m)'l>Iery 10 me. 1 had poinlcd out, how ¡¡nyone able 10
note :.Iighl plumage diffcrenees in sparrows and warblers and ~horc bi rds had
difficully Iclling a Ford from:l Rambler Of a Chrysler from a Buiek. Her explana-
lion. nOI wi¡hou! logic. had becn: Thc trouble is. aUlomobi les kecp changing
¡heir plumages.·

Change or not, Ihe nverage ten-year-old boyo intere~ted in cars. has
no such trouble. The v¡uying degree of perceptual differentiation is
renected 10 ~ome extent in the principIes of c1assificalion found in
languages. The anthropologist Franz Boas has shown that any lan-
guagc. from the poinl of view of anOlher. may seem arbitrary in ils
c1assifieations. "What appears as a single "iimple idea in one language
may be charncterized by a series of di slinct phonetic groups in
another: '

The first menlal operations in new sitllations are nol .tCIS ofgener-
:.tlization. for generalization musl always be preceded by the distinc-
lion of individually perceived cases. Inslead. high generality is
a qllali¡ y ofperception from Ihe very slart. 1I is a generality brought
aboul by primary abstrac:tion. in Ihe sense thal the differenc:es whieh
il hides are well aboye Ihe threshold of Ihe sense of sight. Details
ac:cessible 10 Ihe eyes are nol ye! differentiated by the mind.

Let me return for a moment to the eurly. undifferentiated stale
of infant experience. William James' brash remark about the baby

Page 180

WHAT AB5TRACTION 15 NOT 167

viewing the sensory world as "one greal blooming, buzzing con-
fusion" has been quoted to death by those who delight in believing
Ihat the senses provide an amorphous chaos, which has to be waited
upon by the order-producing "higher" faculties of the mind. BUI
confusion is not a normal reactíon of the organism at any level of
development. Confusion results from special conditions, such as
pathology, fatigue, passivity, or an onrush of excessive stimuli
attacking a receptive sensorium. lt occurs when Ihe input is too
strong or the processing power too weak. James himself desc ribes
confusion as the lapse into the indiscriminating state, the opposite of
focused attention, "a sort of solernn sense of surrender to the empty
passing of time." Actually, James' remark about the baby occurs
in a discussion of discrimination and companson, in which he makes
the important point that any number of impressions , from any
number of sensory sources, falling simultaneously on a mind which
has not yet experienced them separately, will fuse, for that mind,
into a single undivided objecl: "The law is that all things fuse that
can fuse, and nothing separates except what must."

Now fusion is nol confusion. The texture of a homogeneous
field is a state of low-Ievel order, well suited to serve as a back-
ground for prominent stimuli. Most Iikely this, and not confusion,
is the primary experience provided by the undeveloped senses of
the baby. The meticulous observer of children, Arnold Gesell,
objecting to James' famous aper~u, suggesls that " much more prob-
ably Ihe young baby senses the visible world at first in fugitive and
Ructuating blotches against a neutral background." Gesell could no
more look into the infant's mind than could James, but observations
of external behavior bear him out.

The eyes of a newbom baby are apl lo rove around bolh in the presence and ab-
sence or a sli mulus. After several days or even hours, Ihe baby is ab1e lO immo-
bilize Ihe eyeballs for brier periods. Later. he slares al surroundings ror long
períods. When he is rour weeks old we may dangle a ring , , , in ¡he line orhis near
vision: he regards il. We move Ihe ríng slowly aeross his field or vision: he "fo1-
10ws" il wilh his eyes through an are of about 90".

The organized response of fixation can be assumed 10 correspond to
an equally orderly organization of the perceived field of vision, a
simple distinction of a neutral ground and prominent "figure."
It is a highly abstraet primary experience. The field is reduced to
"noise." i.e., the undifferentiated foil from which the positive mes-

Page 358

Wilhdrawal. 188-190.204
Wiugenstein. Ludwig, 194, 228. 240
woodwortb, Robert S" 100
Worringer, Wilhelm. 189

Wri¡bt. Tbomas, 289
Wundt, Wilbelm, 93

Zuccari, Federico. 97

INDEX 345

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