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Parables of Sun Light

Parables of Sun Light: Observations on Psychology, the Arts, and the Rest

Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 379
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  • Book Info
    Parables of Sun Light
    Book Description:

    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 thehaikupattern. Some of these notes found their way into his books-known and prized the world over-such asArt and Visual Perception,Visual Thinking, andThe 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90905-2
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. 1959
    (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 landmark on the horizon, distant but reachable. A path leads through space to the outer world.

    Different ways of viewing hewn stones. “And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou...

  4. 1960
    (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, inNew Bottles for New Wine, has a photo of the Heike crab, which developed a distinct samurai face on its shell because the specimens showing the face were consistently thrown back into the water by superstitious fishermen. Thus, by selection, the face was bred in. Did something similar happen to dogs among Mongols? Or is the Oriental dog face more nearly the original one, and it is we who bred a Western look into our...

  5. 1961
    (pp. 29-40)

    Our times will be judged 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 for which late minds are well suited.

    A striking example of perceptual restructuring can be derived from Sakurabayashi’s experiments on the effects of long inspection (Figure 4). By removing two sections of the circle, one changes the character and relations of all the remaining parts. The “butterfly”...

  6. 1962
    (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?

    The automobile and the telephone are defeated as instruments of individualism by being applied to the needs of a mass society. The automobile fulfills man’s desire to move over the surface of the earth all by himself; but by becoming accessible to everybody, automobiles have paralyzed our streets. Individualism is possible only...

  7. 1963
    (pp. 49-64)

    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 of a statue smoking a cigar. The dancing satyrs on Greek vases or their imitations in certain drawings by Picasso deliberately suggest the comic, grotesque, or absurd; and the ludicrous effect of Jacob Epstein’s phallic alabaster Adam unintentionally confirms my observation. The problem becomes manageable in stylized art such as...

  8. 1964
    (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 are scheduled to have. The meeting with the surgeon thereby acquires an awesome overtone of ascension. By avoiding mention of the unspeakable, they also give it a tinge of religious majesty, revealing the association of medicine with meeting one’s judge and maker.

    Thrown upon the snow

    With shivering...

  9. 1965
    (pp. 77-86)

    Late in the evening, half asleep, I was reading in “La crosse en l’air,” a poem by Jacques Prévert, 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 for a pope to have a father since popes are not supposed to have sons. It was as though at a primitive level of thought a genus had genetic connotations: popes must be born of popes, as horses are born of horses. Pertinent here perhaps the Aristotelian notion...

  10. 1966
    (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 Henry Moore creates women that are mountains, his sculpture does not show a mountainlike woman as does Baudelaire’sLa Géante. Rather, by raising his image to the level of the common denominator, Moore synthesizes the feminine in the monumental with the monumental in the feminine. What results is a rarified abstraction that could qualify as...

  11. 1967
    (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 has spread to museums. If a Rembrandt leaves you thoughtless and speechless, you can assimilate it mechanically, acquire it symbolically, shoot it like a duck. Recently, photostatting has created a similar temptation. I come across a provocative page, I make a photostat of it. By possessing the paper, I fancy that...

  12. 1968
    (pp. 105-114)

    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 my bedroom window one night during the German revolution of 1918. But how did this token of past violence happen to appear as an uncanny salutation in the hour of my somewhat diffident return? It took me a while to remember that I had last used the...

  13. 1969
    (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 dark red. It seemed to me that the volume obtained with the latter procedure looked complete, fully closed, whereas the gamut from green to dark blue made for an incompletely curved shape—as though only the completeness of the color range created a completeness of volume.

    Kevin Lynch mentions...

  14. 1970
    (pp. 127-142)

    All around my heart

    The coronary fingers

    Gripping me too tight.

    From my bed window

    Cars circulating in veins

    My body extended.

    From my bed window

    Branchings of sycamore trees

    Vessels of my blood.

    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 looking at a pot of red cyclamens on the windowsill of my hospital room exclaimed, “They are just like...

  15. 1971
    (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 may be true for manufacture in general. Recently a specialist pointed out that the centric symmetry of the usual tool handles is not well suited to the kinetic requirements of the human hand and wrist. It rather derives from the practical convenience of making simple symmetrical shapes on the lathe or from...

  16. 1972
    (pp. 153-166)

    The chorus in Haydn’sCreationwas like the chorus of singers in white robes, carrying palm leaves, in Dürer’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 harmony.

    When the dentist says: “Tell me when it hurts!” I feel like Wittgenstein as I answer in my mind: “I can tell you this only if I know whether you are asking because you need my sensation as a signal that your drill is approaching the live nerve or because you do not...

  17. 1973
    (pp. 167-178)

    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 neutrally recording camera into an individual observer—an out-of-place member of the cast.

    The churches and the English departments are converting to a cult of the movies. Considering how little of general interest some of them were doing before, this may be just as well. Some philosophers and art historians are tempted to do the same,...

  18. 1974
    (pp. 179-188)

    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 laundresses. But when Malevich paints two floor polishers, he is obviously concerned with the grotesque pantomime of the two figures pushing their pads with their naked feet—and this just a few years before the Russian Revolution.

    The exercises of “conceptual” artists resemble the thought experiments of scientists. But why,...

  19. 1975
    (pp. 189-202)

    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 scornful justice. The only court artist I can remember succeeding in revealing the public symbol in the private triviality was David Low, in his depictions of the Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trials.

    The most astonishing thing about dreams is that they contain surprises. While you are driving along the road,...

  20. 1976
    (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 of composition do his statements become readable and, indeed, beautiful.

    There must be a definite overall mood to any situation. I wake up from a dream with nothing left of its content but that mood, of which I can recognize only its general tone, a sense of well-being or discomfort....

  21. 1977
    (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 lively harmony of the ratio that makes the planet slow down in the exact measure of its increasing distance from the center of its rotation and speed up as it comes closer. The mechanical spin is animated by the rhythmical variation of speed and distance, and the variation is held...

  22. 1978
    (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 Galileo, but keep also in mind that natural shapes are simplified toward elementary geometry when the more accurate shape is not known, left unobserved, or neglected as unimportant, or when it distracts from the essential.

    There is no way for an artist to combine successfully the narrowly ribald with the narrowly virtuous. Puvis de Chavannes’s pornographic violence...

  23. 1979
    (pp. 243-256)

    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 crossing.

    Franz Kafka’s most uncanny device is the drab sobriety of reasoning and language in his style. One seems to listen to the report of a minor civil servant or shopkeeper talking sensibly about the problems of practical life; it is the mentality of husbandry and insurance. But within the events reported in this deadpan language seethes...

  24. 1980
    (pp. 257-266)

    Nothing more ghostly could happen than if an animal suddenly showed a smile on its face. It would índicate 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 judging us. Its smile would be the terrifying proof. Think also of the opposite case of persons without facial expression, like the dwarf inThe Tin Drum. There, terror is produced by a body deserted by its soul.

    The particular blend of heaviness and lightness in Mies van der Rohe’s...

  25. 1981
    (pp. 267-280)

    Notice on the toilets in restrooms on Japan Airlines: “Do Not Throw Foreign Articles!”

    It is like a Surrealist montage: you are lying in a hospital bed peacefully reading during the most private hour of your morning, while outside in the corridor a stream of chattering people rolls past your room without giving you more than an occasional glance through the offensively open door.

    At some fairly recent time in literature it became legitimate to tell a story as a report on what someone is observing and thinking. Before that date—and who was the first writer to do what...

  26. 1982
    (pp. 281-302)

    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 reduces the six iambic feet to the odd number of five, which bridges the hole in the middle with a kind of keystone. Therefore the French verse stands heavily, like a symmetrical façade, whereas the blank verse flows. Compare Racine—“Toy qui connois mon coeur depuis que je respire”—with Schiller...

  27. 1983
    (pp. 303-324)

    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 the cutoff level at which neighborliness switches to hostility? Or is it the case that with each increase in size, human community, by some diabolical law of nature, adds gradually a corresponding admixture of bellicosity, from marriage to family, to village, town, and nation, where the accumulated evil bursts...

  28. 1984
    (pp. 325-340)

    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 shiver. Ready to receive the sitter with open arms, the chair seems pathetically blind to the emptiness around it. Since it is deprived of its function, it displays the expression of its gesture all the more clearly, like an abandoned woman unaware of her loss.

    A fable for adjustment psychologists. There once was...

  29. 1985
    (pp. 341-354)

    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 taught as reflections of social and individual life, as ways of understanding the world. This meant bridging the gaps between the fine and the applied arts and viewing them in the context of architecture and landscaping. It meant exploring the visual aspects of knowledge and thought and the similarities and differences of art and science. It also...

  30. 1986
    (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, lower lip more prominent . . .”

    In the early drawings made by children, elements are combined by mere addition. A head, a neck, or an arm is independently complete, uninfluenced by what happens next to it. Similarly, at early levels of “primitive” thinking, processes such as dying or coming to life are not understood as modifications of...