w/k - Zwischen Wissenschaft & Kunst
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VAST-Diskussion, Runde 1

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

6. A designer’s view of (and qualms about) the VAST

Text: Roy R. Behrens

Abstract: The author is a designer and teacher whose quest for objective criteria for visual esthetic design predates his contact with Hans-Jürgen Eysenck in the early 1970s. He describes his interest in the VAST, while also expressing his lingering doubts.

I first became acquainted with VAST in the late 1960s, when, as an undergraduate art student at an American university, I earned a degree in Art Education, with a primary focus on painting. A few years later, after teaching grades 7–12 for less than one year, then serving in the military, I completed a graduate degree in art education at a prominent school of art and design. I then went on to teach at universities and art schools for more than 45 years. Throughout those years, my primary goal in visual art (both in practice and in teaching) was to arrive at what I considered to be strong compositions. That end result could be achieved just as readily in abstract compositions as in those comprised of pictorial imagery. It was equally applicable to works of fine art (studio painting, printmaking, sculpture, and so on) and to applied art or design (graphic design, illustration, typography, and so on). Over the years, the art that I made and the courses I taught increasingly shifted toward graphic design.

In my last year as an undergraduate, I became intensely interested in gestalt organizing principles (e.g., similarity, proximity, continuity, and closure) because I thought they might provide an objective understanding of inherent (hard-wired) tendencies in human vision, and, to follow, the process by which one develops strong compositions. At the time, I was especially influenced by the writings of Gyorgy Kepes (Language of Vision), Rudolf Arnheim (Art and Visual Perception), and zoologist Hugh B. Cott, in whose work I saw the link between gestalt principles and animal camouflage. I recall that a pivotal book at the time was Lancelot Law Whyte, ed., Aspects of Form. But I was also interested in the writings of Abraham Moles, Daniel Berlyne, Karl Otto Götz (his VAST), and in other science-based research about art and visual perception. At the time, I wrote to Hans-Jürgen Eysenck, asking his permission to reproduce (using my students as subjects) the visual-spatial abilities test in his book, Know Your Own IQ (Penguin Books, 1962). Over the years, I have sometimes said to students (only half-facetiously) that the process of designing (arranging components in art and design) has much in common with sorting socks. Eysenck kindly approved my request, but I failed to complete the experiment.

In the mid-1980s, I wrote two college-level textbooks for use in courses on art and design. The first, titled Design in the Visual Arts (Prentice-Hall, 1984), was an illustrated overview of what I referred to as visual esthetic design. This textbook was intended for courses in generic basic design at the freshman level. The second was a sequel titled Illustration as an Art (Prentice-Hall, 1986), which fostered the idea that the three paramount concerns in illustration were esthetic design, invention, and representation. An essay titled How Form Functions: Esthetics and Gestalt Theory, which I later published in Gestalt Theory: Journal of the GTA (2002) is a reasonable summary of the point of view of those two books. An amplified version can be accessed here.

Today, as I read the provided sources about VAST and its originator, I realize how tauntingly close I came (at least in intention and language somewhat) to Karl Otto Götz’s idea of visual aesthetic sensitivity. To a degree I was surely influenced by him. At the same time, when I now read the descriptions of VAST, I am reminded of reservations I had more than forty years ago. In particular, I still have misgivings about using the concept of balance as the chief criterion in assessing esthetic arrangements. If nothing else, the term is far too likely to be confused with the simple weighted equivalence that we associate with a teetertotter on a children’s playground. Equally perilous is the word harmonious. Both terms are one-sided, in the sense that they only stress order, consistency and connectedness. As a designer, artist, and teacher, I understand esthetic form as a mediation between order and disorder. To me, disturbances are a vital part, and imbalances are legitimate tools.



w/k-Redaktion (2020): VAST-Diskussion, Runde 1. w/k - Zwischen Wissenschaft & Kunst. https://doi.org/10.55597/d13752

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