Art and visual perception

July 12, 2011

Art and Visual Perception: a psychology of the creative eye | title
Rudolf Arnheim | author
University of California Press, 2004 | publisher
978-0-520-24383-5 | isbn
Paperback, 518 | # of pages

Highly recommended | rating
Buy this book through this link and help support this blog

One of the most comprehensive works ever published in the field of visual perception, a must-read for anyone interested in visual arts (including photography).


Print quality and layouting is reasonable. The paper is thin and somewhat fragile, probably due to the length of the book: it would be far too heavy and thick if a different kind of paper was used. However, these things do not impede the enjoyment of the content: with only a few exceptions, it is comprised mostly of text and simple illustrations that do not require a higher print quality to convey their messages.

The language is clear and it is evident that the book is well planned and organized, in spite of its length. Against what most people would expect from a 518-page book, it has a moderate to heavy text density. There are no redundancies or repetition, and the feeling is that every page presents new concepts or builds upon existing ones significantly, thus resulting in an extremely rich amount of content overall. At times one that has no background on the subject might even feel like the text is not thorough enough in its explanations, but for the most part the abundant examples allow for good comprehension.


The book is divided into chapters: balance, shape, form, growth, space, light, color, movement, dynamics, expression. Each of them illustrates how the human visual system interprets a number of visual stimuli and what psychological effects they have. It always cites experiments and studies performed in the past to reinforce its theories, even though the reader might not even need those to be convinced as he experiences them himself through the illustrations. It also puts great effort to avoid deeming rationalization as responsible for the way we interpret visual stimuli. It proves (albeit empirically) how many things are involuntary psychological reactions, since the expected rational interpretations do not always occur. Through this approach he offers insight on why some visual stimuli are pleasant while others cause discomfort, why some seem unstable while others might feel solid, why optical illusions occur and why some tricks so commonly employed in arts, design, films and related fields work.

Target audience

I would not recommend this book for someone who wants to start learning composition with intents of producing visual work, as he would not be able to easily relate those to his production nor employ it. A seasoned artist or photographer that has mastered the technical aspects and has plenty of experience with composition will find the book more useful, for he is able to bridge the theory to his practice, or more easily recognize the patterns described in real world situations. For those who intend only to enjoy the work of others there is no specific point at which I would recommend it. By allowing one to have new perspectives the book also allows one to enjoy visual art in new ways, recognizing the beauty of patterns carefully constructed instead of being only affected by the final result.


Highly recommended

Buy this book through this link and help support this blog


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