A Visual History of Gestalt Theory

by Mariano Akerman

"Between the Whole and the Parts" - A Digital Prints Series


Gestalt visual theory is the systematic study of perceptual organization pioneered by German psychologists the 1920s. The founding principle of Gestalt visual theory is that individual parts have different characteristics and values depending on how they are organized in space. Gestalt visual theory has been applied and expanded upon in many fields in the social sciences and humanities, particularly visual studies, literary theory, psychology and education. However, Gestalt visual theory is not only for theorists or visual artists. Anyone can use the basic principles of Gestalt theory in daily activities, such as making page layouts or taking photos (Jen Randall).

The Gestalt Theory of the Berlin School was one of the most significant advances in the history of psychology. By rethinking the mind as a holistic, interconnected entity, psychology was able to make significant steps in furthering understanding of the mind and treatment of psychological pathologies.

Old Watermark

Gestalt Theory has a long history in German literature and philosophy. Some scholars trace the theory as far back as Immanuel Kant and Goethe. Ernst Mach's Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations is also a seminal text to refer to in order to understand Gestalt Theory and its origins.

Manual, p. 325

Group and Individual



In keeping with the global view of the mind, Gestalt Theory calls for a change in how psychological experiments are undertaken. Instead of looking at elemental components, Gestalt studies phenomena as a whole, focusing on real situations rather than controlled laboratory experiments.


Primary Colors


Gestalt uses key principles to understand psychology and psychological phenomena. Most of these principles hold that human perception of objects occurs by perceiving objects as a whole and not by adding up their constituent parts to deduce the image or perceptual object. Gestalt Theory turns the old proverb "You can't see the forest for the trees" inside out: humans see the forest before they identify the trees.



New Watermark

Op Art


Art Now

¿A goblet or two profiles?

Resources: PhotoFunia ; How to Understand Gestalt Theory and How to Use the Gestalt Visual Theory, eHow.com, 8.11.11

Configurations inspired by the Gestalt Laws of Perceptual Organization


Deb Siskin said...

Gracias Mariano. Me encanta. En particular éste me gusta mucho porque no sabía nada sobre el op-art.
Besos, D.

Joan Pohl said...

I quite enjoy this.

Saira Iftikhar said...

All of this is very interesting.