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Discussion - Diskussion

Gestalt theory and Bauhaus A Correspondence


Between Roy Behrens, Brenda Danilowitz, William S. Huff, Lothar Spillmann,
Gerhard Stemberger and Michael Wertheimer in the summer of 2011
Introduction and Summary

By Geert-Jan Boudewijnse
What follows is a summary of an email exchange among Roy Behrens,
Brenda Danilowitz, William S. Huff, Lothar Spillmann, Gerhard Stemberger
and Michael Wertheimer which took place over the summer of 2011. In this
introduction I will not specify the input of each scholar, but just report the main
findings. For the details of this exchange please read the correspondence in full
text following this introduction.
The discussion was triggered by a remark by Barbara Veigl - Trouvain in Gestalt
Theory 33, p. 217 wherein she reported about a visit of participants of a GTA
conference to the Berlin Bauhaus center. She wrote that although till now no
direct relation between the work of the Bauhaus and Gestalt theory has been
demonstrated, many points of contact are obvious e.g. questions about the
connection between matter (form) and function (content).
The discussion was about the question: was the strong resemblance between
the Gestalt theorists on the one hand and Bauhaus artists, craftsmen and
designers on the other just accidental or were the artists, craftsmen, designers
and architects at the Bauhaus influenced by the Gestalt theorists and Gestalt
theory? Resemblance as such does not imply a direct influence. The resemblance
may well have been the result of earlier influences common to both groups.
In the case of these two manifestations of German thought Goethe comes to
mind as a possibility. Furthermore, the resemblance may have been the result
of completely different influences that were independently of each other worked
out to similar notions. For instance, some artists and craftsmen at the Bauhaus
studied the Tao Te Chin by Lao-Tzu and were struck by Lao-Tzus insight that the
spacing and intervals between concrete material things are important factors in
the functionality of an object. An object is not determined solely by matter; it is
the relationship between material components that determine the function of an
object (see Tao Te Chin, ch. 11). The Gestalt theorists also taught the importance

GESTALT THEORY

2012 (ISSN 0170-057 X)


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GESTALT THEORY, Vol. 34, No.1

of spacing and intervals among material components, but their starting point
was a careful analysis of the perception of physical stimuli.
Marianne Teuber (???) reported that the widow of Wolfgang Khler had told her
that Karl Duncker held a lecture at Bauhaus. Duncker would have replaced Mrs.
Khlers husband who was at that moment in the United Sates. However, there
are no other sources that confirm her memory. Thus, we do not find any mention
whatsoever of this talk in the archives of Bauhaus or Duncker or in any of the
memories of the persons connected to the Bauhaus. That makes it possible that
Khlers widow was mistaken in her memory and that the lecture did not take place.
However, there is enough evidence to assume that the resemblance between the
two schools is partly due to interactions among members of the two groups, and
also to the study of the Gestalt literature by the staff and students of the Bauhaus.
In the season 1930-1931 Karlfried Graf von Drkheim came from Leipzig to hold
a series of lectures on Gestalt psychology at the Bauhaus. They were organized at
the request of the student council. This implies that the students at the Bauhaus
had some knowledge and interest in Gestalt theory. Drkheims lectures have
influenced (at least) one student, Kurt Kranz and one teacher, Josef Albers. Albers
attended most of Drkheims lectures and would infuse basic design with Gestalt
notions. Later when he was teaching in the United States his students remarked
that he knew the names of all Gestalt theorists and often discussed the works of
Max Wertheimer. Albers differentiated between factual and actual; between a
physical fact and a psychic effect. Indeed, he saw this discrepancy as the origin of
art. That discrepancy has been one of the major starting points if not the major
starting point for Gestalt theoretical investigations.
Rudolf Arnheim went to the Dessau Bauhaus to work on his essay Das Bauhaus
in Dessau. However, he visited Bauhaus in the summer when nobody, either
famous or infamous, was around that I [Arnheim] recall (Behrens, Email 26
July 2011). Arnheim, one may suspect, did not have a noticeable influence on
the staff or students of the Bauhaus; they just were not there. Still, later Albers
invited Arnheim to give a talk to his students at Yale.
There were not only these personal contacts. The Bauhaus artists also studied
Gestalt theoretical literature. Walter Gropius and others made statements
from which it is clear that they knew the Gestalt principles and the Gestalt
literature of their time. For instance, Vassily Kandinsky frequently mentioned
the Gestalt theorists but he also told his students that the Gestalt theorists
merely confirmed his earlier findings. During the 1930s Paul Klee used some
of the figures of Wertheimers 1923 publication in several of his own paintings.
Thomas Maldonado, another teacher at Bauhaus lectured on Gestalt and gave
his students Gestalt exercises and encouraged them to study Gestalt literature
which was available at the schools library. Hannes Meyer was also interested in
Gestalt principles and their application in art and craft.
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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

Clearly, there is much more to this subject. Obviously, this exchange touched
only the surface of the relationship between Bauhaus and Gestalt theory, and the
reception of each others work. We hope that this summary will inspire scholars
to study it in much more depth.
References
Teuber, Marianne (1976): Blue Night by Paul Klee. In: Henle, M., ed., Vision and Artifact, New York:
Springer, 131-151.
Geert-Jan Boudewijnse, semi-retired, earned his doctorate degree on a historical thesis on the relationship
between Franz Brentano and the later Gestalt schools. He taught psychological courses including the course
History of Psychology at the two English speaking universities in Montreal, Concordia and McGill. Some of
his most important papers were published in Gestalt Theory.
Address: 3, rue Beacon, H9J 2E9 Kirkland, Canada.
E-Mail: geertjan.boudewijnse@gmail.com

Bauhaus Apartment house in Tel Aviv - Wolfgang Krammer 2011

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GESTALT THEORY, Vol. 34, No.1

The Correspondence

Lothar Spillmann, 16 July 2011:


(English translation of this email originally written in German1 that circulated
among the group members)
Dear Mr. Stemberger, On page 217 (at the top) of the latest issue of Gestalt Theory,
for the sending of which I thank you, Barbara Veigl-Trouvain writes, Even if
to date no direct relation between the work at the Bauhaus and Gestalt theory
has been demonstrated, many points of contact--e.g. questions of the connection
between material (form) and function (content)--are unmistakable.
I believe that Mrs. Marianne Teuber has indicated that Gestalt psychologists
taught at the Bauhaus. Klee in particular was inspired Gestalt-psychologically.
Michael Wertheimer will certainly be able to say more about this; after all, he
knew Arnheim.
William Huff, Claudio Guerri, and Roy Behrens will also be able to contribute
to this discussion.
With good wishes,
Lothar Spillmann.
William S. Huff, 16 July 2011:
Lothar, does this help?
Here is a passage from my article for the 50th Jubilee of the Hochschule fr
Gestaltung (HfG) at Ulm, with a footnote. (Huff, William S., Grundlehre at
the HfGwith a Focus on the Visual Grammatik, Ulmer ModelleModelle
nach Ulm / Hochschule fr Gestaltung 1953-1968 (Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz
Verlag, 2003), 172-197.)
Probably tentatively, at first, Albers came to infuse basic design with Gestalt.
Beginnings of this can very likely be accredited to Karlfried Graf von Drkheims
lectures on Gestalt psychology at the Bauhaus, which had been arranged by
Hannes Meyer.[1]

________________________________________

[1] Individual psychology vis vis social psychology. Wingler, Bauhaus, 10, 159.

Lieber Herr Stemberger, auf S. 217 (oben) des letzten Heftes der Gestalt Theory, fr dessen Zusendung ich
Ihnen danke, schreibt Barbara Veigl-Trouvain: Auch wenn bisher keine direkte Beziehung zwischen der Arbeit
am Bauhaus und der Gestalttheorie nachgewiesen wurde, sind viele Berhrungspunkte - z.B. Fragen nach dem
Zusammenhang von Material (Form) und Funktion (Inhalt) - unbersehbar.
Ich denke, Frau Marianne Teuber hat darauf hingewiesen, dass am Bauhaus Gestaltpsychologen gelehrt haben.
Klee insbesondere ist gestaltpsychologisch inspiriert worden. Michael Wertheimer wird sicher mehr dazu sagen
knnen, er kannte ja Arnheim.
Auch William Huff, Claudio Guerri und Roy Behrens drften zu dieser Diskussion etwas beitragen knnen.
Mit guten Wnschen, Lothar Spillmann.

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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

Such lectures were seemingly a contradictory break with one of the fundamental
cannons/precepts of the Bauhaus: Do not look at books. Many references on
the Bauhauss ban of the book, etc., can be found; and I read one recently in the
past few days, but I cannot now find it.
However, I reference a passage from a paper (The Book and the Board) that I
presented in Istanbul in 2007:
[Beginning with the material itself] offers us the opportunity to manipulate our
media directly, not restricted by introductory explanations, theories or aims
including preparatory class reading. [i]

________________________________________

[i] Josef Albers, Search Versus Re-Search (Hartford, Conn.: Trinity College Press 1969), 33

Here is the contradiction: Albers was no doubt learning from Gestalt lectures
(Drkheim and books), while he told students not to look at books or listen to
lectures. He specifically cites Gestalt in his writings. Gropius and most other
Bauhaus persons made similar statements about not referring to books. On the
other hand, at Ulm, Maldonado specifically lectured on Gestalt, assigned explicit
Gestalt exercises, and gave us bibliographic references on Gestalt--most found in
the HfG library.
I also credit Albers with Gestalt teaching (which I picked up from him for my
own studio classes)--that is, involving the whole class in the critique of each
individual students work, as well as facilitating the ability to compare one
students solution with the solutions of all the others at the same time. That is:
All students put up their work on the tack board at one time--or, if 3-D, on the
table or on the floor at the same time.
William
PS Though I have not read everything that Klee has written, I do not know of
any reference by him to Gestalt. It is interesting that Hannes Meyer (after he
became Director and after Gropius left) brought in Gestalt. Since Klee was at
the Bauhaus till the end, he could have taken interest in Drkheim, if not in
Gestalt on his own before that. If you know of any specific references by Klee,
please, let me know.
As a side comment, several Bauhaus figures, especially Johannes Itten, were
involved in the Esoteric movement (therefore, taking a different approach to
form and material). Curiously, Claudios mother has also been heavily involved
in that movement.
You can, of course forward this, if it is appropriate.
William

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Michael Wertheimer, 16 July 2011:


Thank you, Lothar, for sending me a copy of this message. Yes, there was indeed
fairly extensive interaction between folks at the Bauhaus and the Gestalt theorists,
and Marianne Teuber did indeed write about the Bauhaus. Dr. Stemberger
might wish to consult the biography of Max Wertheimer (Max Wertheimer and
Gestalt Theory; Transaction 2005: pages 157-158, 167, 182 and 370) for some
documentation.
Michael Wertheimer
Gerhard Stemberger, 26 July 2011:
Dear all,
Thanks to all of you for your interest and comments on the Bauhaus/Gestalt
theory issue. My comment comes with delay because Ive been travelling.
The starting point of this discussion has been a remark in Gestalt Theory report
about a visit of GTA conference participants to the Berlin Bauhaus center. In this
report Barbara Veigl-Trovain wrote as a side remark that to date there has been
no proof of a direct relation between the work of Bauhaus and Gestalt theory
though many points of contact are obvious.
The wording in this brief remark, of course, does not justice to the issue, as you
all have pointed out.
Lothar Spillmann wrote that Marianne Teuber mentioned that Gestalt
psychologists taught at the Bauhaus. Going back to the Teuber article where
this claim is made, one sees that Teubers source for this claim is the widow
of Wolfgang Khler, who told Teuber that Karl Duncker held a lecture at the
Bauhaus center in Dessau in to replace Wolfgang Khler who had been invited
to give a lecture there but could not go since he was then in the USA.
The problem now is that this second hand account seems to be the only source
stating that there has been a Bauhaus lecture by Karl Duncker. Wherever this
Bauhaus lecture of Duncker is mentioned, the source is always directly or
indirectly the Teuber article. One of our authors, Helmut Boege, has undertaken
an intensive search for other sources that could substantiate this claim by visiting
and searching the Bauhaus archives, contacting Bauhaus historians, searching in
the Duncker archives and else, but all in vain, though it is verified that Dunckers
father Hermann Duncker a friend of Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer - has
given two lectures in 1929 at the Bauhaus (introductions in Marxist thought).
However, we were not able to find any direct proof for a lecture by Karl Duncker
in Dessau, besides the indirect account in the Teuber article.
This, of course, is no proof to the contrary; it might well be that this lecture has
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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

indeed been held like Khlers widow told Marianne Teuber, but finding not a
single trace of this lecture in the Bauhaus lecture programs, reports, archives and
finding not a single trace of it in the Karl Duncker archives or in any account of
Klee or other Bauhaus artists makes one wonder.
Best wishes and regards,
Gerhard Stemberger
Roy Behrens, 26 July 2011
Hello all
Here are my contributions to the discussion of possible links between Gestalt
psychology and the Bauhaus. My own opinion is that there was very little direct
connection, although much resemblance between the two attitudes. Im sure
there are many more sources, but these are the ones I am able to find this morning.
(1) Statement by Bauhaus student Hannes Beckmann from Formative Years in
Eckhard Neuman, ed., Bauhaus and Bauhaus People. Revised edition. (NY: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1993), p. 209:
Painting and other artistic activities were in danger of becoming isolated, and
the Bauhaus seemed to develop into a school of architecture and industrial
design only. It was at this time [c1930] that the student council requested that
lectures about Gestalt psychology should be given. The request was granted, and
von Durkheim came from Leipzig to give a series of lectures on this subject. Up
until this time design problems were more or less solved on the feeling level. It
looked as if the artist asked the scientists for reassurance that they were on the
right track. The Gestalt psychologists had after all for years investigated how we
perceive and interpret form and color in the mind. They explained the reason
why some congurations make for good readingfor a good Gestalt, where the
whole makes more than the sum of its partswhereas other congurations will
make for bad reading, for a bad Gestalt, where parts remain apart. It may be that
the interest of the Bauhaus, a school in Gestalt psychology itself, Hochschule fr
Gestaltung, points to the direction that future art schools will take. Realizing that
art, as such, cannot be taught, the emphasis may be on visual education, partly
based on Gestalt psychological insight, with an aim to achieve what Josef Albers
calls: A meaningful approach to the production of form.

(2) Statement by Bauhaus student Kurt Kranz from Bauhaus Pedagogy and
Thereafter in Eckhard Neuman, ed., Bauhaus and Bauhaus People. Revised
edition. (NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993), p. 276:
The unied-whole theory, especially in psychologywith the ndings of
Ehrenfeld [sic], Katz, and Koffka, as impressed upon me by Count [Karlfried]
von Durckheimcontinued to preoccupy me. Even the strongest argument in
discussions held at Harvards Carpenter Center [where Rudolf Arnheim was on
the faculty] failed to explain away the truth of The whole is bigger than the sum of
its parts. Much in todays microbiology conrms the Gestalt principle of a unied
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whole. As a visiting dean at Harvard, I was able to rethink the question of basic
forms. In the foreground, in the place of Platonic forms, we now had the patterns
in nature, with their spirals, symmetrics, branchings, etc. In this connection, the
morphology of DArcy W. Thompson and Peter S. Stevens ought to be mentioned.
Since then, I see all artistic work as being parallel to the basic form in nature.

(3) Statement by T. Lux Feininger (son of Bauhaus teacher Lionel Feininger)


from Bauhaus: Evolution of an Idea in Eckhard Neuman, ed., Bauhaus and
Bauhaus People. Revised edition. (NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993), p. 184:
[He is talking about Walter Gropius 1919 proclamation on the founding of
the Bauhaus] Never was the truth of the prophet being derided at home more
applicable than in his case. His prophecy begins, as is proper, with a word. The
name of his creation was to be: The Bauhaus, Hochschule fr Gestaltung. The
word Gestaltung embodies the philosophy he envisioned.
If the term Bauhaus was new adaptation of the medieval concept of the
Bauhutte, the headquarters of the cathedral builders, the term Gestaltung
is old, meaningful and so nearly untranslatable that it has found its way into
English usage. Beyond the significance of shaping, forming, thinking through,
it has the flavor underlining the totality of such fashioning, whether of an artifact
or an idea. It forbids the nebulous and the diffuse. In its fullest philosophical
meaning it expresses the Platonic eidolon, the Urbild, the pre-existing form.

(4) Statement by former Dessau Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer from My


Expulsion from the Bauhaus: An Open Letter to Lord Mayor Hesse of Dessau,
published in Das Tagebuch (Berlin). Vol 11 No 33 (August 16, 1930), pp. 1307ff.
Reprinted in English in Hans Wingler, ed., The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau,
Berlin, Chicago. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1969, p. 163:
I tried to counteract the dangers of pseudo-scientific activity by strengthening
the guest lecture series and with the ridiculously low annual salary of RM 5,000
I engaged for the Bauhaus the services of personalities like O. Neurath, Vienna,
K. van Meyenburg, Basel, Dr. Dunker [sic], Berlin [is this Karl Duncker or his
father? It seems that his father, Hermann, did lecture at the Dessau Bauhaus],
Dr. H. Riedel, Dresden, Dr. R. Carnap, Freiburg, Dr. W. Dubislav, Berlin, Dr.
E. Feigl, Vienna, Dr. L. Schminke, Neukolin, Count Durkheim, Leipzig, Karel
Teige, Prague, Dr. H. Prinzhorn, Frankfort, etc. [

Not pertaining to this, but its interesting to find the names of Carnap and
Prinzhorn, who are prominent for other reasons.]
(5) There was a connection between Walter Gropius and Wolfgang Kohler,
superficial perhaps, but a connection nevertheless, as stated in Brett King and
Michael Wertheimer, Max Wertheimer and Gestalt Theory. NJ: Transaction
Pub lishers, 2005, p. 181:
Following his success [his design of the Fagus factory] and the First World War,
he [Gropius] began undertaking specific actions to establish the Bauhaus school.
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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

Among the colleagues who he consulted about his plans was Wilhelm Kohler,
director of a Weimar museum and brother of Wolfgang Kohler. Walter Scheidig,
Weimar Crafts of the Bauhaus 1919-1924. NY: Reinhold, 1967.

(6) Wassily Kandinsky talked about Gestalt theory in his Bauhaus lectures, as
stated in Paul Overy, Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye (New York: Praeger,
1970), p. 49. Regarding this, the following statement appears in Rainer K. Wick,
Teaching at the Bauhaus. Hatje Cantz 2000, p. 222:
According to an oral communication from Kurt Kranz on 19 January 1981
(Kranz was a student at the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933), Kandinsky frequently
mentioned in his course the names of the main representatives of the school of
Gestalt psychology. He always made it clear, however, that the results of Gestalt
psychology were merely a confirmation of his own earlier findings.

Bauhaus in Israel: Front of a hotel on Dizengoff Square, in which one of the first cinemas of
Tel Aviv was located Wolfgang Krammer 2012

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In contrast to this, Wick also states: Despite the similarities [between Gestalt
theory and Bauhaus teaching philosophy], however, no points of contact have
been determined that speak to a more direct dependence of Kandinsky on
Gestalt psychology or of a dependence on the parts of Kohler or other Gestalt
psychologists on Kandinskys theory of design (p. 211).
(7) In 1927, while working as a writer for Die Weltbuhne, Rudolf Arnheim
went to the Dessau Bauhaus one weekend, and wrote an essay on the buildings
architectural form, which was subsequently published as Das Bauhaus in
Dessau. He and I corresponded several times each month for more than ten
years, and when I asked him about connections between the Gestaltists and the
Bauhaus, he didnt believe there were any. When he visited the Dessau Bauhaus,
he told me in a letter, it was summer and nobody, either famous or infamous,
was around that I recall. In 1997, Rudi gave me a new English translation of
his original German essay, and it was freshly published in the New York graphic
design magazine PRINT in the same year, with my introduction.
I hope this is of interest.
Best, Roy Behrens

Bauhaus in Israel: Balcony in an apartment house in Tel Aviv - Wolfgang Krammer 2010
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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

Michael Wertheimer on 26 July 2011


One more thought on this matter: Apparently Paul Klee explicitly used some of
the figures in Wertheimers 1923 paper on the organization of perception in his
own paintings, as described by Marianne Teuber. This appears to have occurred
in several Klee paintings during the 1930s, perhaps most clearly in his 1937
painting Blue Night. See, e.g., pages 158, 181, and 397 in King and W Max
Wertheimer and Gestalt Theory, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers,
2005/2009.
Regards to all.
Michael Wertheimer
William Huff on 26 July 2011
To all,
The email of Roy Behrens of 26. July and emails from others have contributed a
lot of good information.
It is interesting to see Eck Neuman quoted here. He was a classmate of mine at
the Hochschule fr Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm in 1956-57. He did a wonderful
job in interviewing almost all of the surviving Bauhusler, after his one year at
the HfG.
I am reminded that the Bauhaus was not a single-minded entity (as many take it
to be). It was dynamic: from Itten at the beginning (who brought his version of
Expressionism) to Moholy at mid-course (who came with his version of Russian
Constructivism) to Albers at the end (who was there from near the beginning as a
senior student and by its end had become one of its greatest teachers and greatest
influences). Albers was a proud man who had his quirks. He was very quick to
tell you about who was phony (in his mind), but seldom who was relevant. (He
has written a few nice words about Cezanne, for instance; and I am certain that
he respected Klee, though he was going in a different direction from Klee) In
fact, I believe that Albers felt that he had to distinguish himself in respect to all of
the other Bauhaus Masters. For instance, his big contribution at the Bauhaus was
paper-folding. Kandinsky (psychological expression of color) and Klee (theory of
color) already covered color, so I believe that Albers did not dare to go into color
there in competition to his former Masters. But after he left the Bauhaus and
went to Black Mountain, N.C., he burst out with his teaching of the interaction
of color (i.e., perception of color). I have already mentioned that you will find
Albers briefly but specifically citing Gestalt in some of his later writings.
Two anecdotes:
(1) From 2 to 6 December 1957 (after my year at the HfG), Albers was a guest
visitor for a week (five days) for the first year class in Architecture at the Carnegie
Institute of Technology (CIT) in Pittsburgh and gave three or four public lectures
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(which are all in his Search versus Re-Search, Trinity Press). I was permitted by
Paul Schweikher, Head of Architecture at CIT, (as well as Albers, himself) to audit
Alberss class (for unfortunately, I had not taken advantage of taking a class from
Albers when he came to Yale as Head of the Art Department around 1950). It so
happened that Gropius had come to Pittsburgh during this same week to give a
public lecture (on Japanese architecture) at the Carnegie Museum (not CIT). There
was little contact, if any meeting at all, of the two during these days; Schweikher
arranged the social events around Albers (which usually included me), but did not
include Gropius. However, one day, I believe on Wed., 4 Dec., Gropius came to
CIT for an informal talk with students (before his formal evening lecture); this
talk was held in the very large drafting room where all the students had their work
stations, excepting for the first year students. Albers was in a smaller room, yet a
large room in itself, with the first year students, where I was auditing him. Albers
probably somehow sensed that Gropius was around. Suddenly in the middle of
his criticism of a first year students design, he paused, then, said: Excuse me, I
must say this: Gropius never understood the Bauhaus. Some time later during
that afternoon, I went into the large studio room where Gropius was talking to
the rest of the architecture students. At one point, Gropius paused and said, I
understand that--though I have not yet seen him--my good friend Josef Albers is
here. I have to say this: Josef Albers was the best teacher at the Bauhaus.
(2) I witnessed Albers teaching at Carnegie, as mentioned, and a number of times
at Yale, when I occasionally visited there after I had finished my studies. During
his class, he would often critique a students work in regard to his/her treatment
of the figure in respect to the ground. And he would make such a presentation
about this matter in such a way, that one could believe (if one did not know
better) that Albers was discovering the Figure-Ground Principle (and potential
for ambiguity} in that room at that very moment. No, he would not credit Gestalt
in these moments. In this, he was (in his own words--and pronunciation) a bit
of a Schwindler.
William Huff
William Huff on 6 August 2011
To all:
I was going through other material today, and I found this oft repeated dictum
of Albers. It was one of a list of his dictums. And this one is probably his most
important one. He often also said a variation: Difference of what is factual and
what is actual.
I am sure one would like to know how far back it goes, but at least to his Black
Mountain days.

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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

The origin of art: The discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect.[1]
________________________________________
[1] Albers, Search versus Re-Search, Trinity Press, 10.

William
William Huff on 8 August 2011
To the group,
I just remembered that the Albers Foundation might have something to add.
None of this may be too new, but it helps confirm other references.
William
Brenda Danilowitz on 8 August 2011
Dear William:
Fred Horowitz has written quite a bit about Albers and Gestalt in our Book: Josef
Albers: To Open Eyes. I am pretty sure you have the book, but maybe not.
Anyway it seems that Albers did attend von Durkheims lectures at the Bauhaus,
but I dont believe he ever referred to Gestalt directly in his teaching [that would
be entirely characteristic], though he employed the principles widely.
Below is some of the information culled from Freds footnotes. Hope this helps.
Best
Brenda
[1] Rudolf Arnheim is confident that Albers was quite aware of Gestalt
psychology,
particularly since his very concept of the interaction of things, composition
and interaction, is what he got from Gestalt psychology. And whether he knew
anybody in person of our group in Berlin, Im not sure. But he probably read the
books which were all around at that time.

Albers invited Arnheim to New Haven to address the art students at Yale.
Introducing Arnheim to a large audience, Albers playfully said, so many of
you quote Mr. Arnheim that I got sick and tired of it, and thought we might as
well get it over with. So, here he is. Arnheim recalls the introduction as just
perfectly beautiful. Nobody had ever done anything like that for me. Arnheim,
interview, 9 September 1995.
Karl Duncker, from Wolfgang Khlers Psychological Institute of the University
of Berlin, gave a lecture and demonstration at the Bauhaus in 1929. Count
Karlfried von Drckheim, from the University of Leipzig, presented a series
of lectures on Gestalt in 1930-1931. Albers informed art historian Marianne
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L. Teuber that hed attended most of Drkheims lectures. Teuber, telephone


interview, 31 July 1998.
According to Alvin Eisenman, who headed the Graphic Design program at
Yale, Albers knew the names of all the Gestaltists. He talked about [Max]
Wertheimers book all the time, and very frequently quoted from it.... He knew
that stuff cold. He could tell you the page numbers of the patterns. Telephone
interviews, 20 February 2000 and 12 February 2001.
[1] Visual experience is dynamic. What a person or animal perceives is not
only an arrangement of objects, of colors and shapes, of movements and sizes.
It is, perhaps first of all, an interplay of directed tensions. These tensions are not
something the observer adds, for reasons of his own, to static images. Rather,
these tensions are as inherent in any percept as size, shape, location, or color.
Because they have magnitude and direction, these tensions can be described
as psychological forces. Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception (Berkeley: The
University of California Press, 1974), 11.

[1] Citing Paul Overys Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye (New York, Praeger,
1970), Rainer K. Wick notes that
whether or not Kandinsky read the writings of the leading Gestalt psychologists
in the twenties (i.e., Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Khler, and Kurt Koffka),
Overy proceeds from the hypotheses [sic] that these ideals were constant topics
of discussion in the intellectual atmosphere of the Bauhaus. Wick, Teaching
at the Bauhaus [Bauhaus-Pdagogik, 1982] (Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Publishers,
2000. Updated and substantially revised edition, with additional text by Gabriele
Diana Grawe), 200.

Wick adds:
According to an oral communication from Kurt Kranz on 19 January 1981
(Kranz was a student at the Bauhaus from 1930 to 1933), Kandinsky frequently
mentioned in his course the names of the main representatives of the school of
Gestalt psychology. He always made it clear, however, that the results of Gestalt
psychology were merely a confirmation of his own earlier findings. Wick,
Teaching, note 77, 222.

Marianne L. Teuber demonstrates that psychological patterns used in the


investigations of Gestaltists Max Wertheimer and Wilhelm Fuchs, published in
1923, found their way into Paul Klees preliminary course at the Bauhaus, and
eventually, into his paintings, and notes that Albers explored forms based on
Wertheimers illustrations of overlapping shapes and their illusion of transparency
while at the Bauhaus and later. Teuber, Blue Night by Paul Klee, in Mary
Henle, ed., Vision and Artifact, (New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1976),
131-151. Commenting that Klees lecture in Jena in 1924, later published as On
Modern Art, (Faber and Faber, London, 1948), relies in part on Gestalt ideas,
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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

Teuber suggests that Albers could certainly have been introduced to Gestalt by
Klee. Teuber, telephone interview, 31 July, 1998.
Brenda Danilowitz
Chief Curator, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
88 Beacon Road, Bethany, CT 06524
danilowitz@albersfoundation.org
www.albersfoundation.org
Roy Behrens on 8 August 2011
To all-I have been wanting to say to William Huff that I have greatly enjoyed the notes
he sent out about the Bauhaus and Gestalt theory. His memories of Albers are
simply wonderful, as was that delightful saying about Difference of what is
factual and what is actual.
Albers apparently liked to play with words, as I also remember a story about he
and Anni taking a walk at Black Mountain College and his asking her, when
they saw a sign that said pasture, if that was the opposite of future.
These most recent notes from the Albers Foundation are also quite interesting.
My own sense is that, while there may have been talk about Gestalt theory at
the Bauhaus (and it does seem certain that von Durckheim lectured on the
subject there), there didnt have to be, because the concepts that were common
to both Bauhauslers and Gestaltists can be traced to earlier influences that
would have been widely known to both. For example, its more likely that Albers
was influenced by French chemist Michel-Eugene Chevreuls research of the
simultaneous contrast of color in the mid 19th Century. Albers called these
color effects interactions, but what more persuasive examples are there of the
synergistic notion that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
In 1964, when I studied in California with Weimar Bauhaus master potter
Marguerite (Friedlander) Wildenhain, she too sounded as if she were a Gestaltist,
but she never uttered the word, nor does it occur in her writings. Nine years later, in
her autobiography (The Invisible Core: A Potters Life and Thoughts) she revealed
that her insight had come from reading Taoist philosophy, especially the Tao Te
Ching by Lao-tze. In particular, she quotes a famous passage in which Lao-tze
states (paraphrasing of course) that the form of the wheel is not in the spokes, but
in the space between the spokes, that the form of the pot is not in its walls, but
in the space between the walls. Pertaining to this, a brilliant Chinese professor of
mine once said that, to a Taoist, the most important part of golf is the hole.
A wealth of Asian ideas like these were widely known in the US and Europe in
the latter decades of the 19th Century, through the influence of Japonisme, the
Aesthetic Movement, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. One of the first and
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GESTALT THEORY, Vol. 34, No.1

perhaps the most influential book on this was Arthur Wesley Dows Composition.
In 1998, I tried to talk about all of this in an essay titled Art, Design and
Gestalt Theory, which was published in Leonardo (MIT Press) and can now
be read online at <http://www.leonardo.info/isast/articles/behrens.html>. Some
of these same influences are discussed in minute detail in an astonishing book
by Kevin Nute, called Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan. Finally, I believe that
another influence on both the Bauhaus and the Gestaltists were the kindergarten
teaching innovations of Friedrich Froebel. For much more detail on this, see
Norman Brostermans Inventing Kindergarten.
Best,
Roy Behrens
Lothar Spillmann on 8 August 2011
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I am amazed at the wealth of information supplied by all of you and the highly
interesting anecdotal material that surfaced once the discussion got going. I wish
somebody would take the collective correspondence of this group and forge it
into a brief article that could be published in Leonardo, Gestalt Theory or any
other appropriate journal.
In this way readers who were not privileged to participate in this exchange of
ideas and memories would benefit. Marianne Teuber would have liked that, and
her son Andreas, a philosopher at Brandeis, could be asked to add to it and
comment.
I am two days away from my departure for Davis, CA, and therefore will keep
any suggestions brief. But I will follow the discourse among you experts and
continue to enjoy the delightful insights that arose from my initial inquiry to Prof.
Stemberger some weeks ago. It is wonderful to see how quickly representatives of
various fields got together and engaged in a most constructive and entertaining
discussion. E-mail makes it possible.
Kind regards,
Lothar
William Huff on 8 August 2011
Roy and all,
Thanks for your remarks, You bring up new memories.
We forgot in these discussions till now about Chevreul. I never heard of Chevreul
at Yale, but I was introduced to Chevreul by Bauhusler Nonn-Schmidt at Ulm.
The Nonne married Joost Schmidt and knew Albers all the way back to Berlin.
Unfortunately, they were not friends, which is a different story. I cannot make
any more definitive, direct contacts between the Bauhaus and knowledge of
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Discussion Gestalt theory and Bauhaus - A Correspondence

Chevreul, but we can read between the lines. Also, Albers loved the Goethe
color triangle with the three primaries, three secondaries of the first order, and
three tertiaries of the first order, which he put on his abbreviated publication of
Interaction. I dont know if Klee mentions Chevreul in The Thinking Eye
or the second companion volume because there is no index; and today, I do not
have the time to scan.
The story about the Pasture is great.
About the Lao-tzu quote: I believe that was well known at the Bauhaus. I may
have heard it first from Gropius. This is, of course, Chinese, but many Masters in
the early days dealt with Zorastrianism (more mystical). Albers has his own way
of saying the Lao-tzu thing--in fact, two ways. (1) He would say that music isnt
so much the notes, or the beats, or the differences of timbre and crescendo, but
he would say that it was the interval between two tones, etc. In fact, he would
say that all music is structured on these four intervals. (2) he would hold up two
fingers, then slowly bring the two fingers together until the space between his
two parallel finger was the same width as his two fingers, then he would say:
One and one is three.
If I am correct Marguerite Wildenhain did not go to Dessau, because pottery
did not go to Dessau. But I would think that Taoism would have been contrary
to Ittens theosophy. Franz W. lived in Rochester, near my Univ. at Buffalo. A
friend who gave me a miniature mug by Franz was going to introduce me to him,
but he died before that was set up; in fact, I was to have got an introduction for
Eck Neuman with him. I had a few letters from Marguerite about the early days,
which I have given out special collections at UB.
Oh yes, Ittens big formal issue was contrast; but his contrast is not as rich as
Alberss intervals.
William
PS I like Lothars suggestion.
Roy Behrens on 8 August 2011
Thats great. Heres a brief addition to Williams observations about intervals:
In recent years I have been showing my graphic design students a terrific
documentary called Helvetica at <http://www.amazon.com/Helvetica-DavidCarson/dp/B000VWEFP8/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=131283871
9&sr=1-1>. In it there are excerpts from an interview with Italian-born designer
Massimo Vignelli. My favorite moment is when he points to a sheet of paper on
which he had drawn some letters, and says: Typography is not the letters. It is
the space between the letters.
Best
Roy Behrens
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GESTALT THEORY, Vol. 34, No.1


Roy R. Behrens, teaches graphic design, illustration, and design history at the University of Northern Iowa,
USA. Member of the Advisory Board of Gestalt Theory Journal.
Brenda Danilowitz, Chief curator of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany, Connecticut, USA.
William S. Huff, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA.
Lothar Spillmann, Prof. Dr., till 2005 head of the Visual Psychophysics Laboratory, Brain Research Unit,
at Freiburg University, Germany, teaches now at China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan ROC.
Member of the Advisory Board of Gestalt Theory Journal.
Gerhard Stemberger , Dr., sociologist, psychotherapist in Vienna, Executiv Editor of Gestalt Theory Journal.
Michael Wertheimer, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Member of the Advisory
Board of Gestalt Theory Journal.

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