Donnerstag, 28. September 2023

What is the ‘Gestalt’ in art?

Wassily Kandinksy, Komposition VI, 1913, oil on canvas, 195 x 300 cm @wikicommons

‘One is frightened by the poverty, the drought, the remoteness from life, by the utter insignificance of everything that is said about it’[1] [own transl.], is how Max Wertheimer, a co-founder of the Berlin School of Gestalt theory, described the basic problem of the scientific approach to a ‘living event’ in a 1924 lecture[2]. He advocated a psychological approach focusing on the ‘inside of the problem’ instead of abstracting. In this way he advocated for abolishing the radical separation of science and life. 

The ‘Gestalt theory’, of which he was a representative, can be traced back to an essay by the philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels: ‘Über Gestaltqualitäten’ (1890)[3] [on the qualities of Gestalten, own transl.]. Von Ehrenfels defined Gestalt as a "wholeness" to which certain Gestalt qualities were attributed, which "are neither to be found in constituent parts nor can be reduced to these parts"[4].  Aristotle’s well known words: "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"[5] [own transl.] describes the synergetic combination of individual parts in the sense of Gestalt theory and was subsequently used by Gestalt theorists such as Wolfgang Köhler[6].  In the scholarly works of one of Köhler’s students, Rudolf Arnheim, Gestalt theory is applied to the image or artwork and the Aristotelian definition is extended by a dynamic notion. Arnheim defines the ‘Gestalt’ as "a field made of equal forces that are organised in a self-sufficient whole."[7]  [own transl.]
These forces originate in the object itself, which in the case of a work of an artwork refers to its material qualities. According to Arnheim, these are, for example, the grain of the wood or the thickness of the oil paint. However, since the artist prefers "amorphous material", which can only be perceived visually, the artwork is classified by Arnheim as a "weak Gestalt"[8].  That is, "[...] that art exists only as psychological experience [...]"[9] [own transl.]. External forces, which are synaesthetic effects, penetrate the organism (the "Gestalt") and disturb the balance, according to Arnheim.[10]

Looking at 'Composition VI' (1913) by Kandinsky above exemplifies how a painting can disturb the 'balance' and create a visual language, potentially resonating with our perception.

[1] „Man erschrickt vor der Armut, der Dürre, der Lebensferne, vor dem völlig Unwesentlichen alles dessen, was dazu gesagt wird.“ Max Wertheimer: Über Gestaltpsychologie.  


[2] Ibid.

[3] ‚Über Gestaltqualitäten‘

[4] „weder in Bestandteilen anzutreffen sind noch auf diese Teile reduziert werden können.“ Günter Brucher u. Wassily Kandinsky: Kandinsky, S. 129–130.

[5] „das Ganze ist mehr als die Summe seiner Teile“ Aristoteles: Metaphysik 1041 b 10 (VII. Buch (Z))

[6] Ibid., S. 130.

[7] „ein Feld, dessen Kräfte in einem in sich geschlossenen und gleichwertigen Ganzen organisiert sind.“ Günter Brucher u. Wassily Kandinsky: Kandinsky. Wege zur Abstraktion. 1999, S.10.

[8] Rudolf Arnheim: Gestaltpsychologie und künstlerische Form. In: Theorien der Kunst. Hrsg. von Dieter 

    Henrich u. Wolfgang Iser. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1992. S. 132–148.

[9] „[…] daß die Kunst nur als psychologische Erfahrung existiert […]“ Ibid.

[10] Günter Brucher u. Wassily Kandinsky: Kandinsky, S. 10.

Mittwoch, 30. Dezember 2020

How arts challenge the relation of labour and leisure

Verena Niepel, oil on canvas, Istanbul, 2019

"I feel so bored during the holidays, I want to check my e-mails, but I am not allowed to." (Anonymous friend)

- Since we have all been forced to slow down these days, the meaning of 'holidays' and 'leisure time' seems to have shifted.

To begin with shedding light on the critical relation between leisure time and labour time, let’s take a look back to pre-industrial era, when family life and work, i.e. by keeping a farm, was inseparable.  Then, industrial regimes introduced a system of measurement in order to structure labour and leisure time and increase financial outcome which further developed into new forms of exploitation. [1] As a result, workers began to fight for more self-determined leisure time - Karl Marx as the voice of the working class regarded leisure as a space for the “full development of the individual”. [2]

Facing the development of an entertainment industry in the United States during the early twentieth century another anti-capitalist, Theodor Adorno, took a more critical perspective on the creation and commercialization of leisure time since it had been absorbed by the ‘culture industry’. [3] 

Advertisements for cigarette brands that link leisure time with buying products which would harm your health exemplify the paradoxical relation of business and private space. One delicate example is the "Fatima" poster from 1914, which promises 'exotic' pleasure while smoking the "Turkish-blend". [4]

The tobacco industry used visual design to convince people of a certain brand and like this, creative work became part of the process in which the economy increasingly focused on individuals as consumers. Companies strategically mapped out the potential of private life as areas of consumption while mis-recognizing its value as a space of independence, freedom and equality.

However, creative work can be a way to criticize the reconfiguration of private life into capitalistic units that can be analyzed and determined by others. Artists find ways to access and reflect experiences through their work which is not produced to satisfy certain needs but to open new perspectives – at least in an ideal world. Certainly, art and capital cannot be thought separately since artists depend on institutions, agents and other collective structures. [5] Still art works can shed light on the relation between work and private life.

Pop art is an example of a critical approach towards working processes and how they change our everyday lives. The art tendency has often been misunderstood as an ingratiation of mass production but the exhibition of art works that were known from daily life, like the popular cans by Andy Warhol were meant to show how an institutional context changes the meaning of things. [6] In the case of Warhol’s cans, products of mass production are no longer connected to work but reconfigured as an object of aesthetical perception. Like that they are can be enjoyed in leisure time, strolling through a gallery while not thinking about the working conditions related to the production of a cheap canned tomato soup.

Let’s take another contemporary example which relates to work and leisure more explicitly and focusses on effects of work on the psychological state of people. The short movie “Palace” by Luke Seomore & Joseph Bull is shot in London and follows a young paramedic after his shift before returning home. The pictures and the sound show how his state of mind is affected significantly by his work - hours after he finished. [7]

Not only since Covid-19, the fine line separating work time and leisure time became blurry and a clear demarcation seems to be missing. Only by reminding ourselves of our values we can keep track of what is important and why we do what we do. Art can help against forgetting how our lives are determined by systems, processes and decisions by others.

[1] Eva Swidler (2016, June 13). Radical Leisure. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from

[2] Karl Marx on Free Time – Time for the Full Development of the Individual. (2017, October 04). Retrieved December 30, 2020, from

[3] Admin. (2015, August 06). Theodor Adorno -. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from

[4] Werbung: Lungenkrebs?! Ach was! - Bilder & Fotos - WELT. (2014, January 10). Retrieved December 30, 2020, from

[5] Jen Webb, Tony Schirato, Geoff Danaher (2002). Art and Artists. In: Webb, J. Schirato, T. & Danaher, G. (eds.) Understanding Bourdieu. New York (NY): Allen and Unwin.

[6] Von Breven, J., 2020. Besser, man kauft ein T-Shirt. ZEIT, p.49. 

[7] Bull, L.S.& J., 2020. PALACE. Vimeo. Available at: [Accessed December 30, 2020].

Freitag, 23. Oktober 2020

Doing a job outside of academia during pandemics

Doing a job outside of academia during pandemics makes me realize that it is not just me doing lonely desk work.

After working on my academic project about the formation of an art scene in Berlin I decided it was time to go to the city and experience its cultural sector from a more practical perspective. 

On the first day of my job at a renowned cultural organization in Germany’s capital, me and an intern were the only two people in the office. Everyone else was working from home to be able to do one video call after the other without disturbing colleagues.

Although I am now located in “Mitte”, a district in the middle of Berlin and am communicating with external clients every day, everything felt distanced and abstract. I was hoping that a job outside of academia would be more satisfying in this pandemic situation. I was wishing for more intimacy and to see the effects of my work immediately. 

Indeed, the distance to other people became much clearer compared to the feeling I had when I was working in my academic ‘ivory tower’. As long as I knew I had to do online or distanced fieldwork because it was an official measure and an ethical standard in my academic realm I did not even question that this distance is created artificially. I assumed it was just me and other scholars being very aware that the researcher and the subject of research cannot be the same. 

This pandemic situation, which is getting more severe again, makes borders between us more visible. I was wrong when I thought those borders were created through studying reality and the process of abstraction in a scholarly context. Those borders are existing already before I investigate them, I just make them more visible.

Donnerstag, 6. August 2020

Immersive Art: Rethinking exhibition making

There is an increase in exhibitions, which explore the opportunities technology has to offer, in recent years. This raised interesting questions surrounding the relevance of the traditional art museum experience and curating.

One could assume that exhibitions in the 'West' often aim at representing “reality”. Henrietta Lidchi argues that arranging objects a certain way creates a myth by neutralizing the motivation of the curators. Therefore, the producers of exhibitions hold symbolical power (Lidchi, 2013, p.183).   

What happens if we don’t assume that an exhibition wants to display “reality”? What if it promises the

visitor the contrary of an objective truth but offers an individual, unique experience of objects? Where once there was an artefact which would refer to a distant culture in an authentic way or a representation of reality, there is now the re-presentation which is not claiming to refer to something “real” or authentic explicitly. It rather suggests leaving space for imagination and interpretation.   This is what Wolfgang Kemp would call “the blank”, referring to literature theory, he means that “[…] works of art are unfinished in themselves in order to be finished by the beholder […]”. (Kemp, 1998: 188) In theory the idea about relocating the focus on the audience away from the author or the creator has already been established with ideas of Friedrich Hegel after 18th century aesthetics, moving away from considering art as self-explanatory (ibid.: 184)

Immersive exhibitions put the audience into focus by creating immersive experiences, hence atmospheres which trigger sensory reactions. The artwork and the beholder no longer meet on equal terms, but the relation turns into an asymmetrical equationcircling around the viewer and his or her emotions This requires curators and exhibition-makers to rethink art spaces in terms meaning-making. Speaking to the visitor in a different way through the use of new technologies means to take on new responsibilities. Although immersive experiences in the art world are still rare, curators and cultural workers will need to make space for technological tools.


Kemp, W. (1998). The Work of Art and Its Beholder: The Methodology of the Aesthetic of Reception. The subjects of art history : historical objects in contemporary perspectives. M. A. Cheetham. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 180-196. 

Lidchi, H. (1997). The Poetics and the Politics of Exhibiting other Cultures. Representation : cultural representations and signifying practices. S. Hall. London, Sage Publications Ltd.: 151-223. 

Sonntag, 21. Juni 2020

Is it justified to warn people from traveling to Turkey?

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu invites German citizens since 11th of June to cross borders, this is good news for many. Turkey is the third most favorite holiday destination for Germans and many have family members, friends and partners in Turkey. However Germany sticks to its travel warning for Turkey, is this really justified?

Of course, one immediately thinks of pandemics as good reason to be careful. Especially because
there are so many who wait to safely travel to Istanbul or Turkish coasts, it seems reasonable to prolong a travel warning. Additionally, the number of infected people rose significantly in Turkey in the last weeks since measurements regarding COVID have been seized and people can go to restaurants again for example. Turkey, just as any other 'third country', is still under Germany's travel ban. 

Italy and France on the other hand, that are not 'third countries' but contract partners are open for German citizens to spend their holiday there. Although pandemics hit both countries much harder than Turkey and the disease seems to spread again in parts of Italy, Heiko Maas declared those countries as safe. His actions seem to be paradox in recent times - thinking about his visit to Israel early June during lockdown. Even though Israels politics call for diplomatic action, a foreign minister  as an individual should act in line with his or her political decisions that concern a wider public.
Further it is surprising that the foreign ministry changed its text on the website referring not only to pandemics regarding the warning but also political circumstances. They point at the fact that many German citizens have been taken into custody arbitrarily because of assumed connections with terroristic groups and emphasize the risk for journalists who express themselves freely. This criticism is certainly justified but it should have been articulated in another place and made more clear much earlier. In my opinion, mixing health issues with a critique of another countries politics is not reasonable. 

One should think how it is perceived by Turkish and German citizens who wish to visit loved ones, but can't while others are allowed to take their families on a holiday to lie on the beach in Italy or Croatia.

Sonntag, 17. Mai 2020

No 'guestworkers' anymore - struggles for people form Turkey in Germany

Asli just moved to Berlin and auditions for a voice for the archeological museum in Berlin. After she finished her test she meets another applicant in the waiting room who tells her, that they probably want someone who recently migrated from Turkey and can speak 'proper' Turkish. Eren Aksu's short-film was screened at the Oberhausen short-film festival in May 2020 and captures the fraction and tension between newly arrived Turks and German-Turks who grew up in Germany and are part of the third or even fourth generation of the Turkish diaspora.

What are the struggles expats or immigrants from Turkey have to face nowadays? How do they feel when they are confronted with anti-muslim racism - a great paradox, because many young Turks who come to Germany in the last years are not muslim, but raised in a secular environment.

Nowadays the Turk is no longer the 'guestworker' but the 'muslim'. Especially since Thilo Sarrazin wrote his controversial book about muslim immigrants the discourse about islam as a culture and muslims spread in society and politics. Things were possible to articulate in political speech that were considered as racist before.

If someone from Turkey comes to Germany today, this person will be confronted with a newly developed form of racism against migrants in general and Turkish people in particular, because they form the largest group of people who are phenotypically different. I will explore this issue further in my work, because it is important to have a differentiated analysis of this situation and the society we live in to avoid racist and right-wing discourses in the futture.

Freitag, 15. Mai 2020

Why is not everyone hip and arty in Berlin?

Not everyone can be part of the intimate circle of Berlin's hip artist scene. That is the impression many have while exploring contemporary art in Germany's capital. But is Berlin's art scene as exclusionary as it seems or does it just present itself as such. What kind of evidence is there actually?

To establish networks is necessary for independent visual artist to form a personal brand and to be able to exhibit one's work. But is is easy for non-locals to access Berlin's art scene?
First, I want to clarify that with non-locals I don't mean specifically non-Germans but anyone who decided to come to Berlin as a creator and did not grow into this dynamic, ever-changing cultural landscape. Many networks for creative producers are formed during some kind of artistic education at one of Berlin's prestigious art schools or through residencies for example. As interviews from my previous research in this field have shown, it is hard to enter those networks as an outsider - especially coming from another country. However,  Berlin's artists seem to be open and supporting as multimedia artist Veronika Dräxler confirms who recently moved from Bavaria to Berlin.

Of course, coming from another country makes it more difficult to find access. One reason is language, but this is just a minor issue, since in Berlin it is quite easy to get along with English or even Turkish or Kurdish (My studies focus on cultural dynamics between Istanbul and Berlin). A bigger problem is the fact that you can't be an insider if your always have to deal with being an outsider. How would you pay your rent, university fees etc. if you are unable to obtain a visa and how is it possible to mingle with any scene and be productive as an artist if your mind is busy with bureaucracy and finance? Additionally being the 'Other' seems to be quite trendy in multicultural, diverse Berlin.

It is a vicious circle, in German: a 'Teufelskreis', as an artist with another nationality you seem to be rewarded for being different and dealing with your political, national or biological difference in your work pays off quite well. In the past many visual artists from Turkey exhibited at group shows in Berlin which carried titles like ‘Istanbul Next Wave’, relating a series of exhibitions taking place in Berlin between 2009 and 2010, ‘Fokus Istanbul’ (engl.: ‘Focus Istanbul’)  in 2005 or ‘Berlin. Istanbul. Vice. Versa’ in  2004 for example. Those exhibitions were criticized by participating artists and curators for stigmatizing the Turkish-German community (Wolbert 2011). Barabara Wolbert states, “exhibitions no longer depicted the Turks in Germany; they now represented them.” (Wolbert 2011: 17-18). Those exhibitions, curated by 'Germans' created a set of expectations towards the artists, a picture of how contemporary art from Turkey should look like in Berlin. The artists answered those expectations, first by taking part in the exhibition and then by criticizing how their works were framed. 

Towards an artist who is speaking the German language and has already established oneself as an artist within the country before coming to Berlin, this framing does not apply. German artists don't have to deal with stereotyping but still it is hard to work in the capital because finding a studio or work space is not easy. This mirrors the tense housing market of the city, which also forced the closure of many smaller art spaces in the past, where one could make contacts. Veronika tells me that for her, the easiest way to meet other like-minded people was to join workshops and go to art spaces/bars where you can easily start a conversation. Therefore, if you put yourself out there and manage to handle German bureaucracy and the housing market, Berlin proves to be quite open to creative newcomers.

Wolbert, B. (2011). "Istanbul Next Wave and Other Turkish Art Exhibits: From Governance of Culture to Governance through Culture." Transit 1(1): 250-260.