Psychology of Art 2001

Psychology of Art

Psychology 397

Fall 2001


William M. Mace
Office: Life Sciences 212A
Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday10:00 – 10:50 a.m.; Thursday 1:30 – 2:30; and by Appointment
Phone: X2343
E-Mail: william.mace

Required Reading

  • From Bookstore
    • Gombrich, E. H. Art and Illusion
    • Gibson, James J. Readings from The Web (linked on the syllabus).
    • Weschler, L. Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees
    • World Wide Web items as indicated on the daily schedule below

    What’s in this syllabus and what’s to come:


    Grades will be based on papers and short homework exercises. There will be 4 (not too long) papers during the term, one longer final paper, and 3 to 5 exercises, as the occasions arise.

    Fifteen percent (15%) of your grade will be based on class participation. Class participation includes attendance, your serious engagement with the issues in class discussions, and conscientious work on the exercises.


    Reading for this course is extremely important. The core reading E. H. Gombrich’s book, Art and Illusion, is interesting and provocative. It should make you think about a great deal that you have not thought about before. For the reading to work its magic, you have to cooperate by giving it substantial hunks of time. When you get a “reading” assignment, the goal is for you to have learned the material in the reading, not just to have passed your eyes over each page once or twice. To emphasize this,for the first several assignments, I did not say simply “read” but “read, learn and digest.” You ought to approach any reading assignment this way, but sometimes people do not, so I’ll say it more explicitly and more often.

    There are 29 pages in chapter 1 of Gombrich. The chapter, called “Psychology and the Riddle of Style,” is divided into six sections with Roman Numeral headings. There are 61 paragraphs. Some of the paragraphs are short transitions to the others. Some are long and dense with information. For carefully presented and argued material like this, it is not unreasonable to guess that an average of 5 minutes per paragraph is minimal to get what you need to get. If we round the number of paragraphs to 60, then we’re talking 300 minutes already for the chapter. How long is that? How many minutes in an hour? Good. So how many hours? That’s not counting the pictures. The topics at hand concern what can be seen in pictures, so the pictures in the book are there to make a point. You need to look carefully at the pictures, see what you see, and understand what the point is meant to be. Do they succeed in making the point for you? There are only 4 pictures in Chapter 1. What are they? Why are they there? Integrating those into your understanding takes some more time. Putting it all together, I’d say that 6 hours is a reasonable beginning for the amount of time to allocate to chapter 1.

    Questions as important as answers

    Sometimes students approach a course as a source of answers, thinking that the goal of a course is to teach students what experts know about a topic. The surprise for students is that what they often find is that much of a course is about what experts ASK about a topic. Much of any discipline involves learning how people package their questions in order to make progress. The questions you have when you are not an expert don’t necessarily lead to answers that look like they address the question you had.

    Consider Chapter 1. The title is “Psychology and the Riddle of Style.” A riddle is a kind of question, so we’re already orienting to questions. Because that’s the main topic, you ought to start reading, thinking to yourself “What is the riddle of style?” or even, “Can there be more than one riddle of style?” And, “what does Gombrich think the Riddle of Style is?” So you don’t just plunge in, but you plunge in knowing some of what you have to look for. In past classes, I have asked students, AFTER several class sessions, and AFTER doing the reading, what the Riddle of Style was to Gombrich. The reply of some was a list of styles. But I didn’t ask what some styles were or even what was meant by style. I asked, with Gombrich, what the “Riddle of Style” was. You cannot appreciate the riddle of style without good examples in mind, but those examples are not themselves what the question asks.

    The first sentence says “The illustration in front of the reader should explain much more quickly than I could in words what is here meant by the “riddle of style.” See — Gombrich directly addressed the main point right from the beginning — but he also asked you to look at the first Figure. So you have to look at the Figure. Do you get the joke? Is it funny to you? If so, why? Gombrich’s second sentence says how important the cartoon is as an illustration of what he’ll get to, then he asks a question. Gombrich asks SIX questions in the first paragraph, and SEVEN in section I. You’ve got to stop and think about each question in order. (1)”Why is it that different ages and different nations have represented the visible world in such different ways?” Does that sink in as a real question? Can you think of some possible answers? At least to illustrate what the question is about?

    What I’m try to do here is to alert you to the level of detail to be grasped and the tempo required to grasp it. If you do that, then you’ll participate well in class and write your papers at the correct level.

James Gibson’s Purple Perils (ONLINE SLIDESHOW)

To stay on schedule, you should complete the reading listed for a given class day by that day.

Bring the Reading for the Day to Class! We discuss the material in class and you need to have quotations to read and pictures to look at.

Schedule of Classes


The Limits of Likeness

Class 1 September 4 Examples of Styles (ONLINE SLIDESHOW) Introduction to Course — including the World Wide Web.

Attend Picasso Show at the Atheneum, Thursday, Sept. 13!

Class 2 September 6 Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Introduction: Psychology and the Riddle of Style Introduction to the scope of visual arts. Experiences in art. Role of the observer. Who can see what and when?
Alain cartoon Overview of issues, Gombrich style. Some more Egyptian Art (BROKEN LINK)
 Class 3 September 11  Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 1  From light into paint
Wivenhoe Park
— directly from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Pictures with light sources (ONLINE SLIDESHOW)
Tutorial on Light
 Class 4 September 13  Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 2
Check this out from Science, Sept. 5, 1997
 Truth and Stereotype5:30 [5:00 shuttle] Attend Picasso Show at Wadsworth Atheneum
 Function and Form
 Class 5 September 18  Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 3  Pygmalion’s power
Part of Plato’s REPUBLIC (Book X) cited in GombrichAssignment number 1To follow up some class discussion, see the website of J. S. G. Boggs
 Class 6 September 20  Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 4  Reflections on the Greek Revolution
Class 7 September 25 Read, Learn and Digest: Gombrich — Chapter 5 Formula and Experience

Assignment Number 1 Due

The Beholder’s Share
 Class 8 September 27  Begin Gombrich — Chapter 6  The image in the Clouds
Mondrian Trees. Gombrich touches on Mondrian in Chapter XI, but we might as well link it here because it came up in class. I’ve placed a more general source about Mondrian on the list above.
 Class 9 October 2  Video (Robert Morris)  Albers Drawing Lesson
 Class 10 October 4  Read: Gombrich — Chapter 7  Conditions of Illusion

Neon Color Spreading

Assignment 2

 Class 11 October 11  Read: Gombrich — Chapter 8
Gibson Readings: Selections 1 – 3
 Gibson on what lines can do
Gibson’s Psychology of Representation
Gibson’s 1972 revised theory of picturesAmbiguities of the Third DimensionAssignment 2 DueA Canaletto for analysis
Beginning analysis
 Class 12 October 16  Continue: Gombrich — Chapter 8
Gibson Readings: Selections 1 – 3
 Ambiguities of the Third Dimension
Vermeer’s “the Music Lesson”
Another Canaletto
Canaletto analyzed”
Hogarth’s ‘False Perspective’
Anamorphic art (BROKEN LINK)
 Class 13 October 18
 Invention and Discovery
Class 14 October 23 Read: Gombrich — Chapter 9 Analysis of vision in artContinue “Analysis of Vision” and Gibson readings on Web
Here is the Magritte picture, Les Promenades d’Euclide from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
 Class 15 October 25  Read: Gombrich — Chapter 10  The experiment of caricature
David Levine caricature (BROKEN LINK)
 Class 16 October 30  Read: Gombrich Chapter 11  From Representation to Expression
 Class 17 November 1  Read: Weschler Chapters 1 – 5  Past NY Dia exhibit (BROKEN LINK): Robert Irwin
Irwin at UCSD
 Class 18 November 6  Read: Weschler Chapters 1 – 5  Irwin Video


handed out.

 Class 19 November 8  Read: Weschler — Chapters 6 – 9
 Class 20 November 13  Read: Weschler — Chapters 6 – 9
 Class 21 November 15  Read: Weschler — Chapters 10 – 13
 Class 22 November 20  Read:Adcock Intro to Turrell

Read: Turrell Net Readings
See also links at end of this schedule

 James Turrell and Light
 Class 23 November 27  Read: Turrell Net Readings

Martin Herbert Interview

 Class 24 November 29  Read:

Turrell skyspace
From Le Magazine
The Skystone Foundation–no less.
The actual Roden Crater site site

 Final Assignment
 Class 25 December 4  Read: When is a painting finished? Paul Gardner in ArtNews, November, 1985
Class 26 December 6