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In colloquial terms, shape means the outer shape , outline , growth or appearance of people, sculptures or living beings in general (and their representation), but also their effect and presence, for example as a "light figure". As a technical term, it is a topos of the German-speaking intellectual history that resolves the classic problem of the transition from the externally perceptible world to the inner world of imagination as a figure . In it, the activity of the action is combined with the passivity of perception to form a unity in which the transition between perception and meaning merges.

The term finally gained special importance in the 20th century through the George circle with the idea of ​​the "charismatic leader figure".



Due to its special meaning, the figure was adopted as a loan word in other languages. It was brought into English by the Jewish diaspora in 1933 with gestalt psychology and theory in the USA. Based on Edmund Husserl , the gestalt is also explained as figural moment , living form or product of organization . In French, the term also occurs with the psychologie de la forme , the gestaltisme is a combination of psychology, philosophy and biology.

History of ideas

The relationship between extramental, sensually perceivable reality and mental inner imagination represents a central epistemological problem to this day . In addition, questions of aesthetics also affect perception . The concept of gestalt transmits this problem history. Initially still a basic concept of aesthetics, it became a thoughtful and holistic category before it finally formed the basis for Gestalt theory and Gestalt psychology as a psychophysical term . The basis was the combination of form and biology as one shape .

Winckelmann and Herder

In 1725, Johann Joachim Winckelmann idealized the previously formal category of external form into an abstract and dematerialized, pure form as the epitome of the highest beauty seen in God. Winckelmann saw this in the Greek sculptures of the gods and identified the human figure as an image of the greatest beauty, precisely as a beautiful figure.

Johann Gottfried Herder reversed the outsourcing of aesthetics to divine transcendence by emphasizing the ability of sensual and physical manifestation in the visual arts as its actual depth. With a view to the sculptures of the ancient Greeks, Herder explains that

The fine arts are a constant allegory, because it forms soul through body, and two larger αλλα can probably not exist, especially if one asks the philosophers of opportunity and pre-established harmony for advice. The artist has the model of spirit, character, soul in himself and creates these flesh and bones: he thus allegories through all limbs. […] This is the soul that creates form, and where both form and soul command to deviate from the relationship gently, it cannot merely deviate, but must deviate, as in Apollo's longer thighs, in Hercules' thick neck, on bodily form it is Temple and Spirit the deity that breathes through him.

For Herder, the figure is no longer a mere intuition, but a physical depth of corporeality that can be experienced with the senses and which itself carries the breath of life within itself. The sculptures express this sensuality, "a living, a work full of soul, which is and lasts." Whose extreme expression is found in the sculpture of Pygmalion . Through Herder, the concept of gestalt gains the specification of a connecting force between the innermost soul and the external world.

Schiller and Goethe

At the end of the 18th century, Friedrich Schiller finally established the concept of gestalt in the discourse of German scholars with his letters on the aesthetic education of man . He speaks of gestalt as “a concept that includes all the formal properties of things and all their relationships to the forces of thought”, which in turn are the object of the impulse to form. This connects with the sensory instinct and becomes a living figure, "in a word, what is called beauty in the broadest sense, serves to designate". The shape is the interplay of corporeality and intention, a connection:

"By this explanation, if it were one, the beauty is neither extended to the whole area of ​​the living, nor is it merely included in this area. A marble block, although it is and remains lifeless, can therefore be made by the architect and the less living form Become a sculptor; a person, even though he lives and has form, is therefore still a long way from being a living form. This implies that his form is life and his life is form. As long as we only think about his form, it is lifeless, mere abstraction; As long as we merely feel his life it is formless, mere impression. Only when its form lives in our sensation and its life is formed in our understanding is it a living form, and this will be the case wherever we see it as judge nicely. "

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's euphoric use developed the concept of gestalt further in two directions, which were increasingly transported into the broad sciences by the intensive reception of Goethe in the fin de siècle in the 19th century , in particular by Georg Simmel's work Goethe from 1913. On the one hand, Goethe condensed the holistic implications of the term, on the other hand he transferred it to the morphology studies of his natural philosophy and thus enabled the later use of the shape in the natural sciences. In his work Von deutscher Baukunst from 1772, Goethe used the concept of gestalt to idealize the building of the Strasbourg cathedral by Erwin von Steinbach with admiration: a uniform overall composition that is present in every detail and yet penetrates the whole and is persistently pursued. At every level of observation and in every part, the shape of the whole continuously penetrates. Linguistically, Goethe connects the organic of nature with the supernatural sacred, which is created by the hand of the designer guided with divine inspiration:

"He [Steinbach] is the first from whose soul the parts, grown together into an eternal whole, emerge [...] who first created the scattered elements into a living whole. [... he] manifold the enormous wall that you go to heaven You should lead that it rise like a lofty, widespread tree of God, which with a thousand branches, millions of twigs and leaves like the sand by the sea all around the area proclaims the glory of the Lord his Master. [...] A whole, great impression filled mine Soul that, because it consisted of a thousand harmonious details, I could taste and enjoy, but by no means recognize and explain. They say that it is therefore with the joys of heaven, and how often have I returned, this heavenly-earthly joy to enjoy embracing the gigantic spirit of our elder brothers in their works.How often have I returned to see from all sides, from all distances, in every light of the day his dignity and glory. "

In the morphological investigations he phenomenologically records the biological processes of plants, animals and humans with the concept of shape and at the same time expressly targets atomistic methods - the addition of separate considerations of the functioning of individual components to a whole - of the natural sciences. His investigations focus on the original plant, a

"Harmonia Plantarum which illuminates the Linnaean system in the most beautiful way, resolves all disputes about the shape of the plants, even explains all monsters ... the general formula ... [which] can be applied to all plants. I can already use the most idiosyncratic shapes, e . Explain Passiflora, Arum, and put them in parallel with each other. "

The law of the genesis of forms on which such a biological original form is based should be equally applicable to aesthetics and nature. The contained aesthetic tradition of the shape was extended to the nature: the natural is the beautiful, the living form of which becomes visible as shape and the parts of which grow as a unified whole. Any shape is denied to the unattractive.

The morphology describes the sequence of changes as a historical process from the original shape to the current genotype. The original characters are better, purer and of higher quality than their images. For Goethe, recognizing the primeval figures is what distinguishes genius. Gestalt seeers recognize the original, the archetypes, they grasp the whole as a whole and derive the legitimation for their own artistic design from this inspiration. The gestalt seer himself is integrated into the concept of gestalt, he is emphasized as a person and has himself become a special figure. The viewer, aesthetics, nature and history are combined in the concept of shape.

Transition into the 20th century

Through the shift away from the aesthetic description towards the evaluation of originality and purity, the concept of gestalt gained a dramatic socio-ethical dimension. Goethe's morphologies became applicable to humans through the simultaneous development of the theory of evolution . The aesthetic standard now also measures the biological appearance of the human being: Beauty becomes an expression of closeness to the primeval forms and to the origin; through this proximity a purity and an ethical appreciation are derived. In addition, the interplay between inside and outside contained in the concept of gestalt - previously in the sculptures of the Greeks - is applied to humans as a physiognomy: character and physique are directly linked to one another and the mind is inferred from the physical structure. A claim to leadership within the social hierarchy is derived from superiority, a preliminary stage of the theory of superman and racial ideology .

The closeness to the primordial figures qualifies as a genius, a seer and prophet or a poet with a claim to a charismatic leadership role. This took place exemplarily around the person of the German poet Stefan George .

At the same time, a philosophical movement shaped by Franz Brentano developed , which used the concept of gestalt to deal with issues relating to the physiology of perception. It represents one of the essential transitions from philosophy to psychology, carried forward by the work of the Brentano student Carl Stumpf and his founding of the Berlin School of Psychology .


Entrance to psychology

The emergence of psychology at the end of the 19th century was largely due to the debilitation of theological theories:

“Fired by the groundbreaking successes of the natural sciences, psychology grew out of an attempt to reconcile the old knowledge of human experience and behavior with the new knowledge. The scientific self-image significantly shaped the methods, the advances in physiology, medicine and physics became the theoretical basis on which psychological research was built. The debilitation of theological models rejected all teleological theories of action, especially the works of Darwin and Haeckel forced a new view of the human being as an active being. Rudolf Virchow put this in a nutshell: “I've operated on hundreds of people and never found a soul. It meant the reversal of the motives for action: the previously external motives for action of salvation and redemption were placed inward, the source of action from then on lay in the opaque inner processes of soul life, accompanied by instincts and drives beyond consciousness. "

In the German-speaking countries, alongside the Viennese psychoanalysis around Sigmund Freud and the Leipzig school around Wilhelm Wundt, there was above all the Berlin school around Carl Stumpf, which was instrumental in drawing on and developing the concept of gestalt. This term was used to explain complex perceptual phenomena, the relationship between inside and outside and the relationship between the whole and its parts. In the zeitgeist of the fin de siècle , however, this required a scientific foundation. This offered Christian von Ehrenfels as Carl Stumpf , Brentano students , with its significant and highly influential essay of 1890 over the figure qualities .

Design qualities at Ehrenfels

Ehrenfels' essay commented on the work of Ernst Mach Contributions to the Analysis of Sensations , which examined the hearing of sounds. Using the example of the melody, Ehrenfels determined the phenomenon as a shape:

"Assuming that the series of tones t1, t2, t3, ... tn after its expiry is 'understood as a tone form' by a consciousness S (so that the memory images of all tones are present in it at the same time) - furthermore, it is assumed that the Sum of those n tones, each with its particular temporal determinateness, brought to the idea of ​​n units of consciousness in such a way that each of these n individuals has only one of the n tone representations in consciousness - so the question now arises whether the consciousness S, by having the Grasps melody, brings more to the imagination than the other n individuals put together. "

The real phenomenon for Ehrenfels lies in the fact that a melody is recognized in different manifestations that define its shape. In it he identifies its oversummativity, i.e. that the perception of a melody is more than the composition of the physically perceptible components:

We understand gestalt qualities as positive conceptual contents which are tied to the existence of conceptual complexes in consciousness, which in turn consist of separable (i.e., unimaginable) elements. We shall call every complex of ideas necessary for the existence of the gestalt qualities the basis of the gestalt qualities.

Ehrenfels extends the newly acquired concept of design quality consistently to all sensory perceptions, that is, "Spatial designs of tactile, temperature and taste quality, which also add to a common design; temporal designs in addition to changes in color and location, such as movements also the "non-musical sound forms are taken into account (thunder, bang, rustle, splash, etc.)", in order to finally the entire consciousness as the "derivation of all imaginative contents from a common original element the possibility [offered] the whole known world under a single one to understand mathematical formula. "

The Berlin Gestalt Theory

As a result of the intensely discussed ehrenfels essay, all problems of perception were suddenly summarized under the concept of gestalt and identified as desiderate psychological research . The newly acquired scientific term offered itself extremely well to examine the physiology of the senses and the isomorphism of physis and psyche as a process-like event, while at the same time a theoretical access to pre-figurative perception patterns in the form of primitive forms, which is otherwise impossible for natural sciences, remained open.

All of this happened at the Berlin Institute for Psychology , newly founded by Carl Stumpf , which, unencumbered by traditional constraints, held a pioneering spirit in store for young academics. It was here that Stumpf's doctoral students Kurt Koffka , Wolfgang Köhler , Adhémar Gelb and Kurt Lewin jointly developed the theoretical basis. The conspicuous academic and biographical parallels favored the collaboration and closely linked the personal careers with the theory development. The Gestalt theorists predominantly shared an Eastern European Jewish background, networked well during their academic years of traveling, founded the journal “Psychologische Forschung - Zeitschrift für Psychologie und seine Grenzwissenschaften” in 1921, which was the main publication organ of Gestalt theory, and from 1933 were closed into exile pushed.

With the First World War, gestalt research took on a new dimension: the Berlin institute used sound measurements to conduct research into directional hearing for field artillery and the sound location of ships. With the help of Adhemar Gelb, the Gestalt theory was introduced into medicine by continuing his research on brain-injured soldiers together with the neurologist Kurt Goldstein , who in turn researched the psychological consequences of brain injuries at the Frankfurt "Institute for Research into the Consequences of Brain Injuries" founded for this purpose . Goldstein further developed the Gestalt theory with his first major work " The Structure of the Organism " from 1934 into an organism theory, which, however, is distinctly different from the Gestalt theory.

Friedrich Sander , the main representative of the Leipzig School of Gestalt Psychology, attempted a definition in his widely acclaimed collective lecture (1928) on Gestalt psychology by describing the shape as an "articulated whole ". However, since he found no structure on a circle and a straight line, in these cases he spoke of "flowing structure" - which Johannes Volkelt called "limb sluggishness". In doing so, however, both violated the principle of all gestalt and wholeness psychologists, according to which phenomenology must have primacy in the scientific processing of experience; however, there is nothing to be seen of a flow or of grinding marks in circles and straight lines.

Further development in the 20th century

After the forced emigration of the Jewish Gestalt theorists around 1933, only Wolfgang Metzger remained in Germany as a representative of the Berlin School. The Jewish exile meant de facto the end of gestalt theory in the German-speaking area. In the US, on the other hand, gestalt theory merged with various other developmentsa, including Parsons systems theory and Lewin's field theory . The only carrier of the Gestalt concept up to the present day came from the married couple Laura and Fritz Perls and their development of Gestalt therapy from psychoanalysis , also in exile. Both met at Kurt Goldstein and Adhemar Gelb's senior seminar: Laura did her doctorate under Gelb, Fritz was an assistant doctor under Kurt Goldstein and both went through psychoanalytic training. From the concept of gestalt, the Perls mainly retained the meaning of perception, as Laura Perls emphasized in retrospect:

When we first started we wanted to call it “Existentialist Therapy,” but existentialism was identified with Sartre, who took a nihilistic approach. So we looked for another name. I thought that we would run into problems with Gestalt Therapy because we used the word “Gestalt”. [...] They [gestalt psychologists at the New York School] totally opposed us ... They said that "gestalt" was their domain and that the word was reserved for the psychology of perception that I had worked with a lot in the past.

The genuine theoretical core could no longer tie in with the theoretical success before the Jewish exodus. Academic institutionalization in the form of chairs also dwindled. Some attempts to apply the Berlin theory beyond the paradoxes of perception quickly petered out: Gabriele von Wartensleben, a pupil of Wertheimer's, used the concept of gestalt for personality unsuccessfully in 1914; In 1927 Walter Schering extended the close proximity of the works of Othmar Spann and Hegel to a sociologically conceived concept of gestalt.

See also


  • Anna Maria Hennen: The shape of living beings. Attempt at an explanation in the sense of the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 2000, ISBN 3-8260-1800-1 .
  • David Katz: Gestalt Psychology. 4th, exp. Edition. Schwabe, Basel / Stuttgart 1969.
  • Wolfgang Köhler: Dynamic relationships in psychology. Huber, Bern 1958.
  • Bruno Petermann: The Wertheimer-Koffka-Köhler Gestalt theory and the Gestalt problem: presented systematically and critically. A chapter from the principle revision in contemporary psychology. Habil.-Schr. Leipzig: Barth, 1928.
  • Wolfgang Metzger: Figural perception. In: Norbert Bischof , Wolfgang Metzger (Hrsg.): Allgemeine Psychologie. Half Volume 1, Perception and Consciousness. Hogrefe, Göttingen 1974 (2nd edition), ISBN 3-8017-0006-2 .
  • Friedrich Sander : Experimental Results of Gestalt Psychology. In: Report on the 10th congress of the German Society for Psychology in Bonn 1927. Jena 1928, pp. 23–87.
  • Max Wertheimer: Investigations into the theory of the shape. II. In: Psychological Research. Volume 4, 1923, pp. 301-350.

Web links

Wikiquote: Gestalt  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Gestalt  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Rossi, Francesco: Overall knowledge: To the criticism of science and Gestalt theory in the George circle . 1st edition. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2011, p. 181 .
  2. Hartmann, George W .: Gestalt psychology; a survey of facts and principles . Greenwood Press, Greenwood 1974, pp. 11 ff . (First edition: 1935).
  3. Annette Simonis: Gestalt theory from Goethe to Benjamin: Discourse history of a German figure of thought . 1st edition. Böhlau, Cologne: 2001.
  4. ^ Koffka, Kurt: Principles of gestalt psychology . 4th edition. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1955, pp. 682 .
  5. Köhler, Wolfgang: Psychology de la forme . 1st edition. Gallimard, "idées" collection, Paris 1929.
  6. Herder, Johann Gottfried von: Plastik: some perceptions about form and shape from Pygmalion's dream. In: Heidelberg historical holdings - digital . 1st edition. . Hartknoch, Riga 1778, p. 26 .
  7. Herder, Johann Gottfried von: Plastik: Some perceptions about form and shape from Pygmalions forming dreams (Riga, 1778). P. 26 , accessed on July 26, 2017 .
  8. a b c Schiller, Friedrich .: On the aesthetic education of man, in a series of letters . In: Schiller's complete works . tape 4 , 15th letter. Cotta, Stuttgart 1838, p. 558 ff .
  9. Simonis, Annette: Gestalt theory from Goethe to Benjamin: Discourse history of a German figure of thought . 1st edition. Böhlau, Cologne 2001.
  10. ^ Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von: Von Deutscher Baukunst . In: Seidel, Siegfried (Ed.): Poetic Works, Art Theoretical Writings and Translations. Berlin edition. tape 19 . Construction, Berlin, Weimar 1960.
  11. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von: To morphology . In: Christian Wegner (Ed.): Goethe's works: Hamburg edition in 14 volumes . 5th edition. tape 13 . Hamburg 1959, p. 55 ff .
  12. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang: Letters on Morphology . In: Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony (Hrsg.): Goethe's works. Published on behalf of the Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony. tape 8 . Hermann Böhlau, Weimar 1887, p. 251, 268 .
  13. Martin C. Wolff: Ernst and Decision . 1st edition. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2016, ISBN 978-3-8487-3330-9 , pp. 138 .
  14. ^ Ehrenfels, Christian von: Quarterly publication for scientific philosophy . O. R. Reisland, Leipzig 1890 ( [accessed on August 12, 2017]).
  15. ^ Quarterly journal for scientific philosophy / edited by R. Avenarius; with the assistance of C. Göring, M. Heinze, W. Wundt . OR Reisland, Leipzig 1890, p. 252 ( [accessed August 12, 2017]).
  16. ^ Quarterly journal for scientific philosophy / edited by R. Avenarius; with the assistance of C. Göring, M. Heinze, W. Wundt . OR Reisland, Leipzig 1890, p. 263 ( [accessed August 12, 2017]).
  17. ^ Quarterly journal for scientific philosophy / edited by R. Avenarius; with the assistance of C. Göring, M. Heinze, W. Wundt . OR Reisland, Leipzig 1890, p. 272/292 ( [accessed August 12, 2017]).
  18. Martin C. Wolff: Ernst and Decision . 1st edition. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2016, ISBN 978-3-8487-3330-9 , pp. 143 .
  19. Goldstein, Kurt; Gelb, Adhémar: Psychological analyzes of brain pathological cases on the basis of examinations of brain injured . In: Journal for the whole of neurology and psychiatry . No. 41.1 , 1918, p. 1-142 .
  20. Perls, Frederick & Laura: The I, Hunger, and Aggression: The Beginnings of Gestalt Therapy . 2nd Edition. German Paperback ,, Munich 1969, p. 18 .
  21. Doubrawa, Anke: My wilderness is the soul of the other: the way to gestalt therapy . Hammer, Wuppertal 2005, p. 132 .