Sky and water figure ground relationship

Gestalt Principles

sky and water figure ground relationship

M. C. Escher Sky and Water 1 Everything that is not figure is ground. Figure-ground refers to the relationship between an object and its surround. Jan 11, The gestalt notion "figure-ground phenomenon" refers to the characteristic Figure-ground relationship is an important element of the way we organise that the Light comes from an invisible and inaccessible source in the sky. the dry land between them as figure, the water being part of the ground. Following Harrower's figure-ground experiment, Escher created these images that demonstrate the transition from figure to ground. In the middle of Sky and.

Golomb agrees that there is in the sonata a distinct, monotonous, repeatedly rising ta-ta-ta sequence. This sequence is exceptionally boring from the rhythmical point of view, resembling the typical " ground" texture in the Don Giovanni excerpt, and many other works. At the same time, the magic of the movement is due, he says, to tensions and resolutions in the harmonic structure of the whole, both in the sequence of triplets and the interplay of the various simultaneous melodic threads.

There are three simultaneous threads in this movement, in, roughly speaking, the high range, the midrange and the low range. The afore-said triplets constitute the middle thread in this complex.

There are the lower harmonic chords which, we both agree, generate a ground of tensions and resolutions, making a major contribution to the affective impact of the movement; and there is a higher sequence of longish notes which add up to a mildly rising and falling melody, which is the real figure of the movement.

This melody, he says, though considerably diffuse, is more differentiated than the obstinately repeated ta-ta-ta series as in excerpt 3. What is more, there is, from time to time, a "dialogue" between the highest and the lowest thread, skipping, as it were, the middle thread. Now one thing appears to be quite certain. That this dialogue does not turn the lowest thread into figure; it remains ground relative to the other two threads. As we have seen, "what is figural at any one moment depends on patterns of sensory stimulation and on the momentary interests of the perceiver".

My point is that in the case of a musical performance, "the momentary interests of the perceiver" can be manipulated to a considerable extent by the performer, by rather evasive cues: My own view of the passage may have been influenced to a considerable extent by Alfred Brendel's performance on Philips In this performance, the middle thread is somewhat louder relative to the other threads than in some other performances.

As a result, the higher thread as well as its dialogue with the lower thread, when perceived is perceived as an intrusion into the "figure", the middle thread.

This intrusion, in turn, will increase the sequence's tendency to reassert its integrity -- according to the gestalt assumption that a perceptual unit tends "to preserve its integrity by resisting interruptions". In this instance, the perception of figure-ground relationships can be further manipulated by the treatment of the longish notes of the highest thread.

If their differentiation and connectedness into a melody is emphasized in the performance, they will attract attention as figure; if they are presented as more discrete notes, they will be perceived more as events intruding upon the rising sequences of three notes. My purpose here is not to offer a systematic comparative research of performances.

What I want to emphasize is this: This is due to two features of the performance. First, in 3a the second thread is louder relative to the other two threads than in 3b; and secondly, Brendel performs the higher thread in a peculiar way.

Compare excerpt 3a to 3b.

sky and water figure ground relationship

In the higher thread, we hear twice a group of tam-ta-tam on the same note, followed by a slightly higher one. Owing to amplitude dynamics and Brendel's "pianists' touch", this higher note is perceived as exerting a greater effort to intrude rather than as contributing to a continuous melodic line.

The result is monotonous and exceptionally dramatic at the same time. The envelope plot of music excerpt 3 in Brendel's performance Figure 7. The envelope plot of music excerpt 3 in Tomashevich's performance It is illuminating to consider the amplitude dynamics of the two performances in this excerpt.

Figures show the plot of amplitude envelope of the first tam-ta-tam group in the two performances. The three notes are of equal pitch. But, in Brendel's performance, each one of them begins with a distinct obtrusion of the amplitude envelope.

In Tomashevich's performance, by contrast, the first two notes slightly fluctuate at a low level, and are followed by a third note of disproportionately great amplitude. Add to this that though both performances are "overdotted", the duration of the middle note in Tomashevich's performance is shorter: As a result, in Tomashevich's performance the first two notes are subordinated to the third one; the middle note is perceived more as a "passing note", leading forward to the third note.

Figure-Ground+Sound

This tends to merge the three notes into one melodic line. In Brendel's performance, by contrast, the three notes are perceived as more discrete, have relatively greater perceptual separateness.

The Middle note is perceived not only as a note in its own right, but also as more grouped with the preceding one. Translating Lerdahl and Jackendoff's transformational terminology into plain English, backward grouping generates tension, forward grouping -- relaxation. Julian Haylock, who wrote the music notes for the sonatas on Alfred Brendel's CD, suggested, quite impressionistically, what is the perceived effect of all this: According to Meyer, as we have seen, "the musical field can be perceived as containing a ground alone, as in the introduction to a musical work -- a song, for instance -- where the melody or figure is obviously still to come".

It is the typical background texture pushed into the foreground throughout a full movement that is "quite unlike anything previously composed for the keyboard"; and this is also the basis for "its dream-like texturing" -- reinforced by its interplay with the other two threads, as discussed above. Figure-Ground Reversal in Literature We have seen in Escher's drawings that they grant the perceiver considerable freedom to foreground certain shapes as figure or relegate them to an undifferentiated background.

Such an "aspect switching" requires only minimal mental effort. Escher discusses at some length what kinds of shapes allow such flexibility of perception. He does not discuss the means by which he tilts the perceiver's inclination in one direction or the other.

Sky and Water I

I have suggested that when the same closed area is repeated, lines or dots on it tend to bestow on it differentiation and induce us to perceive it as a figure; their absence, as ground.

I have also suggested that the perceptual apparatus can easily overcome these "directive" means, by some conscious effort. Likewise, in Beethoven's sonata we have seen that the performer may manipulate the listener's perception of figure-ground relationships by connecting the notes of the higher thread into a perceptible melody, or leaving them as discontinuous, solitary events. Here the listener is more at the performer's mercy, and "aspect switching" requires greater mental effort.

In what follows, I will consider three literary texts that exploit this readiness of human perceivers to switch back and forth between figure and ground. All three texts achieve their effect by inducing readers to reverse figure-ground relationships relative to their habitual modes of thought or perception. Consider the following poem by Shelley: A Song A widow bird sate mourning for her love Upon a wintry bough; The frozen wind crept on above, The freezing stream below.

There was no leaf upon the forest bare, No flower upon the ground, And little motion in the air Except the mill-wheel's sound.

Metaphor and Figure-Ground Relationship: Comparisons from Poetry, Music, and the Visual Arts

In aural perception, irregular noises are usually dumped into the background. But when Shelley ends his "Song" with these two lines, he turns into figure a percept that most commonly is dumped into the ground.

And this is enormously effective here. I have elsewhere discussed this poem at some length. Here I will reproduce only part of my discussion of the last two lines.

sky and water figure ground relationship

They have a rather complex function within the whole. Little as a part of the sequence There is no In this sense, it seems to herald an unqualified statement that generates a psychological atmosphere of great certainty. The subsequent preposition except, however, makes a substantial qualification to this statement, substituting "a very small amount of" for total exclusion; that is, there is an exclusion from the total exclusion: The relation of the mill-wheel to its sound is like the relation of a thing to a thing-free quality.

What seems to be emphasised by this is that only the thing-free quality, but not the thing itself is introduced into the description. This perturbation of the air becomes another item in the list of items with reduced activity; by the same token, it foregrounds the presence of the air, the thing-free quality par excellence pervading the scene.

This shift of the meaning, qualifying the unqualified statement, performs a "poetic sabotage" against the determined, purposeful quality of the poetic closure, replacing the psychological atmosphere of great certainty with a psychological atmosphere of uncertainty, contributing to the emotional quality of the poem. This emotional atmosphere has been generated by the abstraction of certain qualities from parallel concrete items in the description.

Both the emotional quality and the "poetic sabotage" of closure are reinforced by another aspect of the mill-wheel's sound, which I wish to point out through an idea borrowed from Joseph Glicksohn. Gestalt psychology speaks of figure-ground relationship. The mill-wheel's sound typically serves as ground to some aural figure. By forcing to the reader's attention a percept that typically serves as ground, the poem increases the emotional quality of the perception, and emphasises that there is no figure to be contemplated, reinforcing the quality of deprivation.

Thus, the poem ends with "a ground alone, as in the introduction to a musical work [ When it occurs at the end of a work, its lack of progress does not prepare for some thing to come as in the introduction to a musical work, but suggests some disintegration: The next two examples can be regarded as displaying different degrees of one kind.

Consider the following Sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney: Leave me, O love which reachest but to dust; And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things; Grow rich in that which never taketh rust, Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings. Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be; Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light, That doth both shine and give us sight to see. O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide In this small course which birth draws out to death, And think how evil becometh him to slide, Who seeketh heaven, and comes of heavenly breath.

Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see; Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me. I have elsewhere discussed the light imagery of this sonnet at considerable length Tsur, Now I will devote attention to the third quatrain. Let us work out the internal logic of this image, in terms of mental habits and their manipulation by literary means.

I will argue that the central device of this passage is a reversal of figure-ground relationship. In these Ratios "Scene" typically serves as ground to "Act" and "Agent", which are, typically, the figure. Burke proposed to analyse human motives and actions in terms of the "dramatic pentade": Act, Scene, Agency, Agent, Purpose. Using "scene" in the sense of setting, or background, and "act" in the sense of action, one could say that "the scene contains the act.

In the case of Sidney's poem, the scene and the act define the nature of the agent as well as his purpose: These two destinations have opposite implications. One presents "Life as full of meaning"; the other presents "Life as totally meaningless". There is all the difference if "this small course" leads to death or to heaven.

Particular occasions of birth and death in everyday life are perceived as figures, and life only as ground, at best. But when we speak of Human Life, Life becomes the figure, only marked at its extremes by birth and death, which thus become ground. In Christian religious traditions Life is only a transient episode for the soul which "seeketh heaven, and comes of heavenly breath".

Religious rhetoric frequently attempts to bring man to an insight into this truth by using paradoxical epigrammatic phrasings such as "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it" -- Mark 8. Religious poetry may attempt to do this by a sudden shift of attention from the habitual figure to its ground, the markers of its extremes: Sidney gently manipulates attention from "this small course" to "birth" and "death", which are only meant to mark the extremes of life. Purpose is not absent from the image let that light be thy guide In this small course which birth draws out to death, it is only translated into a different visual terminology.

In my paper on the cognitive structure of light imagery in religious poetry I discussed this poem at great length. I pointed out a wide range of meaning potentials in the light image, many of which are exploited in this poem.

Light gives instructions, shows the way. Another one is derived from the fact that the Light comes from an invisible and inaccessible source in the sky. Thus, these two lines do not express life's purpose by a place that serves as the destination of the journey; but this purpose is reintroduced by another conventional metaphor: The same figure-ground reversal is brought to an absurd extreme in the following quotation from Beckett's Waiting for Godot: Astride of a grave and a difficult birth.

Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps. The tramp Vladimir sharpens Sidney's inverted image to absurdity: Man passes straight from the womb to the tomb, assisted by the gravedigger's forceps. This tends to merge the three notes into one melodic line.

In Brendel's performance, by contrast, the three notes are perceived as more discrete, have relatively greater perceptual separateness. The Middle note is perceived not only as a note in its own right, but also as more grouped with the preceding one. Translating Lerdahl and Jackendoff's transformational terminology into plain English, backward grouping generates tension, forward grouping — relaxation. Julian Haylock, who wrote the music notes for the sonatas on Alfred Brendel's CD, suggested, quite impressionistically, what is the perceived effect of all this: According to Meyer, as we have seen, "the musical field can be perceived as containing a ground alone, as in the introduction to a musical work — a song, for instance — where the melody or figure is obviously still to come".

It is the typical background texture pushed into the foreground throughout a full movement that is "quite unlike anything previously composed for the keyboard"; and this is also the basis for "its dream-like texturing" — reinforced by its interplay with the other two threads, as discussed above. Figure - Ground Reversal in Literature We have seen in Escher's drawings that they grant the perceiver considerable freedom to foreground certain shapes as figure or relegate them to an undifferentiated background.

Such an "aspect switching" requires only minimal mental effort. Escher discusses at some length what kinds of shapes allow such flexibility of perception. He does not discuss the means by which he tilts the perceiver's inclination in one direction or the other.

Escher's Sky and Water I & Day and Night - M.C. Esher: Application of Gestalt Psychology

I have suggested that when the same closed area is repeated, lines or dots on it tend to bestow on it differentiation and induce us to perceive it as a figure; their absence, as ground. I have also suggested that the perceptual apparatus can easily overcome these "directive" means, by some conscious effort. Likewise, in Beethoven's sonata we have seen that the performer may manipulate the listener's perception of figure - ground relationships by connecting the notes of the higher thread into a perceptible melody, or leaving them as discontinuous, solitary events.

Here the listener is more at the performer's mercy, and "aspect switching" requires greater mental effort. In what follows, I will consider four literary texts that exploit this readiness of human perceivers to switch back and forth between figure and ground. All four texts achieve their effect by inducing readers to reverse figure - ground relationships relative to their habitual modes of thought or perception.

Consider the following poem by Shelley: A Song A widow bird sate mourning for her love Upon a wintry bough; The frozen wind crept on above, The freezing stream below. There was no leaf upon the forest bare, No flower upon the ground, And little motion in the air Except the mill-wheel's sound. In aural perception, irregular noises which constitute an overload on the cognitive system and most effectively violate the "Law of Good Continuation" are usually dumped into the background.

But when Shelley ends his "Song" with these two lines, he turns into figure a percept that most commonly is dumped into the ground. And this is enormously effective here. I have elsewhere discussed this poem at some length. Here I will reproduce only part of my discussion of the last two lines.

They have a rather complex function within the whole. Little as a part of the sequence There is no In this sense, it seems to herald an unqualified statement that generates a psychological atmosphere of great certainty.

The subsequent preposition except, however, makes a substantial qualification to this statement, substituting "a very small amount of" for total exclusion; that is, there is an exclusion from the total exclusion: The relation of the mill-wheel to its sound is like the relation of a thing to a thing-free quality. What seems to be emphasised by this is that only the thing-free quality, but not the thing itself is introduced into the description.

This perturbation of the air becomes another item in the list of items with reduced activity; by the same token, it foregrounds the presence of the air, the thing-free quality par excellence pervading the scene. This shift of the meaning, qualifying the unqualified statement, performs a "poetic sabotage" against the determined, purposeful quality of the poetic closure, replacing the psychological atmosphere of great certainty with a psychological atmosphere of uncertainty, contributing to the emotional quality of the poem.

This emotional atmosphere has been generated by the abstraction of certain qualities from parallel concrete items in the description. Both the emotional quality and the "poetic sabotage" of closure are reinforced by another aspect of the mill-wheel's sound, which I wish to point out through an idea borrowed from Joseph Glicksohn.

Gestalt Figure Ground

As I suggested above, the cognitive system handles irregular noises constituting perceptual overload by dumping them into the ground. Thus, the mill-wheel's sound—consisting of irregular noises—typically serves as ground to some aural figure. By forcing to the reader's attention a percept that typically serves as ground, the poem increases the emotional quality of the perception, and emphasises that there is no figure to be contemplated, reinforcing the quality of deprivation.

Thus, the poem ends with "a ground alone, as in the introduction to a musical work [ When it occurs at the end of a work, its lack of progress does not prepare for some thing to come as in the introduction to a musical work, but suggests some disintegration: The next two examples can be regarded as displaying different degrees of one kind.

Consider the following Sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney: Leave me, O love which reachest but to dust; And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things; Grow rich in that which never taketh rust, Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings. Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be; Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light, That doth both shine and give us sight to see.

O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide In this small course which birth draws out to death, And think how evil becometh him to slide, Who seeketh heaven, and comes of heavenly breath. Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see; Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.

I have elsewhere discussed the light imagery of this sonnet at considerable length Tsur, ; Now I will devote attention to the third quatrain. Let us work out the internal logic of this image, in terms of mental habits and their manipulation by literary means.

I will argue that the central device of this passage is a reversal of figure - ground relationship. In these Ratios "Scene" typically serves as ground to "Act" and "Agent", which are, typically, the figure.

Burke proposed to analyse human motives and actions in terms of the "dramatic pentade": Act, Scene, Agency, Agent, Purpose. Using "scene" in the sense of setting, or background, and "act" in the sense of action, one could say that "the scene contains the act. In the case of Sidney's poem, the scene and the act define the nature of the agent as well as his purpose: These two destinations have opposite implications.

One presents "Life as full of meaning"; the other presents "Life as totally meaningless". There is all the difference if "this small course" leads to death or to heaven. Particular occasions of birth and death in everyday life are perceived as figures, and life only as ground, at best. But when we speak of Human Life, Life becomes the figure, only marked at its extremes by birth and death, which thus become ground. In Christian religious traditions Life is only a transient episode for the soul which "seeketh heaven, and comes of heavenly breath".

Religious rhetoric frequently attempts to bring man to an insight into this truth by using paradoxical epigrammatic phrasings such as "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it" — Mark 8.

sky and water figure ground relationship

Religious poetry may attempt to do this by a sudden shift of attention from the habitual figure to its ground, the markers of its extremes: Sidney gently manipulates attention from "this small course" to "birth" and "death", which are only meant to mark the extremes of life. Purpose is not absent from the image let that light be thy guide In this small course which birth draws out to death, it is only translated into a different visual terminology.

In my paper on the cognitive structure of light imagery in religious poetry I discussed this poem at great length.

sky and water figure ground relationship

I pointed out a wide range of meaning potentials in the light image, many of which are exploited in this poem. Light gives instructions, shows the way. Another one is derived from the fact that the Light comes from an invisible and inaccessible source in the sky. Thus, these two lines do not express life's purpose by a place that serves as the destination of the journey; but this purpose is reintroduced by another conventional metaphor: The same figure - ground reversal is brought to an absurd extreme in the following quotation from Beckett's Waiting for Godot: Astride of a grave and a difficult birth.

Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps. The tramp Vladimir sharpens Sidney's inverted image to absurdity: Man passes straight from the womb to the tomb, assisted by the gravedigger's forceps. In a world in which "God is dead", there is nothing beyond, and what is in between is meaningless and negligible.

The emotional disorientation aroused by this understanding is reinforced by the grotesque image, the typical effect of the grotesque being, as pointed out by Thomson"emotional disorientation". In our everyday perception, birth is the beginning of life; death its cessation. What matters is life itself. Both in Sidney's and Beckett's image the two extremes, birth and death, or the womb and the grave become the figure; what is between them life! And the shorter the connection, the more meaningless life becomes.

A most interesting instance of figure - ground reversal is provided by the great Hebrew poet, Nathan Alterman, in his poem "I will yet come to your threshold with extinguished lips".

In this poem the speaker expresses his hope that he will yet reach his beloved, in a state of exhaustion, though. The poem ends with the only thing he can still offer her: The silence in the heart between two beats — This silence Is yours. This is a variation on the age-old poetic convention "My true love has my heart and I have his", in which "heart" stands for affection, love. It is also a metonymy for life.

Love, life, affection dwell in the heart; the heart, in turn, is enclosed in the body. Heartbeats are minute, barely perceptible events; whereas the silence between the beats is even less perceptible. We are faced with the innermost emotional experiences. Consider the Scene-Act ratio innermost-intimate.

They are intimately related: The Microsoft Word Thesaurus gives, among others, the following partial synonyms for intimate: Alterman's metaphor suggests something that is most minute and insignificant, but, at the same time, involves the innermost, most precious, deepest, most intimate feelings of the heart. We are not aware that our heartbeats occur against a ground of silence; that we could not perceive beats if there were no periods of silence between them.

The figure - ground reversal of Alterman's metaphor, relegating the beats to the ground, brings this to awareness.