ian verstegen                            

I am an art writer and historian living in Philadelphia. My research seeks to understand  images as a complex psycho-social problem. I am interested neither in reactionary defenses of the integrity of the object (or text) nor postmodern leveling into discursivity. Giving proper due to the image but conceding its understanding as a social act is a critical realist attitude informed, in my case, of gestalt theory.

Call for Manuscripts for a special issue to be published in 2015

Arnheim and Expansive Formalism

Throughout his later career, Rudolf Arnheim (1904-2007) was regarded in Cultural Studies and other disciplines in the humanities as a narrow formalist, insensitive to the individualizing features of history, language, sexuality and the unconscious. Arnheim was out of sync with trends that engaged the arts as a code to be uncovered as part of what has been called the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” More recently, in publications like Arnheim for Film and Media Studies a new Arnheim has appeared who has been contextualized and framed in a more sensitive manner. The upshot is that Arnheim’s methodological choices can be seen as serving larger theoretical aims that other competing doctrines deriving from Freud, Saussure and Marx might have imperiled through less careful formulation.

In particular, we can begin to take more seriously Arnheim’s choices to build an expansive methodology outward from basic psychological and phenomenological facts. The idea is not to disregard the larger speculative universe of social structure, language or libido but to align them properly with the science of behavior. In those precious cases where Arnheim does talk about larger matters – for example the content of the popular movie in Film as Art – we sense a social commitment that is, however, subjected to the most chaste requirements. What Arnheim seeks to do is create a truly reflexive methodology that is sustainable. Rather than begin with a social or psychosexual doctrine that might be self-refuting because of its own truth claims, Arnheim rather seeks to understand what is true both for the theorist and her subject.

Gestalt Theory seeks papers that relate to the ways in which Arnheim, or his brand of theorizing, serve to create a larger, more convincing approach to the vital issues of art and life, including our linguistic nature, social embededness, sexual and emotional natures. Topics of interest might include Arnheim and:

  • Saussurian linguistics, “arbitrariness” and the arts 
  • Symbolic conventionality, mainstream semiotics and the arts
  • Psycho-sexual content in art
  • Distorting effects of neurosis, psychosis, and individual differences in art
  • The (un)limitations of formalism


Preference will be given to papers that not only document some comparison of ideas but work directly with the issues of methodological reflexivity to which Arnheim was devoted.

Invited papers by Adriano d’Aloia, Alberto Argenton and Laurie Taylor-Mitchell will be published as well.

Final versions of chapters should be no longer than 8000 words, including references and notes. We are currently seeking extended abstracts of 800-1200 words. Please

send extended abstracts, along with a brief bio to

ianverstegen@yahoo.com no later than April 15th, 2014.


Tentative schedule:

Extended abstracts due: April 15th, 2014

Notification of accepted papers: May 15th, 2014

First draft of chapters due: October 15th, 2014

Feedback on chapters returned: December 15th, 2014

Final versions of chapters due: January 15th, 2015

In order to be considered, abstracts should adhere to the following style (800-1200 words in total, please address each aspect separately and include the specific headlines in your abstract):

a) Contribution Title

b) Full name of the author(s)

c) Institutional affiliation(s)

d) Postal address(es)

e) e-mail address(es)

f) Telephone number of the corresponding author

Gestalt Theory (http://gth.krammerbuch.at/)

Ian Verstegen (ianverstegen@yahoo.com)