chapter  3
8 Pages

Figure/Ground

A generation ago, gestalt psychology, an importation from Germany, made a scientific stir in this country. By ingenious experiments, it demonstrated many previously, overlooked aspects of "visual perception." Scouting the notion that in seeing something, one collects visual fragments and assembles them into the object seen, it insisted that seeing is organized from the start-that is, it is a gestalt, or configuration. One's visual field is structured in terms of "figure" and "background" .... Figure is the focus of interest-an object, pattern, etc.-with "ground" the setting or context.l

Individuals perceive the environment as a total unit of meaning, responding to the whole of what is seen. This whole is composed of the stimuli to which the persons attend directly, and those to which they do not attend directly. Focused attention organizes environmental parts into a visual whole, a gestalt that emerges as a figure dominating a field of impressions.2 The healthy individual is able to Clearly experience and differentiate something in his foreground which interests and captivates him from that which is uninteresting. He experiences the sharpness and clarity of the figure, with little interest in a homogenized ground. In disturbed individuals, there is a confusion between figure and ground. There is a lack of purpose and focusing, so that as they look at a particular situation, they are not able to pick out what is central for them, that which has importance for them. From one moment to the next, they are unable to separate the important things for themselves from the unimportant things.3