An article by Christian Drobe, ‘Carl Einstein und Ernst Cassirer: Versuch einer Annäherung im Rahmen der Gestalttheorie’ has just been published in a special issue on Carl Einstein of the journal Juni Magazin.
Productive misunderstandings inspire research. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the term ‘Gestalt’ encompassed all kinds of phenomena, including art criticism, and philosophy. The article attempts to trace the use of the term in Carl Einstein’s and Ernst Cassirer’s works and thus provides new insight to theory during modernism. Since the term appeared manifold in the work of both the progressive art critic and writer Einstein and the idealist philosopher Cassirer, disciplinary boundaries and those between tradition and the avant-garde become blurred. Gestalt originated in the period of Romanticism around 1800 and was later used around 1900 in the new fields of psychology and perception. This highlights the possibility of older theories becoming fruitful for modern concepts. Deriving from older concepts of morphology, Gestalt theory at the beginning of the twentieth century was often no more than a vague umbrella term covering different intellectual currents. Gestalt psychology in particular, which was formed towards the end of the nineteenth century, asked questions about the basic principles of perception, mostly in the apperception of geometric forms. Artists and philosophers working on aesthetics could draw on these ideas, but still pursued a mostly idealistic-platonic system. For a certain time, scientific and art-theoretical approaches overlapped and created tension. It is precisely these transitions that can be shown in Einstein’s and Cassirer’s example. The arising misunderstandings in the use of the term, especially when applied to actual art, exemplify the potential and limits of such holistic theories.
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