There is something inside each of us that secretly drives us, keeps us going in a certain direction or makes us stay still in the middle of nowhere; lighting the way in our imagination or blurring the imaginary road out. There is something that has hidden access to our emotions, senses and feelings; some under-mind processes that correspond with our free will, pleasure and desires. Something in our mind that gets our trust, without asking for permission, and influences thought processes, memory, affect and motivation. These processes of the mind occur automatically and are not available for introspection.

The time that we are living in gives us the possibility to talk about such things as an unconscious mind on a scientific level. XX century cognitive psychology with neurology made it possible to enter into one of the biggest challenges for science of the XXI century: understanding a human mind in biological terms.

I strongly believe that one of the reasons people are so motivated to understand themselves is the desire to understand others and vice versa. The art culture has this form of relationship primarily in its structure. We see it in the dialog between the work of art and the artist himself, the viewer and the object of observation or an experience, and finally the artist and the beholder’s share.

Getting the perfect connection in any dialog is usually its main goal. Design (graphic) is no exception; this playground includes lots of discussions with such an aim. Understanding the viewer, client and user of the product that we create, and possibly of which we control the responses, makes a work successful and professional. Getting attention, holding it, making an experience interesting, maintaining a positive impression, and realizing certain educational processes are only a few examples of the objectives that visual communication workers are trying to meet. All of them are in one way or another connected to design practice and are always open to improvement.

This research thesis poses several general questions, based on the connection between knowledge of the unconscious mind and design practice, such as: “Can it actually be relevant and useful?” “Is there a connection?” “What is the point of contact of these topics?” and “Can this knowledge really be in any way useful for the creative processes?” This finally leads to the key research question: “To what extent does knowledge of the unconscious mind influence the design practice?” It builds up the dialog between brain science and art culture, mainly using the information about mental images, psychology of art, visual perception and its principles, gestalt theory and subliminal perceptions.

Chapter 1:

Exploring an Unconscious mind

There is something inside each of us that secretly drives us, keeps us going in a certain direction or makes us stay in the middle of nowhere. Something, that has hidden access to our emotions, senses and feelings; some under-mind processes that correspond with our free will, pleasure and desires. Whoever men are, serious or not, adults or children, designers or accountants, rich or poor, all have a “free will”. We are all united by a matter of choice. Each of us has thought one way or another about “What forces us to make choices?”, “Are they all made consciously by us?” and “What does an unconscious decision mean?”

As a rule, for the majority of people, the idea of an unconscious mind seems quite abstract in the first place. Facing this phenomenon, people usually understand it as something external and not related specifically to them. The knowledge about such a subject seems to be scientifically complex. However, the unconscious mind is a very important part of our mental and biological nature. It has a primary impact on our behavior and not less than any other of its manifestation it explain very specific characteristics.

“The unconscious mind (or the unconscious) consists of the processes in the mind which occur automatically and are not available to introspection, and include thought processes, memory, affect, and motivation."[1]

For a long time, it was indeed a transparent topic for serious discussion and it did not have objective knowledge base, but the time that we are living in gives us the possibility to talk about such things as an unconscious mind on a scientific level. XXth century cognitive psychology (the science of the mind) with neurology (the science of the brain) made it possible to enter into one of the biggest challenges for science of the XXIst century: understanding a human mind in biological terms. This science allowed us to address a range of questions about ourselves, such as: How do we perceive, learn and remember?; What is the nature of emotion, empathy, thought, and consciousness?; What is the limit of free will?[2]

One of the latest Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2000) Eric Richard Kandel (November 7, 1929) in his book “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present.” describes how leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions,and how mind and brain relate to art.

The modernist view on human mind emphasized the role of unconscious instincts in determining behavior. The Viena school of Medicine contributed to this view of mind in three ways. First, it advanced the principle that all mental processes have biological basis in the brain (the biology of mind). Second, it advocated the idea that all mental ilnesses are biological. Finally, one of its members, Sigmund Freud, discovered that much of human behaviour is irrational and based on unconscious mental processes; he concluded that to understand the complexities of the unconscious mind in biological terms, it was first necessary to develop a coherent psychology of mind.[3]

is new biological science of mind is important, argues Kandel, not only because it provides us with a deep- per understanding of what makes us who we are, but also because it makes possible a series of meaningful dialogue between brain science and other arias of knowledge. In a larger sense this dialogue could help make science a part our common cultural experience.

One of these areas, that brain science opened a dialogue with, became a visual art. In order to explore ways to achieve a more successful communication, graphic design in particular became a playground that includes lots of manifestations of such an aim. Understanding the viewer, client and user of the product that we create, and possibly of which we control the responses, makes a work successful and professional. Getting attention, holding it, making an experience interesting, maintaining a positive impression, and realizing certain educational processes are the processes designers go through.

1.1 Exploring a “Free Will”

Just as a many others creative activities, graphic design has an incredible amount of need in decision making processes. It is fairly one of the main parts of the creative process. Especially the freedom that designers or artist gets, demands him to use “God feeling” and to act according to his “free will”. Just as the creator, the viewer has to go through this not in less extent, by facing the daily decision making, especially in these times of global consumption and mass production that we are living in. To explore the human behaviour and the manifestations of a free will scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in 2008 organised an experiment according to which they reveal that our decisions are made seconds before we become aware of them.

“The impression that we are able to freely choose between different possible courses of action is fundamental to our mental life. However, it has been suggested that this subjective experience of freedom is no more than an illusion and that our actions are initiated by unconscious mental processes long before we become aware of our intention to act”[4]

In the experiment study, participants were asked to make a decision between two buttons in their left and a right hands. The choice was completely free, the only condition was that they had to remember when they made the decision to either use their right hand or left hand. Using fMRI[5] , researchers scanned the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of the decision. As a result of monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the the brain, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose from 1 to 10 seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.

Further study of Max Planck Institute on decisions making shows that memory is the main source for our unconscious behaviour. Learned material, patterns and habits are stored in long-term memory and acted upon by the subconscious. Our unconscious mind has an enormous capacity for memory storage. [6] As much as 99 % of our activity every minute is in the undermind server of our mind, running for us and help us being concentrated on one, two or three things at the moment.

First frightening feeling about the fact that we might not having any free will if fact is just a myth. Our unconscious mind has a lot of similarities to a computer system; it runs programs you upload to it, noth- ing more. it runs programs you apload to it, nothing more. The powers of unconscious mind do not include thinking or making moral judgements. It does what it has been taught and holds beliefs we have about ourself and the world to be true.[7]

This single experiment on the way of understanding the impact of an unconscious mind on us and our activity, already tells us a lot about our behaviour and fundamentally changes our vision on the awareness we possess. In order to come up with this insight and make it happen the science went through a lot of explorations and theory making. All great things needed to have had a start from the most simple task.

1.2 Exploring the psychology of the unconscious mind

Many philosophers over the centuries have dealt with the idea of unconscious mental processes in our psychic life. For instance Plato discusses unconscious knowledge in the fourth century b.c, pointing out that much of our knowledge is inherent in the psyche in latent form.[8] In the nineteenth century, Arthur Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who called himself “the first psychologist”, wrote about the unconscious and about unconscious drive.[9] [10] Hermann von Helmholtz, the great nineteenth century physicist and psychologist, advanced the idea that the unconscious plays a critical role in human visual perception.

The one, who popularized the concept of unconscious mind, was the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939). Freud’s unconsciousness theory often visualised as the image of an iceberg, and represents the idea of it: “Most of the human mind operates unconsciously”.

“Properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psychic; its inner nature is just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly reported to us through the data of consciousness as is the external world through the indications of our sensory organs.”

― Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams

In his student life at Vienna school of medicine, Sigmund Freud started from describing mental life in basic neurobiological[11] terms. Later, he developed a new psychology of mind that was independent of the biology of the brain[12] that was named psychoanalysis (set of psychological and psychotherapeutic theories and associated techniques).[13] It is a psychotherapeutic method developed for the treatment of psychoneuroses. According to psychoanalysis, unconscious processes are operating in dreams in a in metaphors and symbols, as well as in slips[14] of the tongue and jokes. That means that unconscious mind, according to Freud, can be seen as the source of dreams and automatic thoughts (those that appear without any apparent cause), the repository of forgotten memories (that may still be accessible to consciousness at some later time), and the locus of implicit knowledge (the things that we have learned so well that we do them without thinking).[15]

To the idea of the unconsciousness, and the study of it, Freud devoted his entire life. He applied his theory to all possible situations of life and its manifestations. The work of Freud was appreciated numerous followers such as: Otto Rank, Eugen Bleuler, Ludwig Binswanger, Carl Jung and others, all developed the concept to a further and different direction, that can give us the possibility to explore the subject in a broader way. Freud was one of the few who attempted to link art and science. His three essays, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood,” “Dostoevsky and Parricide,” and “The Moses of Michelangelo,” examine in a psychoanalytic context the sources of these artists’ creativity. Tese assays proved important historically as a first attempt to initiate a dialogue between psychoanalytic psychology and art.

An unconscious mind, how we can conclude, is an integral part of our behaviour. As human creatures we have this functioning processes in our biological and psychological nature which has a primary impact on our behavior and a “free will”. ese processes, not less than any other manifestation of our mental life has an explanation in very speci c characteristics. This is an incredibly important tool for self-awereness on the way to improve the efficiency of any activity.

Chapter 2: Exploring the essence of the art experience

“I could describe its colour and its shape and its size, but there’s nothing that can approximate the experience of standing in front of that painting”[16]

Until we limit the analysis of the processes occurring in the conscious mind, we can hardly find the answer to the most basic questions about the psychology of art. We can hardly find out what the essence of the art experience is, neither from the artist nor from the viewer. It wouldn’t be strange to assume that the most significant aspect of art lies in the fact that the process of its creation and the process of using it are inexplicable and hidden from the consciousness. We will never be able to say exactly why we liked this or that work of art or design product; words almost can’t express any significant and important aspect of the experience. All the attempts grow into interpretation, a description of known human feelings and emotions.

Being lost in interpretation of the phenomena, people during art history came up with many different theories and explanations. For instance a “Stendhal syndrome” - a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art.[17] The illness is named after the 19th-century French author Stendhal (pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle). He described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. When he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei are buried, he saw Giotto’s frescoes for the first time and was overcome with emotion. He wrote:

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”[18]

Although psychiatrists have long debated whether it really exists, its effects on some sufferers are serious enough for them to require treatment in hospital and even antidepressants.This case shows how unpredictable our ability to interpret the unknown manifestations of our perception and that there will be alway an aspiration to define it.

“Art is an institution to which we turn when we want to feel a shock of suprise. We feel this want because we sense that it is good for us onece in a while to receive a healthy jolt. Otherwise we would so easily get stuck in a rut and could no longer adapt to the new demamds that life is apt to make on us. The biological function of art , in other words, is that of a rehearsal, a training in mental gymnastics which increases our tolerance of the unexpected.”[19]


This dialogue between the art-work and the viewer fairly can be named as a key to understanding the power of creativity and might be a powerful tool to use as power of creation. Austrian art historian Alois Riegl was one of the first who attempted to build the bridge between the author and the viewer through science. He was the first art historian who systematically applied scientific thinking to art criticism. He believed that science involvement to the art will save its future progress and will positively influence on the cultural development. The science that art supposed to relate itself to, in his strong opinion, was psychology and the problem it must focus from now on is the response of the viewer.

Alois Riegl began to develop a theory of “attentiveness” to describe the relationship between the viewer of a work of art and the work itself. He introduced his idea as “the beholder’s share” concept, that denotes that part of an artwork’s meaning which must be contributed by the viewer.20

“ The work of art is not complete unless the viewer responses to it.” - argued Alois Riegl.21

This idea has been expanded in his classic book “The Group Portraiture of Holland”. The book compares Italian art of the fifth through sixteenth centuries to Dutch art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In compressing to “inner coherence” of Masaccio’s “The Holy Trinity” painted around 1427, in study of a group paintings of seventeenth-century Holland, such as Frans Hals’s “The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company” Riegle discovered a new psychological aspect of art: namely the art is incomplete without the perceptual and emotional involvement of the viewer. In another hand, the Dutch artists created what Riegle calls an “external coherence”, in which the viewer’s participation is critical for completing the narrative and the picture. Not only people in a painting on equal terms with one another, they actively engage, and are on equal terms with the viewers outside the picture frame.

The role of the viewer involvement in art culture activities seems very obvious and unconditionally important for us today. We are surrounded by the presence of visual artists, designers, performance artists, activists who rely on our responses just as a tool of their work, and we don't question them any more. Interactivity became an independent form of art, that involves the spectator in a way that allows the art to achieve its purpose. Today it is a massive playground for an exploration. But it was not always that way.

Based on ideas derived from Riegl two other art historians Ernst Kris and Ernst Gombrich, continued the investigation of the beholder’s respond. They devised a new approach to the mysteries of visual perception and emotional response incorporated that approach into art criticism.

2.2 “Great art is Ambiguous”

One of Riegl’s students was an Austrian psychoanalysis and art historian Ernst Kris (1900 – 1957). And he argued:

“Great works of art are great, because they are ambiguous.”

Ambiguity allows for alternative views on the part of different beholders, and these differences in the beholder’s response reveals creativity in the beholder’s share. Thus The Beholder recapitulates in his own brain a creative process which parallels that of the artist.22

The simple example of complicated structure will make it clear: If two different persons look at the same painting, they will respond differently to it. It can sound obvious, but Kris is the one who bring made this fact in concrete shape: Each of us, bring different life experience, different experiences to art to being, our experiences in observation including experience in looking at work of art.

In fact, Kris says that the beholder in looking at the work of art undergoes and a creative experience that is in small parts a recreation capable to the artist. The artist of course creates such a great act of the art but every time the viewer looks at the painting he himself undergoes a creative act that is in a small way a recapitulation what the artist does.23 In other words, observing the work of art we recreating it in our mind, reconstracting everything that we see according to our emotional and physiological states of being. We are focussing on different things, capturing specific details, relate our personal memory to it, and that makes the beholder’s response very specific.

A contemporary of Kris, German art historian Erwin Panofsky ( 1892 - 1968 )emphasized the importance of memory in aesthetic response. Art can be read and interpreted iconographically on three levels, he argued, all of which rely on the viewer’s memory.

The first level is the pre-iconographic interpretation, which is concerned with intrinsic elements of the painting: line, color, pure form, subject matter, and emotion. On this level, the viewer’s interpretation is based on practical, intuitive experience of the elements, without recourse to any factual or cultural knowledge. The second level is the iconographic interpretation, which is concerned with the meaning of form and their expression in universal frames of reference. The third level is the iconographical interpretation, which deals with the viewer’s response to art in the more restricted cultural contexts of country, culture, class, religion, and period in history.24

The essence of the art experience, as we can see, is just as ambiguous as a work of great art. The way we perceive the visual information, whether it be painting, posters, or any other product of creative activity, containing the artistic value and the direction of the viewer influence, is highly individual. The reaction, impact and knowledge we perceive as a viewer is a co-creation of the artwork itself and arise a value of the work itself.

Chapter 3. Exploring a Visual perception principles

As we already can conclude the memory plays a very important role for the function of our mind. The unconscious mind processes fully rely on the knowledge and memories that we possess. In order to explore the income for our memory storage we have to understand the way we receive the information from the environment. This process is equipped with sense organs e.g. eye, ear, nose. Each sense organ is part of a sensory system which receives sensory inputs and transmits sensory information to the brain. Main source of our memory information is eyes. We depend on our sight more than any other of our senses and amazingly, 80% of what we perceive comes through our eyes.

3.1 unconscious inference. bottom up and top down processes

To explore the visual perception we turn to another folower of the ideas derived from Alois Riegl - Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich (1909 – 2001). He was interesting in Cognitive psychology of visual perception and its need to achieve better understanding “the Beholder’s share” problem. In his book “Art and Illusion. A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation”, Gombrich brought his idea on psychology and art together. He describes

The brain’s perceptual restructuring on an image have two parts: “projection”, which reflects the vision, and “inference”, or “knowledge, which is based in parts on interface and may be both conscious and unconscious.25

Our brain is, according to Ernst Gombrich, "bottum-up process" based. It is tricking the visual system to build the image that would relatively satisfy us. It has bases that developing in life according your “top-down” process of experiences we go throw.

The bottom-up system means that our nerve system, our visual system, evolved during a period of millions of years of human evolution, in fact, animal evolution, so we are born with a visual system. That system really knows how to deal with the expectable universe which we live in. Take for instance the Sun. Is is the most common source of light, so every time we see a source of light we expect it from above, because the sun is above. If we see one person larger and another person smaller, we presume the larger person is closer to us, so it is just a perspective. The same goes for facial recognition. The children are born with the capability to recognize difference between hundreds of different faces. It is a bottom-up building process.

A top-down process is related to the fact that we each have different life experiences, we have different experiences of the art, etc., and this influences the bottom-up processes. As a result, the meaning of the image, the work of art for instance, depends upon each viewers associations, knowledge of the world and of art, and ability to recall that knowledge and bring it bear on the particular image.26

Gombrich was particularly interested in ambiguous and illusions that cause perception to flip between two rival interpretation. One such figure is the drawing of a famous duck-rabbit created in 1892 by the American psychologist Joseph Jastrow and illustrated by Gombrich near the opening of "Art and Illusion". Because the amount of information that can be processed consciously is highly limited, the viewer cannot see both animals at the same time.

“We can see the picture as either a rabbit or a duck, it is easy to discover both readings. It is less easy to describe what happens when we switch from one interpretation to the other. The reason these percepts are mutually exclusive is that when each image is dominant, it leaves nothing to be explained, no ambiguity. The image is either a duck or a rabit but never both.”27

This principle, he believed, is fundamental to all of our perceptions of the world.. The act of seeing, he argued, is fundamentally interpretative.

The Rubin vase, devised by the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin in 1920, is also an example of perception-flipping between two rival interpretations and also relies on unconscious inferences made by the brain. But unlike the rabbit-duck illusion, the Rubin vase requires the brain to construct an image by differentiating an object (figure) from its background (ground). The reason the illusion works, according to Rubin, is that the contours of the vase match the contours of the face, thus focussing the beholder to select one image or another.

“One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as a figure and the other as ground, the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.”28

A more complex choice between competing interpretations involves the Necker Cube, discovered in 1832 by the Swiss crystallographer Louis Albert Necker. The Necker cube is a two-dimensional line drawing in oblique perspective with no depth cues, yet it appears to be three-dimensional. There is only a single, two-dimensional drawing on the paper. We see something that is not there.

All three examples that we have considered are part of the study based on visual perception called - Gestalt psychology.

3.2 exploring the principles and psychology of Gestalt

“The whole is other than the sum of the parts.”

— Kurt Koffka

The German word “Gestalt” means configuration, or form. Gestalt psychologists use it to refer to the fact that in perceiving an object, a scene, a person, or a face, we respond to “the whole rather than to the individual parts”. We do this because the parts affect one another in such a way that the whole ends up being much more meaningful than the sum of its parts.29

The study began in Germany in 1910. While traveling by train on vacation, a 30-year-old Czech-born psychologist named Max Wertheimer was seized by an idea when he saw flashing lights at a railroad crossing that resemble lights encircling a theater marquee. He got off the train in Frankfurt am Main, where he bought a motion picture toy called a “zoetrope.” When a strip of pictures is placed inside and viewed through the slits in a zoetrope, a succession of stationary pictures appear to be a single, moving picture. In his hotel room, Wertheimer made his own picture strips, consisting not of identifiable objects, but of simple abstract lines, ranging from vertical to horizontal. By varying these elements, he was able to investigate the conditions that contribute to the illusion of motion pictures, an effect that is technically known as “apparent movement”.30

“There are entities where the behavior of the whole cannot be derived from its individual elements nor from the way these elements fit together; rather the opposite is true: the properties of any of the parts are determined by the intrinsic structural laws of the whole.”31

In what is generally considered to be the founding paper of Gestalt psychology, “Gestalt Qualitative” ( “On the Qualities of Form”), published in 1890, Austrian philosopher, and one of the founders and precursors of Gestalt psychology Christian von Ehrenfels (1859 - 1932) provides a perfect example from everyday life: music. He points out that a melody consists of individual elements - individual notes - but much more than the sum of these sounds. The same notes can be combined to yield a completely different melody. We perceive the melody as a whole and not as the sum of its parts because we have a built-in ability for doing so. Indeed, if a note were omitted, we would still recognize the melody.32

The fundamental principle of gestalt perception is the law of prägnanz (in the German language, pithiness).33

“People will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex images as the simplest form(s) possible.”

We prefer things that are simple, clear and ordered. Instinctually these things are safer. They take less time for us to process and present less dangerous surprises. When confronted with complex shapes, we tend to reorganize them into simpler components or into a simpler whole. Gestalt psychologists attempt to discover refinements of the law of prägnanz, and this involves writing down laws that, hypothetically, allow us to predict the interpretation of sensation, what is often called “gestalt laws of grouping”34. And included : Law of Proximity, Law of Similarity, Law of Closure, Law of Symmetry, Law of Common Fate, Law of Continuity, Law of Good Gestalt and a Law of Past Experience.35

The key principles of gestalt systems are emergence, reification, multistability and invariance.

We prefer things that are simple, clear and ordered. Instinctually these things are safer. They take less time for us to process and present less dangerous surprises. When confronted with complex shapes, we tend to reorganize them into simpler components or into a simpler whole. Gestalt psychologists attempt to discover refinements of the law of prägnanz, and this involves writing down laws that, hypothetically, allow us to predict the interpretation of sensation, what isv often called “gestalt laws of grouping”34. And included : Law of Proximity, Law of Similarity, Law of Closure, Law of Symmetry, Law of Common Fate, Law of Continuity, Law of Good Gestalt and a Law of Past Experience.35

First principle is Emergence. The principle states that the "whole" is identified before the "parts". It is the process of forming complex patterns from simple rules. When attempting to identify an object, we first seek to identify its outline. We then match this outline pattern against shapes and objects we already know to find a match. Only after the whole emerges through this outline pattern matching, we start to identify the parts that make up the whole. In gestalt laws of grouping Emergence expresses itself best in “proximity”. The law of proximity states that when an individual perceives an assortment of objects they perceive objects that are close to each other as forming a group. The objects don’t need to be similar in any other way beyond being grouped near each other in space in order to be seen as having a proximity relationship.3637 Becides proximity, Emergence relates such a law as Law of Common Fate, and Law of Continuity.

The second gestalt principle is Reification, that stays for the process when our mind fills the gaps. It is the constructive or generative aspect of perception in which the object as perceived contains more spatial information than what is actually present. As we attempt to match what we see to the familiar patterns we have stored in memory, there isn’t always an exact match. Instead we find a near match and then fill in the gaps of what we think we should see. Reification suggests that we don’t need to present the complete outline in order for viewers to see it.

Best examples of this principle between laws of grouping is a “closure”. As with Prägnanz, “closure” seeks simplicity. With closure, we instead combine parts to form a simpler whole. Our eyes fill in the missing information to form the complete figure.

The next principle of gestalt system, the third, is Multi-stability. This principle is about the way our mind seeks to avoid uncertainty. It is the tendency of ambiguous perceptual experiences, that we just discovered in a beholder’s share exploration by Ernst Kris. Images visually move unstably back and forth between alternative interpretations. Some objects can be perceived in more than one way. A great example for this principle, as we have seen before, can be the duck-rabbit or the Rubin vase. Between the laws of gestalt this principle is named as a Figure-Ground organization. It refers to the relationship between positive elements and negative space. The idea is that the eye will separate whole figures from their background in order to understand what’s being seen. It’s one of the first things people do when looking at any composition.38

The last, fourth principle of gestalt system is Invariance. The principle explains our ability of recognizing similarities and differences. It is a property of perception in which simple objects are recognized independent of their rotation, translation and scale. Since we often encounter objects from different perspectives, we’ve developed an ability to recognize them despite their different appearance by memorising them.39

Simply imagine if you could only recognize someone you knew if they stood directly in front of you and faced you, but you couldn’t recognize them once they turned in profile. Despite the different visual perspective we can still recognize people. Invariance is a Law of Past Experience in the list of “gestalt laws of grouping”. The law of past experience implies that under some circumstances visual stimuli are categorized according to past experience. If two objects tend to be observed within close proximity, or small temporal intervals, the objects are more likely to be perceived together.40

It is not difficult to realize how important it is to understand the Gestalt principles. These principles are often at the foundation of everything we do visually as designers. They describe how the viewer perceives visual information, what attracts the attention of the beholder’s share, how the bottom-up and top-down principles function in practice and how we succumb to visual illusions. Despite the fact that the Gestalt system can not always explain why one or another principle works, it provides the undeniable facts and examples of their statements.

Chapter 4: Exploring a Mental Imagery

A visual image is a simple thing, a picture that enters the eyes. A mental image is a little bit more complex. The exploration of an unconscious mind role in a creative process brought us to a research of a deeper understanding of viewer response. By exploring the principle of visual perception we found out how the visual senses react on one or another information. Now the question is : How are the analytical triumphs of visual perception achieved? And if we indeed, as said Ernst Kris, recreate all we visually perceive, how can we influence this imagination?

Richard Gregory (1923 – 2010) British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, raised the next question:

“Is the visual brain a picture book? When we see a tree is there a tree-like picture in the brain?”

And to this he confidently replied: no! Rather than having a picture, the brain has a hypothesis about a tree and other objects in the outside world that it reflects as the conscious experience of seeing.41 Assembled in the mind from information both real and imagined, mental images represent complex composites of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, opinion and mood, combined with associative memories, both conscious and unconscious.

Common examples of mental images include daydreaming and the mental visualization that occurs while reading a book. 42 Another can be the process when a musician hears a song, he or she can sometimes “see” the song notes in their head, as well as hear them with all their tonal qualities.43 Or simply by reading this text I have asked to process an incredible amount of visual information from the reader in order to understand the content. It is a form of mental experience, we can say, that confirms the reality of an action that we go through.

One of the current examples of graphic design practice is the process of working with a virtual environment:

“The first step in programming is imagining … I like to imagine the structures that are being maintained, the structures that represent the reality I want to code … The code for the most part writes itself, but it’s the data structures I maintain that are the key. They come first and I keep them in my mind throughout the entire process.”44

“You have to simulate in your mind how the program’s going to work, and you have to have a complete grasp of how the various pieces of the program work together.”45

Mental imagery, similar to visual perception, has ways to be tricked. One well-known brain trick theory – Ironic process describes the practical use of the possible confusion manipulation - in our mind imagery.

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, 186346

Ironic process theory, or the white bear problem, refers to the psychological process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface. An example is how when someone is actively trying not to think of a white bear or about a pink elephant they may actually be more likely to imagine one.

We can not doubt that the image that occurs in our mind is more likely an automatic process, unconscious activity than something that we work on. We more often follow our imagination that trains the mental imagery in order to control it. That makes us relatively easy to control. At least we can admit this is the reason we follow a stimulus while we are not aware of its nature and do not know yet whether or not to defend from it. And these kind of stimuli are referred to as subliminal stimuli.

4.1 :Subliminal stimuli

Subliminal perception occurs whenever stimuli presented below the threshold or limen for awareness are found to influence thoughts, feelings, or actions. The term subliminal perception was originally used to describe situations in which weak stimuli were perceived without awareness.47

The threshold in subliminal stimuli research is the level at which the participant is not aware of the stimulus being presented.48 Perception without awareness can be demonstrated through the comparison of direct and indirect measures of perception. Direct measures use responses to task definitions as per the explicit instructions given to the subjects. Indirect measures use responses that are not a part of the task definition given to subjects.Both direct and indirect measures are displayed under comparable conditions except for the direct or indirect instruction. >49

Some studies have looked at the efficacy of subliminal messaging in television. Subliminal messages produce only one-tenth of the effects of detected messages and the findings related to the effects of subliminal messaging were relatively ambiguous. Also, participants’ ratings of positive response to commercials are not affected by subliminal messages in the commercials.50

Karremans suggests that subliminal messages have an effect when the messages are goal-relevant. Subliminally priming a brand name of a drink (Lipton Ice) made those who were thirsty want the Lipton Ice Tea. However, those who were not thirsty were not influenced by the subliminal messages. Karremans did a study assessing whether subliminal priming of a brand name of a drink would affect a person’s choice of drink, and whether this effect is caused by the individual’s feelings of being thirsty.51 In another study, participant’s ratings of thirst were higher after viewing an episode of “The Simpsons” that contained single frames of the word “thirsty” or of a picture of a Coca-Cola can.52 Some studies have shown greater effects of subliminal messaging with as high as 80% of participants showing a preference for a particular rum when subliminally primed by the name placed in an ad backward.53

Many authors have continued to argue for the effectiveness of subliminal cues in changing consumption behavior, citing environmental cues as a main culprit of behavior change.54 Authors who support this line of reasoning cite findings such as the research that showed slow-paced music in a supermarket was associated with more sales and customers moving at a slower pace.55 Findings such as these support the notion that external cues can affect behavior, although the stimulus may not fit into a strict definition of subliminal stimuli because although the music may not be attended to or consciously affecting the customers, they are certainly able to perceive it.

To conclude we can say that the mental image is what we are after all. All we go through in live, all we learn, see, feel and remember shapes this character. Our memories are 80% imagery.56

“We are who we are because of what we learn and what we remember.”, says Eric R Kandel.

In terms of art and design influence, it is concluded the story we went through in a chapters above. Whether author, an artist or a designer speaking in the language of Shape, Colour, Music, Symbol or Word, the goal is always to trigger a mental image. So we can say that a visual image and a principle of it is merely a tool to trigger a mental image (imagination).


In order to explore the “The essence of the beholder’s share” and its role in a graphic design, this thesis has aimed to answer to the next question: To what extent can the knowledge about the unconscious mind influence the design practice?

Graphic design is a discipline that requires a large amount of creativity, organization and decision making. We can even say that making choices is the main activity in the creative process. In order to organise the visual communication in a productive way, the designer faces a choice between different approaches, materials, aesthetics, technology, concept, audience, and much more. Since the recipe does not exist to address any of these issues, creativity and awareness play a major role in decision making.

The awareness that we possess is everything that we know about ourself ( who do we think we are?) and will always be less than what we actually are. Once we agree with that we can admit that not all of our behaviour is conscious and we definitely rely on some underlying processes in order to function productively and being able to focus on one or two things at the moment, instead of controlling a hundred things we go through every moment.

The unconscious mind has been a subject of study for many different disciplines such as neuroscience, psychology, biology, philosophy, art history etc. It has been a long process in history of exploration, discovery, analysis and experiments that brought us to the moment that we can talk about this subject in scientific level. Leaders in science, medicine, and art of XX c. began a revolution that changed forever the way we think about the human mind, our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions, and how mind and brain relate to art.

I strongly believe that one of the reasons people are so motivated to understand themselves is the desire to understand others and vice versa. The art culture has this form of relationship primarily in its structure. We see it in the dialog between the work of art and the artist himself, the viewer and the object of observation or an experience, and finally the artist and the beholder’s share.

On the way of connecting the study of the mind with the creative processes in order to understand the chemistry better Aloes Riegle has posed a perfect question to research: What is the beholder’s responce? The beholder's share became a subject of exploration for many psychologists, art historians and design critics. The issues of the viewer response has been fairly chosen as a focus point to research in order to understand the psychology of art and design.

Aloes Riegle, Ernst Kris, Ernst Gombrich, and afterwards gestaltists went through a range of remarkable studies and insights on this topic. Their work gives a possibility to be much more aware on how the view responds to the work of art or a a design product, and because of this, it can much more effective in achieving one's goal. The knowledge about an unconscious mind directly influences the quality of the design practice in terms of understanding the essence of the beholder’s share response.

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  2. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present.” Eric R. Kandel

  3. Ibid.

  4. Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes, “Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Human Brain.” Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008.

  5. Functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) is a functional neuroimaging procedure using MRI technology that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. This technique relies on the fact that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activation are coupled.

  6. Kandel, Eric R. (2007), In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-32937-7.

  7. Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes, “Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Human Brain.” Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008.

  8. Plato, Knowledge, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  9. Shopenhauer A. 1891. Studies in Pessimism: A Series of Essays. TB Saunders, translatitor. Swan Sonnenschein.London.

  10. Nietzsche F. 1886. Beyond Good and Evil. H. Zimmern, translator. 1989. Prometheus Books. New York.

  11. Neurobiology is the study of cells of the nervous system and the organization of these cells into functional circuits that process information and mediate behavior. It is a subdiscipline of both biology and neuroscience.(from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

  12. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present”. Eric R. Kandel

  13. Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. Papermac, 1995, pp. xv, 32.

  14. A Freudian slip, also called parapraxis, is an error in speech, memory, or physical action that is interpreted as occurring due to the interference of an unconscious (“dynamically repressed”) subdued wish, conflict, or train of thought guided by the ego and the rules of correct behavior.


  16. - Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA, about 1969 Mark Rothko canvases.

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  22. Beyond Mimesis and Convention: Representation in Art and Science edited by Roman Frigg, Matthew Hunter

  23. Ernst Kris, “Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art”

  24. Erwin Panofsky, “Studies in Iconology”

  25. Art and Illusion. A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon 1960

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  28. Edgar Rubin, Synsoplevede Figurer, 1915

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  30. For detailed information on Wertheimer’s apparent movement experiments and the formulation of gestalt theory, see Gregory A. Kimble, Michael Wertheimer and Charlotte White, eds., Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology (Washington, D.C., and Hillsdale, NJ: American Psychological Association and Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991); Morton Hunt, The Story of Psychology (New York: Doubleday, 1993); Robert C. Bolles, The Story of Psychology: A Thematic History (Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1993); and Mitchell G. Ash, Gestalt Psychology in German Culture, 1890--1967: Holism and the Quest for Objectivity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995).

  31. Max Wertheimer, quoted in D.Brett King and Michael Wertheimer, Max Wertheimer and Gestalt Theory ( New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2004), 378.

  32. Christian von Ehrenfels, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  33. Sternberg, Robert, Cognitive Psychology Third Edition, Thomson Wadsworth© 2003.

  34. Ibid.

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  38. Schacter, Daniel L., Daniel T. Gilbert, and Daniel M. Wegner. Psychology. ; Second Edition. N.p.: Worth, Incorporated, 2011.

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  40. Todorovic, Dejan. “Gestalt Principles”. scholarpedia. Retrieved 5 April 2012.

  41. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present”. Eric R. Kandel ,232

  42. Plessinger, Annie. The Effects of Mental Imagery on Athletic Performance. The Mental Edge. 12/20/13. Web.

  43. Sachs, Oliver (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. London: Picador. pp. 30–40.

  44. (Charles Simonyi, page 15)

  45. (Bill Gates, page 73)

  46. “Suppressing the ‘white bears’”. American Psychological Association. Retrieved 20 March 2015.

  47. Loftus, Elizabeth F.; Klinger, Mark R. (June 1992). “Is the unconscious smart or dumb?”

  48. Chessman, Jim; Merikle, Philip M. (1984). “Priming with and without awareness”.

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  50. mith, Kirk H.; Rogers, Martha (1994). “Effectiveness of subliminal messages in television commercials: Two experiments”.

  51. Karremans, J.; Stroebe, W.; Claus, J. (2006). “Beyond Vicary’s fantasies: the impact of subliminal priming and brand choice”.

  52. Cooper, Joel; Cooper, Grant (2002). “Subliminal motivation: A story revisited”.

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  54. Dijksterhuis, Ap; Smith, Pamela K.; van Baaren, Rick B.; Wigboldus, Daniel H.J. (2005). “The unconscious consumer: Effects of environment on consumer behavior”.

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