Gestalt Exercises #4 and the Color Walk

Masaccio, “The Tribute Money” (1425)

Differentiating and Unifying
“Try this experiment with a painting you like. Notice the lines and the drawing apart from the objects painted and the colors; for example, trace the outlines of the main figures and observe the pattern they form. Examine the pattern formed by the empty spaces between the outlines of the main objects. See the pattern produced by each color in turn—abstract the patch of blue, of yellow, of red. If the picture gives an illusion of three dimensionality, follow the receding planes—the pattern of the foreground, of the middle ground, of the background. Trace out the patterns of light and shadow. Note the way that material is indicated by the direction of the brushstrokes. Last of all, look at the story or scene portrayed, for this is where most people begin to look at a painting and become fixed.”
Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality
by Frederick Salomon Perls, Ralph Hefferline, Paul Goodman

The authors go on to say that if you follow this suggestion, the painting will “begin to swim toward you with a new beauty and fascination and the details and their unity will be evident without painfully taking them apart and putting them together. This single immediate grasp of the differentiated unity means that you are in contact with the painting.”

Before you try that, why not take a Color Walk? Munro Galloway led such a walk at an event for his show Chairs at Studio 10 in 2017.  Here are his instructions:

“The exercise that has elicited the greatest response and produced the most interesting results has been the Walk Exercise. Basically it consists in taking a walk with the continuity and perceptions you encounter… Another exercise that is very effective is walking on colors. Pick out all the reds on a street, focusing only on red objects–brick, lights, sweaters, signs. Shift to green, blue, orange, yellow. Notice how the colors begin to stand out more sharply of their own accord.”
—William S. Burroughs, “Ten Years and a Billion Dollars,” The Adding Machine, 1985.

“Your color walk can take you anywhere. Let color be your guide. Allow yourself to become sensitized to the color in your surroundings. As you walk try to construct a color story or a narrative based on the color you observe. What are the colors that you become aware of first? What are the colors that reveal themselves more slowly? What colors do you observe that you did not expect? What color relationships do you notice? Do colors appear to change over time?”
—Munro Galloway

Munro Galloway “Desert Oracle” (2018)

Brilliant that Galloway thought of a way to enhance the viewer’s experience of looking at his paintings. Wish I had.

In the book of Gestalt exercises the next suggestion is to deconstruct a piece of music, listening to single instruments, rhythms and melody; another is paying undivided attention to what you are eating. The exercises were first presented to college students. The book includes their responses. The objection to Exercise 4 voiced by some was that the goal of differentiated unity involved aggressively taking things apart before putting them back together.

It is undeniable that a result of this experiment will be that some paintings “will not swim towards you with a renewed fascination.” Some paintings will be found not to be worth this kind of attention. I have heard artists and viewers say that they prefer to think of and look at artists’ work as a whole and not to look too closely at a single work. They should not do this exercise.

Perls, Hefferline and Goodman do not mention that a painting or a piece of music might be disliked as a result of this exercise. They do recognize it about the food though, that really chewing and paying attention might reveal that the reason you are paying no attention is that you do not like what you are eating.

Jackson Pollock, “Convergence”, 1952

To continue with the metaphor of eating, perhaps they
and you might see some value in a less sensual, more intellectual view of eating. Which could be food as fuel or not worthy of complete attention or as a time-wasting necessity, or you may have a diet idea of eating only “what is good for you” or what someone else tells you to, or your criteria may not include taste and even lead you to eat tomatoes in the winter and not go to the Ft. Greene Farmers Market now Saturdays 8am – 2pm) and buy a tomato (and a peach.)

Cecilia Whitaker Doe “Dare I blaze like the Trees” (2016)

A walk too may be only a way of getting from point A to Point B. Zoning out may be a goal, or playing a game or getting something done on your phone.  Nature may be what you do on vacation because it doesn’t exist in the city or is overwhelmed by the noise, the trash, the beggars, etc.

But in the Covid era, walks often don’t go to point B, they simply circle around, returning to Point A. They may be the high point of the day.

(Two other ways to make a walk interesting are one, to let your eyes only follow movement and two, to pretend that instead of walking through the world, it is flowing towards you and around you.)


Clintel Steed “The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus” 2019


During the real lockdown period this winter, the crystal clarity of the air and the smell of it! the blue of the sky! seeing far into the distance!I had the fantasy that the whole world would rise up and insist that we keep it that way.



The exercises are from:

*Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality
by Frederick Salomon Perls, Ralph Hefferline, Paul Goodman

Gestalt Exercise#1, Gestalt Exercise #2 and Gestalt Exercise #3 read them here.

William S. Burroughs Walking on Color

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