Rudolf Arnheim (July 15, 1904June 9, 2007) was a German-born author, art and film theorist and perceptual psychologist. He himself said that his major books are Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (1954), Visual Thinking (1969), and The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts (1982), but it is Art and Visual Perception for which he was most widely known. Revised, enlarged and published as a New Version in 1974, it has been translated into 14 languages, and is very likely one of the most widely read and influential art books of the twentieth century.

[edit] Formative years

Arnheim was born in Berlin, where his father owned a small piano factory. Despite the expectation that he should become a businessman, he enrolled at the University of Berlin in 1923. There, he majored in psychology and philosophy, with secondary emphases in the histories of art and music. It was there (in makeshift research facilities in the abandoned Imperial Palace) that he studied with the Gestalt psychologists, including Max Wertheimer (his Doktorvater), Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Lewin. His doctoral dissertation, which he completed in 1928, was a study of expression in human faces and handwriting.

[edit] Early writings

While a graduate student, Arnheim wrote weekly film reviews for progressive Berlin publications. In 1928, having finished his dissertation, he became a junior editor for film and cultural affairs at Die Weltbühne, and on one assignment was sent to Dessau, where he wrote an article on the new Bauhaus building there, designed by Walter Gropius.

His preoccupation with film led to the publication in 1932 of his first book entitled Film als Kunst (Film as Art), in which he examined the various ways in which film images are (and should always aspire to be) different from literal encounters with reality. However, soon after this book was released, Adolf Hitler came to power, and because Arnheim was Jewish, the sale of his book was no longer allowed.

In 1933, he moved from Germany to Italy, where he remained for six years. He continued to write about film, and, in particular, contributed to an encyclopedia of the history and theory of film for the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations). While living in Rome, he also wrote a second book, titled Radio: The Art of Sound (1936), in which he discussed the characteristics of radio with more or less the same approach with which he had looked at film.

Arnheim grew very fond of Italy (he felt as if it were his home, his casa propria). Unfortunately, in 1938, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini withdrew from the League of Nations, and adopted racial policies that were consistent with those of Nazi Germany. As a result, Arnheim moved to England in 1939, where he took on a position as a radio translator with BBC Radio, in which, as a person was speaking, he translated simultaneously from German to English and vice versa.