The chief objective of this study is to establish the sources of Gyorgy Kepes’s visual theory as expounded in his 1944 book Language of Vision, and examine his synthesis of these sources in a form that was so popular that his theoretic metaphors are still alive today. The very longevity, pervasiveness, and adaptability of his ideas have contributed to a recent tendency to make inaccurate assumptions about Kepes’s sources and misconstrue his goals. Growing scholarly attention to Kepes’s work and theory is hampered by the lack of focused scholarly work on this book, his most concentrated source of his ideas on art, design, and vision.
This dissertation looks at the contributions of Kepes’s mentors, friends, and colleagues—artists, scientists, philosophers, writers, and teachers—whom he met in the principal places he lived leading up to the publication of his book—Budapest, Berlin, London, and Chicago. In particular, this dissertation examines the theoretical or philosophical sources these colleagues turned to in their own work: advertising psychology based to a large degree on ideas of philosopher Wilhelm Wundt; theoretical approaches to new media; Gestalt psychology; and language concepts of the Unity of Science movement. This dissertation asserts that Kepes found both a common social concern among these colleagues and an underlying unity to their varied approaches that he fused into the potent and flexible metaphor of vision. He applied this metaphor to advertising design, but he and others have broadened it to include art, architecture, other forms of design, and perception. Both anchoring Kepes’s theories and traversing broad areas of visual theory, art pedagogy, and commercial art, this study intends to contribute to a broader understanding of mid-twentieth-century art theory and practice.