Figure Ground defined
• The figure is the subject (emotional focus) of
an image and the ground is the area which the
• The figure is also referred to as the positive
space while the ground is considered the
• The figure and ground define each other and
are both necessary in an image (puzzle pieces)
• “One can then state as a fundamental
principle: When two fields have a common
border, and one is seen as the 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.”
• Edgar Rubin, 1915
• Both the faces and vase can be perceived as
the figure, but only one at a time.
• When one is viewed as the figure it’s
surrounding space, ground, is formless and
acts only to define the contour of the figure.
• Rubin’s work influenced the Gestalt theorists
who later studied many of the same
• Gestalt psychology come out of the Berlin
School in the early 20th century.
• It states that humans perceive major shapes
and forms before recognizing the parts and
details that make up the larger whole.
• The two gestalt systems that most relate to
figure/ground relationships are “reification”
Reification: Constructive perception, by which the experience percept
contains more spatial information than the sensory stimulus on which it is
In other words, we see a shape by what is implied in the provided imagery.
Multistability: the tendency of ambiguous perceptual experience to pop
back and forth unstably between two or more alternative interpretations.
Necker Cube and Rubin’s face/vase are perfect examples.
• Dutch artist known for designing ambiguous
figure/ground relationships in his prints and
• Author of graphic
novels known for
matter and jarring