"Friends, never ever underestimate the art market.
In fact, I would at this point say it is impossible to underestimate
what can be sold. But never, ever confuse success in the
market with a means for measuring creative worth."
Bruce Holly, "The Heart of It" in ArtCalendar,
Amen and vice versa. -- Pam Coulter Blehert, ex tempore,
I discovered students have difficulty finding this word
in Dictionaries and I too have not found in my small collection.
Until I can again locate a dictionary that includes it,
let me attempt an explanation. The word is apparently coined,
from Psychology, borrowed by the arts. It refers to the
relationship, in a visual field, between "figure",
(the object or area of attention) and "ground",
(the background). Some figure-ground arrangements are very
unambiguous, such as a pot of flowers on a table or a picture
of Aunt Mary. Some are not clear, as in an abstract, where
no particular form stands out as the point of interest.
"Ambiguous figure-ground" means that the eye or
mind shifts in its evaluation of what is the figure and
what is the background. You may recall puzzles that used
that quality: the two profiles facing that became a vase
if you shifted your attention. In art, a painting can gain
movement and interest if there is some ambiguousness in
the figure-ground arrangement. For instance, a pot of flowers
on a table is nice but not necessarily very exciting. It's
too easily viewed and dismissed. But if we add interest
to the background, or shift the position of the flowers
from the center of the picture plane so that the shapes
formed by sections of the background begin to be more interesting
(more cogent, or tighter), the picture gains movement and