12 November, 2017

Art: The Articulation of Form

Bodies against time by Étienne-Jules Marey

With the wide acceptance of Form as the sole determinator of Content, on the one hand, contrasting with the alternative view, which makes all Causes as only due to Content-and-context, and, in addition, as the determinator of Form, on the other - we clearly have contradictory premises as to what is primary in determining the Nature of Reality.

The two positions boil down, in philosophical terms, to opposite stances, namely -

Form-first delivers to us Idealism, while
Content-first constitutes Materialism.

But, what Forms do we deal in, and under what system of rules do we use them? Rigorously, we have only the set of Perfect Forms - that is those initially observationally and pragmatically-established, and, thereafter, those rationally-developed via a Purely Formal System of Manipulations that we term Mathematics. But, is that, really, a viable means of revealing all of Reality?

It was, of course, the very-first coherent and consistent attempt, by the Ancient Greeks (circa 500 BC), but it was also a truly revolutionary move, for though literally NO Perfect Forms exist as such in Reality-as-is, the development was extremely significant for another key aspect of what was necessarily involved.

Let us, first, be crystal clear as to what these crucial Forms were.

The more obvious Forms were Squares, Circles and Triangles - but even more non-real entities were, what they, in turn, were composed of - namely "Lines of zero thickness" and "Dots of zero extension". What on earth was going on?

Josef Albers, 'Formulation Articulation I & II', 1972,

It came from, in fact, the already common practice of Simplification - employed in order to make things easier to consider, manipulate and construct into ever more comprehendable, complex systems. BUT, and this is very important, these "modifications" were of a very special type: they attempted to extract only the "truly key features" from real situations, and into pure embodiments of a kind of assumed to be driving-or-causing essence.

They were in fact Abstractions.

Now, Abstractions were not, even then, wholly new: they had been used for millennia to describe animals of the same species - characterised by common, easily-identified visual appearances, and attached-to each uniquely-named variety. But, what the Greeks did was significantly different! Their extractions were Perfect-Forms, not merely a commonly-applicable description. For, such were each individually considered as the unchanging essence of all things possessing that form, for though it NEVER occurred in Reality, as such, it could be used, effectively, for all occurring versions of that shape: it was indeed an Idealisation, as well as a simplification of what was being dealt with.

NOTE: Before going any further, we really must note both the advantages and disadvantages of all such Idealisations. For, as they were never enough to completely define any particular, real-world-thing, they, therefore, would definitely, at some point, fail in being "appropriate descriptions", once crucial aspects - omitted from any idealisation, came into determining prominance for some uninconsidered reason. But, on the other hand, such idealisations would be extremely useful, and could deliver reasonably accurate predictions, and even guide successful productions, whilever the idealised description remained "apt"!

So, in a particular sense, it was a very real advance, for though it was always an approximation of concretely-existing versions of this form, the general relations, extracted from manipulations with this Perfect Form, were indeed "just-as-true" of all such other concrete versions of it too! But, though all this was pragmatically validated, as was then usual, by, "If it works, it is right!", we have to ask what did actually determine that Form? Was it built-in from the outset by an all powerful creator? Or, were they the only possible shapes that things could take?

Clearly, Idealism is a construct and NOT a revelation of natural essence! So, if this is the case, the Materialist alternative must always be employed to attempt to answer the question "Why?". concerning the reasons for the particular Forms of entities. Yet, in addition, it also must be fully explained why the idealist route, nevertheless, still enabled effective predictions and productions to be achieved.

Now, all this has been fully addressed elsewhere in writings by this philosopher. So, those, requiring that, are directed to SHAPE Journal on the Internet, and its many issues concerned with The Philosophy of Mathematics.

But here, the priority, as the title of this post asserts, is the consideration of "Art is the Articulation of Form" as claimed by the Italian painter and sculptor, Amedeo Modigliani!

Head by Modigliani

If Art was fully-delivered just by Form as such, it would mean something very different to what Modigliani suggested, and as a sculptor, myself, I was immediately sure that he had got-it-right in his "definition". For, basic Perfect Forms, as found in Mathematics, simply cannot say much more than is conveyed within the particular shape's formal definition.

But, just how one form transforms into another can display a rich variety of varying alternative causes: while in music a particular rhythmic pattern and tonal sequence transforming into something different can contain the subtlest of emotional or even causal content.

Perhaps surprisingly, while Form as such was never capable of explaining anything, the articulations between different forms could remarkably reflect the transformation of causes delivering that transition.

That may not seem much, but, to arrive at such a conclusion, would be incorrect! For, Art is not an indulgence or a mere entertainment (as in "Strictly Come Dancing" for example)! For, many millennia it has been an alternative means of communication of things not adequately dealt with by other means.

In a sense it is the oldest-holist-attempt to deliver aspects of a changing Reality - indeed, the very opposite of pluralist forms and even explanations!

It can, at its best, capture Reality-in-transit, and perhaps this is because it subordinates Form to "Time"?

Forms are fixed patterns, often extractable only by stopping the flow of Time and taking a "snapshot" of the revealed (if momentary) pattern!

From Ghost Moments by Michael C Coldwell

NOTE: My son, Michael Conflux Coldwell, is a photographer and musician, and he addresses the seeming limitations of "the photograph" by choosing as subjects situations wherein significant, over-time changes are there in the frozen-yet-haunting content. And, in a recent exhibition delivered many such photographs, as well as a movie, accompanied by his own music and sounds, which dramatically converted photographs into suggestions or even repositories of change.

AM by Conflux Coldwell

Now, Art attempts to remedy any simplifications by building "time-perceptions" into the art-work: it is why Music is so transcendental, because it directly uses Time, itself, to express what it is attempting to communicate. But, even static, unchanging Works-of-Art, nevertheless attempt to enforce a trajectory of perception, as the observer is led-through the work over time.

As a sculptor myself, I, like Modigliani, attempt to deliver two time-based perceptions for my audiences: I deliver changes via the varying positions of observers as they move around the piece! But, I also communicate change, precisely as Amedeo describes it - as the articulation (or changing) of one form into another - via various sorts of micro trajectory across the surfaces of the piece.

As a young convert to Sculpture as an artform, it isn't surprising that my first serious piece was a re-creation of a Head by Modigliani, and my favourite sculptor very quickly became Henry Moore!

Oval with Points by Henry Moore

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