On Form

There’s a connection and relationship between the way we internalize honesty/deception and how we relate to form.

Form is the means by which error is recognized and the means by which correctness is recognized.

There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. The first muse is the one mainly listened to in a cheap-energy civilization, in which “economic health” depends on the assumption that everything desirable lies within easy reach of anyone. To hear the second muse one must move outside the cheap-energy enclosure. It is the willingness to hear the second muse that keeps us cheerful in our work. To hear only the first is to live in the bitterness of disappointment.

Wendell Berry

The most difficult thing to grasp about this relation is untangling what form is. Misconceptions abound. Most conflate form with an ideal. This keeps us stuck in a dualistic reduction striving to catch some ideal. Stuck in the narrow realm of ideas. We never get past thought.

There might be another way to consider form. Dealing with form in Qi Gong and in painting has provided clues, insights into a different relation.

What happens when we interact with form in a way that is not limited to an idea/ideal? Is that possible?

In Qi Gong we interact with forms of movement. Within our bodies we inhabit a given geometry. It makes possible a variety of potential movements. We are limited. Not only by limitations imposed by this physical geometry of bones and ligaments and muscles; but by those that arise from our particular history and current state of activity, health, strength.

We also have a history of movement we are habituated to. There are stereotypical – actions that arise from common, unconsidered reactions that stem from our conditioning – motions that become ingrained even though they are counterproductive, make us prone to injury, and block our capacity to move with mastery.

Within the practice of Qi Gong a series of movements have been found to connect our potential for movement with our current state – whatever that might be.These help us, lead us, towards a greater mastery of movement. We interact with trajectories and geometries as they exist within our bodies in relation to the forms we engage.

We develop a direct and unmediated relationship with these forms. At least so much as we are able to suspend our mental habits, expecting that we must direct our bodies rather than getting our thoughts out of our body’s way. As we break away from habits that lead us to do everything twice we discover that our bodies know how to move. Our bodies know how to learn movement, mirroring another, developing an internal – let’s not call it judgement… – a guide. A way to hone our responses to implications born of the relations of trajectory to our physical geometry.

This description turns what is fluent and flowing, the articulation of movement that we find so correct and inspiring in animals, into a clumsy thing of tortured language. We’re familiar with the necessity for this whenever we attempt to restore viability to corrupted terms. This mirrors what happens at the start of a practice. When we let go of what we thought were our “natural” ways of standing and moving to adopt what appear to be strange postures and attitudes. It’s only after a transition that we begin to find the fluency inherent in the forms we practice.

In painting it can take a long time – or never – before we begin to drop the assumptions our conditioning assert regarding form and how we might relate to it. Cezanne’s, “Cubes, Spheres, and Cylinders” are terms derived from an ideal. Exhortations to translate our visual perceptions into what appear to be bodies-in-space; but which we can only perceive as shapes and tones on a visual field; we interpret these perceptions by comparing them with memories of what we have touched. This keeps getting between us and what is actually going on.

The foundation of what can be called a practice of painting is that it is possible for us to interact with a visual field conjured upon a privileged surface: a canvas, paper, a wall…. A privileged surface because we choose to treat what happens on it as significant, setting aside any practical or pragmatic judgement of utility. Making marks and perceiving their interrelation, we create a field of practice. Just as we do with the space where we interact with movement in Qi Gong. On this surface and in the space-we-occupy in front of it, with a variety of mark-making tools and materials that color-and-tone it, we interact with a place where every and any perception, projection, any association of any kind, is possible.

Interacting with this surface we are confronted with stereotypical habits of action. Confronted by the chasm between our expectations and what is actually there. Confronted by the limitations of our materials. We cannot go brighter than what a reflective material will produce. No darker than what a light-absorbing pigment will give us. We are confronted with the decay of our response to visual stimuli.

Signifiers can short-circuit our perception, working directly on our conditioned memories just as when we think we “see” a “man” when we interpret a sign or a stick-figure. There is another “language” available in painting, a mimesis of visual perception that creates an illusion of space, light, and forms-in space out of patterns of juxtaposed marks.

As we work, a compelling field of vision may appear to shimmer into life somewhere on or before or behind – or all three simultaneously – the surface of the work. Our marks – their inception as a color choice, the marker-maker we use, the particular dynamic of the motion we impart in placing them; all seem to just happen. We merely witness what our hands are doing instead of purposely commanding them to action. The results appear fluent beyond measure. We feel as though we are not marking a surface. We are carving space and bringing forth light.

We leave the work with a vision dancing in our head. We return to find something less. Bits and pieces retain glimmers of what we thought was there. But, there are other passages that lie inert. That block and distort.

What happened?

A tapestry of projections took place. Fragments of coherence joined with our willing belief in what we hoped to see. Also, there is an adaptability of perception that works to “heal” distortion. We project wholeness onto something that is not all there. With time comes a period of adaptation, in part a forgetting of our previous expectations and in part an opening of our selves to what has actually taken place. Our perception is no longer passive. We sense how our perception constructs a coherent form or falls for a willed after projection. At the same time the physical surface, pigments and medium and substrate, must physically “heal.” An intractably physical object is taking shape with all the limitations inherent in its specificity.

… real living form is the result of the individual’s effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown…. …if you stop to think of… form—as form you are lost… form must be inevitable…. Making your unknown known… and keeping the unknown always beyond you… form must take care of its self….

Georgia O’Keeffe

We find forms we recognize, shapes in the conventional sense; but these are not what we perceive directly. We cannot participate in the creation of a living work by directing our hand to make shapes. This is too reductive and simplistic. This expectation will never get us past a crude signification of form. Such a strategy can only create an illustration, not fulfill the potential of a painting. – An illustration is an image of an intention

As we work there are times when something comes to exist on the surface. It is invented/created. The result of an interplay between intention and accident and all the mystery inherent in any emergence. At other times we find we are responding to what we see there to clear blockages. It becomes apparent that what is keeping a certain passage from “coming to life” is a blockage or distraction somewhere else on the surface.

We gain an appreciation for how interconnected every part of the surface is with every other. Adding or removing a color or mark on any part has what, at times, can be witnessed as a profound, even startling effect on the whole surface. What we do “over here” can “turn the lights” on or off across the entire surface. Can make another passage sing or fall-away into muddy dullness.

This interplay, this relation to the whole, is where we interact with what it is meaningful to call form. Form seen in this way is not the fulfillment of some arbitrary requirement of an expected quantity: say that a rectangle show four sides or an orange is the color orange. Form is what emerges. What passes in and out of implication into tacit actuality.

Such form is not something we can intentionally manipulate with what we have come to expect to control. We dance with form. Recognize it as Quality.

Our actions in “real life” have fatal consequences. Their results persist. We cannot “take back” what we have done in relation to the world. Practices provide an arena in which we may interact with form in ways that are not fatal. We may set aside the fear and panic fatality instills in us. We can experiment and experience and develop habits freely.

Of course it is hard to treat these experiments lightly. We tend to overlay our fears and inhibitions directly upon what are “time-outs” from the fatal work of our interactions with what-is in real-life. Ego defends its existence by blinding us to whatever may free us from it. So much of the work of a practice is in disengaging our selves from the domination of Ego.

What practice ultimately brings us is contact with Quality. Contact not as its consumers or witnesses; but as participants in its creation. We engage with Quality. This “rubs off” onto the rest of our lives. The hints and clues, changes, that occur in our habits; our new relation with action and freedom from reaction and stereotypical motions; all carry across. In practice we practice how to live. We learn how to learn. We engage and this engagement feeds every aspect of our lives.

What is significant in this engagement is that it is a taking-on of, an embodiment of, our relation to everything. What could be just an intellectual or academic notion of connection and relation becomes something we can touch and feel and taste.

Honesty and deception.

It is no wonder we’re confused. That we tend to find it difficult to sort illusion and detect outright deception. We internalize this confusion and damage our selves with self-deception. We insist on lying to our selves.

So long as we do not have experience of how to relate, be in relationship with everything, we are caught in a trap called judgement.

This trap is so potent because we find it hard not to think of judgement as necessary. A tool, even an ideal, to which we chain our selves.

Within the Realm of Negotiation there is no other way to sort out what to do. How to think and act.

Without exposure to relation within a practice we cannot think our way out of this position. This trap scares us. Our fear pushes us further into deception. As we leave honesty further and further behind our world is more and more fraught. This frightens us more. A vicious cycle develops. The trap closes. The shadows of our fears rise-up to destroy us.

Our assumptions and habits of judgement expect that belief is open to argument. That we can be convinced of things. If so, then why not deceive our selves or someone else into agreement? “It’s for our/their own good!” Judgement and justification walk hand hand….

It’s almost funny the way this world-view discounts relation as “relativism.” An example of the way projection and justification work to trap us. Anything that might break the cycle of fear and deception is falsified.  We are driven to act out of weakness and to not only avoid, but totally misunderstand, what strength might be as we strive after the power to dominate the subjects of projections we insist are the cause of our fears.

Stepping back from this precipice of urgency we may piece together a relation to form and in this way find how we may discover and navigate honesty.

You and I don’t know whether our vision is clear in relation to our time or not—No matter what failure or success we may have—we will not know—But we can keep our integrity—according to our own sense of balance with the world and that creates our form—

Georgia O’Keeffe



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Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

2 thoughts on “On Form

  1. Though our languages in this context may differ slightly, this makes a lot of sense to me.

    “Form is what emerges. What passes in and out of implication into tacit actuality.”

    Yes, insight takes form, manifests in matter. Meaning and matter are inseparable.

    “What is significant in this engagement is that it is a taking-on of, an embodiment of, our relation to everything. What could be just an intellectual or academic notion of connection and relation becomes something we can touch and feel and taste.”



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