Monday, February 7, 2011

Law 2: Beauty is Form and Contrast

Making Monday

The creation myth of the Quiché in the Popul Vuh, begins,
There was neither man, nor animal, birds, fishes, crabs, trees, stones, caves, ravines, grasses, nor forests; there was only the sky. The surface of the earth had not appeared. There was only the calm sea and the great expanse of the sky. There was nothing brought together, nothing which could make a noise, nor anything which might move, or tremble, or could make noise in the sky. There was nothing standing; only the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil. Nothing existed. There was only immobility and silence in the darkness, in the night.
Nothing existed.

Nor can anything exist, in creation myths, until the gods give form to the formless.

Form arises from contrast and distinction. "Darkness was upon the face of the deep," so "Let there be light." Separate the land from the water. 

Artists discuss figure (subject) and ground (the subject's context). It sounds overly simplistic to say it, but the best way to define the ground is as not-figure.

One aspect of the beauty of the made thing is the degree to which its form is distinct from it's context. Think about a flower in a field of flowers and a flower in a vase. The latter attracts our attention and inspires our contemplation because it stands out. In this case, we've created a figure by placing it against a new ground.

In writing, we have the form of the story (the internal form) and the form of the project (the external form). The internal form is what we mean when we talk about craft: who should tell the story (POV), what episodes should be included, what details enhance the story, and so on. The external form is everything that helps establish the place of the story in the world, including positioning (genre), packaging, and promotion.

What about a thing that has the form of something else but is not that thing? We call it a fake. This is one way users pervert beauty.

Volumes have been written about these ideas and I can't begin to do them justice. That said, a first step toward understanding the second law, Beauty is the Object of True Making, is to consider the form of the thing being made as an expression of what it is.

Image: Bill Longshaw /

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