WIndow Eleven: The Seeds of Metamorphosis
Artistic Contemplation in the Digital Age
I developed the following collection of two-dimensional form exercises over many years of teaching art as a way to introduce my students to the various elements of form and their corresponding qualities.
As these form sequences became increasingly familiar to me, I found myself spontaneously picturing them in my minds eye. At first, this seemed a curious but fun side effect from working with them physically. However, as I found myself picturing them imaginatively more and more, I noticed that I was able to be inwardly focused for sustained periods. Even when I did this for only a few minutes, I felt inwardly more alert and rejuvenated. What physical exercise can do for our physical body, these imaginative exercises seemed to do for my soul and spirit. In this way, the imaginative picturing of such forms and form sequences became part of my inner life.
Initially, I used then as a kind of mental gymnastics for strengthening my inner powers of concentration. They became more than the content of concentration exercises as an further dimension opened up for me. Many of these form sequences begin with familiar forms like triangles and circles, or common symbols like arrows. We approach forms like the arrows of 3A with our thinking insofar as they communicate concepts like ‘up’ and ‘down’. I include forms of this type in many of the sequences in order to contrast them with other forms that can be experienced in a different way. When we observe forms such as the drop and balloon shapes of 3B, we have again reason to think ‘up’ and ‘down’. But unlike the arrows, these forms speak to our feelings even more than to our thinking--in this case, we feel them moving ‘downward’ and ‘upward’. The capacity to feel qualities like ‘upwardness’ and ‘downwardness’ I refer to as “artistic feeling”—a term introduced by Rudolf Steiner in his book Knowledge of Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. “Artistic feeling” is a valuable term because it allows us to distinguish between our “personal feeling” of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, or ‘sympathy’ and ‘antipathy’, in contrast to our capacity to feel the rich and subtle world of qualities—for example, the warmth or coolness of various colors.
This world of qualities that opened up to me through “artistic feeling” naturally interested me as an artist and art teacher as I soon saw how valuable, if not essential, it was for creating works of art. Elsewhere I have written about the value and significance of artistic feeling as an essential human capacity for all human beings to cultivate. For example, in my essay, The Art of Empathic Individuality (see WRITING), I describe how the schooling of artistic feeling is a way to develop empathy and other fundamental social capacities. In this context, I will briefly outline the essential role “artistic feeling” can play in to our inner life of contemplation and meditation.
Having awakened my capacity for artistic feeling through observing and creating outer physical forms, I discovered when picturing them imaginatively I was able to feel the forms as vividly without the physical forms as I could with them. Thus, in addition to picturing in my mind's eye forms like the drop and balloon forms of 3B, I was able to inwardly contemplate the felt qualities of ‘upwardness’ and ‘downwardness’. Whether I was able to picture the forms vividly or vaguely, what seemed more important and meaningful was the ability to call up the quality of the form as vividly and for as long as I was able--even half a minute was a powerful experience. In time I came to the revelation that if picturing these forms imaginatively provided the content for concentration exercises, then immersing myself imaginatively in their inherent non-physical qualities was a simple but meaningful form of meditation. For a fuller elaboration of this subject—with additional 2 dimensional, as well as color and 3 dimensional exercises--see my booklet, Artistic Feeling and Meditation.
With this brief introduction, I now offer further practical indications about how to work with these form sequences. Beginning with how to go about drawing them as basic artistic exercises, I will then elaborate further on how drawing them supports working with them as concentration and meditation exercises. In addition, I will say a few words about how they can also be worked with to counter the adverse effects of digital technology.
Countering the Adverse Effects of Digital Technology
All forms of work cause fatigue. Working for extended periods on computers and other forms of digital technology induce a particular kind of weariness I call techno-fatigue. One way to overcome the stress and weariness of techno-fatigue is to take an “art break”. Occasional and even fleeting glances at simple artistic forms--such as the ones found here--can rejuvenate body and soul to some degree. However, the beneficial effects are all the more deep and lasting when we contemplate artistic forms in a more concentrated and sustained manner.
Drawing the forms
The most effective way to contemplate forms is to draw them ourselves-- ideally, without distractions or interruptions for at least 10-15 minutes at a time. As we draw we observe more exactly the various elements of each form. For example, when drawing the forms of Figure 2A and 2B we become more sensitive to their angularity vs. roundedness, and where the forms are wide and narrow. As we become more aware of what is outwardly similar and different about these forms, we also become more attuned to their inner qualities. With the forms of Figure 2B we learn to feel the grounded weight in contrast to the expanding levity of the circle.
As each person has a different style of writing, we should feel free to develop our own way of drawing. However, for our purposes, drawing in outline or trying to render the forms to look three-dimensional is not recommended. Experiment with different kinds of marks or strokes, but try drawing the forms as flat surfaces or silhouettes as this helps us to feel the qualities of the forms.
When possible, draw all the forms of a particular sequence in one session, however, any inclination to rush is counter-productive. Our aim is to overcome everything within and without that distracts us from becoming fully engaged in heart and mind. We strive to sustain our attention as fully as possible in the both the drawing and feeling of the forms.
Contemplating the Drawn Forms
While drawing the forms is recommended, we can contemplate them without drawing them beforehand. In this case, we begin by observing the forms carefully and thoroughly--noting where they are wide or narrow, round or angular, convex or concave--as if we were drawing them. The careful observation of the different elements in each form is the key to experiencing the quality of each form, and the changes from form to form, as vividly as possible.
Contemplating the Forms Imaginatively
After drawing and/or contemplating them for some time, we will be sufficiently familiar with these forms to try picturing them in our minds eye. At first, the forms we are able to picture may be faint and fleeting , but with practice, they will become increasingly vivid and alive. We can build up this inner exercise in two steps:
i) Mentally we form the various elements of each form--where are they wide and narrow, round or angular, etc. We do this with each successive form in a sequence. As we progress in visualizing a single form we then try to picture two adjoining forms. Eventually, we try to imagine all the forms of the sequence as a whole, or at least one after the other in quick succession. The mental gymnastics required to do this will, at the very least, enhance our powers of inner mobility and concentration.
ii) Irrespective of how successful you are in picturing the forms imaginatively, move to the second part of the exercise where you try to call up the inner quality of each form so you can let it resonate within you the way we can hear and feel a piece of music after it is no longer audible physically--for example, the feeling of grounded weight with the triangle and the expanding buoyancy of the circle in Figure 2A. When we are able to call up in our mind the image of one or more forms and hold it for sometime, we are strengthening our powers of concentration. When we are able to call up and dwell within the qualitative experience of one or more forms without them being physically visible, we enter into a simple but valuable form of meditation.
Art as a Way of Life
The demands of contemporary life may require that we live and work with all manner of technologies, but we cannot afford to be asleep to the way they shape who we are. In order to avoid a one-sided development of our humanity by becoming too mechanistic, we must be pro-active in developing our creative and artistic potential that is dormant in each human being. When we observe or create a drawing, the real work of art is not the physical drawing but the inner feeling experiences evoked through the drawing. As a pencil shapes the drawing, the drawing, in turn, shapes us. It is vital in our time that more people discover the artist in them selves, so that they can participate in the shaping of the real work of art, their own evolving humanity. As we need water, food and air to sustain our body, we need art to unfold our soul and spirit. As technology becomes evermore a way of life, art must become a way of life. In this regard, working outwardly and inwardly with these form sequences become the seeds of our human metamorphosis.
the Written Indications Accompanying the Drawings
The written indications that accompany these drawings offer a possible starting point for engaging more fully with them. Some people will have little need for the stimulus of these written aids, but many people, find they help them see and experience the forms more deeply, at least the first one or two times they view them. Sooner or later, the aim is to engage with the forms without reference to the written indications so that your full attention can be given to picturing and feeling the forms. Furthermore, as the forms become more familiar from looking at them physically, you will discover that you can picture and feel the forms more readily in your imagination. Both reading the written words, as well as looking at the forms physically, are preparatory steps towards eventually experiencing the enriching and beneficial effects of forms and form qualities in their non-physical, purely spiritual reality.