“rhythm transforms the structure into form”

17/06/2011 § 2 Comments

pier luigi nervi, orvieto aircraft hanger (1935)

one can consider art to be essentially identifiable as invention.  the invention of means of expression; the first thrust into realms which contain as yet unknown aesthetic and formal possibilities.

that is the sense in which art presupposes something novel.  the newness of the idea, newness of the themes, newness of the form.  this kind of newness can be achieved in two ways: (a) in an individual way – which has its origin in the intellectual and psychological make-up of the artist; (b) in a more general way – which bases itself on experimenting with objective possibilities of form.  in an extreme case (a) will lead to ‘art informel’ or to a neo-dadaistic combination of materials; (b) leads to structure.  on the one hand: materials in their “natural” condition, individually interpreted.  on the other: tectonic laws which ultimately are schematically applied in a uniform distribution.

even though amorphous material can be considered to possess an inner configuration – a structure of its own – in its natural condition, we can eliminate this kind of structure from our consideration, for as an inherent structure it is not accessible to aesthetic or visual arguments, either in painting or in sculpture.

tectonic laws are altogether different.  they are accessible to aesthetic arguments for they are principally laws of order, and in the end art = order.  in other words, art is neither a surrogate for nature, nor for individuality, nor for spontaneity.  and where it appears as such, it is art only insofar as it informs the surrogate with order and form.  because order is so characteristic of art, art begins to rely for oder on the tectonic laws.

now the question arises as to what a tectonic law, a law of order, as we know it in science, means with respect to art.  that is, where does structure end and art begin.

let us start with the extreme case: a plane is covered with a uniform distribution in the sense in which this is understood in statistics; or a uniform network extends into space.  this is an order which could be uniformly extended without end.  such an order we here call a structure.  in a work of art, however, this structure has its limits, either in space or on the plane.  here we have the basis for an aesthetic argument in the sense that a choice has to be made: the possible, aesthetically feasible extension of the structure.  actually it is only through this choice to limit the arbitrarily extensible structure  on the basis of verifiable arguments that a discernible principle of order becomes comprehensible.

but is a choice, or the setting of limits, sufficient for the creation of a work of art? this question arises mainly because, since the radical attempt to dispense with all individualistic stylistic expression beginning with mondrian, no reduction can be extreme enough.  this also arises because the aesthetic information offered by the means of expression is dwindling sharply: neither locatable nor measurable, neither expressing nor indicating an order: producing a neuter with aesthetic pretensions.  the aesthetic quality is beginning to withdraw into the most extreme reductions, into the most extreme objectivity, culminating ultimately in the negation of newness and of invention.

but invention always presupposes the discovery of new problems.  the discovery of these new problems is individually determined.  art is unthinkable without the effort of the individual.  order on the other hand is impossible without an objectifying structure.

this means that art can originate only when and because individual expression and personal invention subsume themselves under the principle of order of the structure and derive from it a new lawfulness and new formal possibilities.

such lawfulness and such inventions manifest themselves as rhythm in an individual case.  rhythm transforms the structure into form; i.e. the special form of a work of art grows out of the general structure by means of a rhythmic order.


– max bill structure as art? art as structure?

text taken from:  structure in art and in science (ed. gyorgy kepes)


let the rhythm take you over

a young hare

§ 2 Responses to “rhythm transforms the structure into form”

  • Anne-Solfrid Walløe says:

    How can I get permission to get a print copy of this image?
    I would like to use it for a report I am making.

    • nicallinder says:

      Hi Anne-Solfrid,

      Sorry for the late response. I cannot provide permission to print any of the images on this site except for my own photographs and drawings. I believe this particular image was taken from the book “Structure in Art and in Science” (ed. gyorgy kepes). I would start there to find who owns the rights to the photograph.

      Best of luck.


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