Formlessness In Nature And Art

After World War II art contemplated the legacy of geometric abstraction, which began in the early 20th century with the Cubists. Art was basically out of touch with the post World War II reality of poverty, destruction and despair. The spontaneous and authentic were more meaningful and hopeful approaches to a new generation of artists. Abstract expressionism developed in America. Lyrical abstraction also developed as did “formless” art, recognized in the 1950s by France as “Art Informel.”

The visual shape as a metaphor for the conceptual form became suspect. The emphasis was now to find a form for the formless–a contradiction in terms–but still, embracing beauty in the formless was not consistently achievable. One had to look for possibility in the definite.

Matter and energy had been brought together by Einstein’s relativistic universe, but now as we fast forward through the decades our vision of the universe is yet more advanced but perhaps confused by science. We find a universe which is filled by both “dark matter” and “dark energy” neither of which we can see, but we can deduce that they are there. While “dark matter” may represent about 25 percent of the universe and “dark energy” 70 percent, the known universe we can actually see, feel and measure may represent only 5 percent of the total.

As we look more deeply into space, we now recognize that we look back in time, potentially back to the time of the creation of the universe 14.5 billion years ago. In one theory, all that we see may represent a three-dimensional holographic projection from that original surface structure of the universe. Information is conserved but time and space may not otherwise exist except as an ordered array of holographic projections. Thus, neither time nor the images themselves may exist except as figments of our imagination.

While we may all be deluded in our attempts to rationalize our existence, we ceaselessly attempt to do just that. In art at the beginning of the last century and through until now we have attempted to consider the formless, which we may take as the purest state of randomness. If we hold this idea up to a fundamental law of physics, that total information in the universe remains constant, then in the “formless” state (that purest state of randomness) the surface information of the object is totally disordered and the order previously on the surface of the object is moved within or elsewhere in the universe. Is it the case, that the unquantifiable may not be grasped, and that the formless may not be represented? Even art should obey the laws of science.

Formlessness is almost by definition not quantifiable, and perhaps equally clearly, not representable. In that sense, art may yearn for the unattainable. In art, we seek to be happy or to enjoy the beauty of the world. Enjoyment is admittedly transient. Happiness implies more permanence. I admit that this may be illusory especially if time is only imagined, and not real. Nevertheless, we recognize that pursuing beauty gives us purpose–and perhaps enjoyment or happiness or both.

Thus, we must make an effort, otherwise we are redundant, mechanistic and cannot hope to find the beauty in existence. Form may arise naturally as the mind goes quiet. We can talk about what we see but we can’t say what it is. Formlessness may all be beyond thoughtful imagining, beyond dreams.


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