Form in art

Form in art is not a dead thing, not a stenciled outline to be colored in. Rather, form is a thought that has evolved over a long time, in a particular culture, about what works – in this case, what works as a satisfying shape of a piece of writing for readers in our culture.

A tremendous amount of thought, and thus indirectly of energy, is stored in the configuration, the pattern. The power of form, which appears in countless manifestations in the human world, is that it enables congruence, mind to mind. (Think of how ritual, a deliberate patterning of experience, causes the minds of the participants to become powerfully aligned toward a shared value or purpose.) In the context of writing, the minds that try to reach congruence are those of the writer and the reader. Once that congruence comes into being, it releases the stored energy in the pattern. It takes some investment of energy on the part of the reader to get to this point, but the potential latent in the pattern itself may be far greater than what the reader puts in. In a homely analogy, the work of flipping the light switch is nothing compared to the power of the electricity that therefore starts to flow. That is what’s going on with all the forms in which the human mind, over centuries, has stored its best thinking. It’s as true of the arts as it is true of science. The form of the novel, the form of the short story, the form of the lyric poem, the form of perspective that came into painting in the Renaissance, the form of a sonata or the classic American popular song, the form of the periodic table of elements or a differential equation – over time, all these forms and countless others store up more thought, more power of the human mind, than any one person ever could. They are gifts of power, waiting to be tapped by learning. Grasping the power of a form is one way of knowing how we know, and that in turn is how we bring forth ourselves.

Lowry Pei (from here) 

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