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Topic: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

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  1. #1

    Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    There has been some good discussion recently on several threads about music theory, form, "rules" - and the relative importance or unimportance of those things in relationship to the composer.

    Wanting this following contribution to not be buried in the middle of existing threads, I am posting some thought-provoking quotes apropos to the subject from "The Courage to Create" by Rollo May. He is a major 20th Century thinker - A psychiatrist/author/philosopher who wrote some extremely succinct and pithy psychology books in the '70's and '80's.

    In this book, "The Courage to Create," May has numerous illuminating comments to make about Art, the creation of Art, and the psychology of the Artist. He's speaking of Art in an all-inclusive way, and throughout the book uses examples from the visual arts, music, poetry, theatre, performance - he's speaking about all Art forms.

    From a chapter focusing on form - I want Rollo May to speak for himself. I've extracted some quotes which relate to the questions recently discussed and debated on this Forum:

    "Limits are not only unavoidable in human life, they are also valuable...Creativity itself requires limits, for the creative act arrives out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them."

    "Limits are as necessary as those provided by the banks of a river, without which the water would be dispersed on the earth and there would be no river - that is, the river is constituted by the tension between the flowing water and the banks. Art in the same way requires limits as a necessary factor in its birth.

    "Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art."

    "In a discussion of how he composed his music, Duke Ellington explained that since his trumpet player could reach certain notes beautifully but not other notes, and the same with his trombonist, he had to write his music within those limits. 'It's good to have limits,' he remarked."

    "Form provides the essential boundaries and structure for the creative act...Form and, similarly, design, plan, and pattern all refer to a non-material meaning present in the limits."

    "The trouble begins whenever anyone dogmatically sets himself or herself up to defend either extreme. On the one hand, when an individual insists on his or her own subjectivity and follows exclusively his or her own imagination, we have a person whose flights of fancy may be interesting but who never really relates to the objective world. When, on the other hand, an individual insists that there is nothing 'there' except empirical reality, we have a technologically minded person who would impoverish and oversimplify his or her and our lives."

    "Speaking of poetry, Coleridge distinguished between two kinds of form. One is external to the poet-the mechanical form, let us say, of the sonnet. This consists of an arbitrary agreement that the sonnet will consist of fourteen lines in a certain pattern. The other kind of form is organic. This is inner form. It comes from the poet, and consists of the passion he or she puts into the poem...

    "Form is an aid to finding new meaning, a stimulus to condensing your meaning, to simplifying and purifying it, and to discovering on a more universal dimension the essence you wish to express."

    "In our day the concept of form is often attacked because of its relation to 'formality' and 'formalism,' both of which - so we are told - are to be avoided like the plague. I agree that in transitional times like our own, when honesty of style is difficult to come by, formalism and formality should be required to demonstrate their authenticity...(But) we should remember...that all spontaneity carries with it its own form....The juxtaposition of spontaneity and form are, of course, present all through human history..(and) I can understand the rebellion in our day against form and limits as expressed in the cry 'We have unlimited potentialities.'

    "But when these movements try to throw form or limits out entirely, they become self-destructive and non-creative. Never is form itself superseded as long as creativity endures. If form were to vanish, spontaneity would vanish with it."

    Randy B.
    (rbowser)

  2. #2

    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    Bravo.


    That is beautifully put.

  3. #3

    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    If form were to vanish, spontaneity would vanish with it.
    Unless, of course, spontaneity consisted of creating new forms.

  4. #4

    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    Thanks for reading, Michel and Darwin.

    Rollo May's book "The Courage to Create" is superb. So much packed into a relatively small volume. Naturally I haven't really done him justice by pulling out a few quotes that I felt would be especially appropriate.

    Michel, I really enjoyed your contribution on one of the other threads, for instance when you said, "...Only by undertanding WHY a rule existed can you understand the effect of not applying that rule..."

    The essence of what I get from the particular chapter I quoted is what I've long thought is a Universal truth about Art - That with complete freedom, there is only chaos. And chaos doesn't communicate anything new to an audience, beyond the chaos they are already aware of.

    Yes indeed, Darwin, when spontaneity actually creates new forms, that's what May indicated in the quote I included, "...we should remember...that all spontaneity carries with it its own form.." And he has much more to say on that topic.

    Sometimes I hear what is presented as Music which touches me no more than if I would listen to a Cat walking across a piano keyboard. Both collection of sounds are equally devoid of form and I don't find it possible to be engaged, intellectually or emotionally.

    To listen to authentic randomness, I'd rather sit on a bus bench listening to the random noise of the city and let my imagination find its own patterns - and of course, that exercise would be the beginning of inspiration for me if I chose to use some form to translate those naturally occuring random sounds into actual Music.

    And so forth.

    Randy B.
    (rbowser)

  5. #5
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
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    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    I love the river analogy, it made me think of fish and how they don't do so good if they get outside the banks... except when you fry them and have them for lunch.

  6. #6
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    Well, my thoughts on limits are simple. Aside from the elementary considerations of what the instruments can do alone or in combination, form and style are paramount. I create a form using what I consider as the driftwood concept. When creating a driftwood sculpture, the artist is limited and guided by the form of the driftwood. The style is what the artist does within these limits. I compose music in much the same way. I have some ideas, and am moved to express them in a musical fashion. I search for the form that fits the ideas, and then use my style to construct a musical work. Simplified understatement, but that is the way nearly all of my works have been created. Even when I have a specific form in mind at the start, I discover that the form does not fit the music, so I follow the driftwood concept.

    Richard

  7. #7

    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    That with complete freedom, there is only chaos. And chaos doesn't communicate anything new to an audience, beyond the chaos they are already aware of.
    I am reminded of Eric Fromm's masterpiece, The Escape from Freedom, where he describes how a man might want to cast away all rules to have total freedom - only to discover s.he cannot cope with that freedom. More freedom means more responsibility, but what most people really want is anarchy - where they can party all the days away and get away with it, no hangovers or mess to clean up.

    One day I'm planning to write something about how that applies to music .. when I find some time

  8. #8

    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    HI Randy,

    I enjoyed your quotes from Rollo May. In fact I think I have that book laying around somewhere (don't know that I've read it yet.)

    While his ideas aren't all that new, they do seem to be very eloquently put.

    I usually don't get into heated discussions about "rules" for a number of reasons. But my personal (and rather strong) feelings are very similar to those in the Rollo May quotes.

    Matt

  9. #9

    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    Excellent Randy. Thank you.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  10. #10
    Senior Member fastlane's Avatar
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    Re: Thinker Rollo May on Form and Spontaneity in Art

    I was messing around with musical chaos vs form recently, layering an old gospel song over musical chaos but it has since turned into something else.

    Here's what musical chaos communicates to the listener until the end when order is finally restored.

    The need for order is ingrained into the human psych. Individuals may revert to chaos and societies will experience turbulent periods but the need for order is primal.



    http://www.box.net/shared/m1ec1dzjmo

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