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The Elements of Creative and Expressive Artistry: A Philosophy for Creating Everything Artistic

The Elements of Creative and Expressive Artistry: A Philosophy for Creating Everything Artistic

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The Elements of Creative and Expressive Artistry: A Philosophy for Creating Everything Artistic

742 pages
9 heures
Sep 6, 2011


THE ELEMENTS OF CREATIVE AND EXPRESSIVE ARTISTRY identifies the nine root elements common to all artistic disciplines. Whether you are a writer, visual artist, or a performer, learning the fundamental elements will help you unlock your full artistic potential and create art that is more expressive, dramatic, and engaging.

Hundreds of relevant art examples, citations, and quotations from prominent art professionals, philosophers, and scientists inform the pages of THE ELEMENTS OF CREATIVE AND EXPRESSIVE ARTISTRY. Authors, painters, sculptors, dancers, and artists from nearly every creative field provide knowledge and insight into many different forms of art, including visual arts, literary arts, dramatic arts, musical arts, dance arts, and various hybrid art forms.

For advanced artists and art professionals looking to bring depth and nuance to their work, THE ELEMENTS OF CREATIVE AND EXPRESSIVE ARTISTRY presents thirty-six new elements that branch from the nine root elements and offer additional avenues of exploration for a lifetime of artistic development. For the art critic, it also presents a fundamental basis on which to evaluate artistic work of any domain. Even the non-artist who possesses a general love for art will develop a deeper appreciation of art by understanding the nine root elements.

Sep 6, 2011

À propos de l'auteur

BRIAN K. HEMPHILL is an artist, author, blogger, and teacher. He has explored a number of artistic disciplines, including fiction and poetry writing, visual art, drama, film and video production, dance, and music. He now offers one-on-one coaching sessions, workshop presentations, and book talks about the factors that foster artistic creativity and expressiveness. Hemphill lives in the New York metropolitan area.

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The Elements of Creative and Expressive Artistry - Brian K. Hemphill


Chapter 1

The Creative Impulse


I don’t make plans. All my life, one artistic impulse has simply led to another.

—Chris Van Allsburg, American author and illustrator

From the living fountain of instinct flows everything that is creative; hence the unconscious is not merely conditioned by history, but is the very source of the creative impulse.

—Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

The teacher, like the artist and the philosopher, can perform his work adequately only if he feels himself to be an individual directed by an inner creative impulse, not dominated and fettered by an outside authority.

—Bertrand Russell, British logician and philosopher

The action of the body is nothing but the act of the will objectified.

—Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher


For artistic human beings, the urge to create is strong. For the artist, the creative impulse may be particularly acute. In fact, the powerful drive of the creative impulse may cause an artist to forgo food, sleep, safety, companionship, and other comforts in order to stake out an isolated patch of space and time in which to create. This chapter will explore this dynamic force of the artistic creator.


Creative Impulse: 1) the artistic intention to express the self through form and performance; 2) the urge to express personality and imagination to create an aesthetic effect; and 3) the objectification of the will through artistic action.

The Artistic Impulse to Create

In the formative stages of artistic development, the artist expresses the creative impulse or drive to create through some specific medium, for example, through colorful paints or crayons, expressive movement and gesture, or musical rhythm. The medium may be associated with a particular artistic domain, as paints and crayons represent the visual art domain, or as the written word represents the literary arts. Sometimes the medium may represent multiple domains, for example, expressive movement and gesture can represent both the dance arts and the dramatic arts. Other times, the young artist may be drawn to presenting the self not so much in a medium but as a compositional format. In fact, this was the case with young Martha Graham. She knew her calling was some type of stage performing art. Graham, perhaps even as young as age four or five, knew the theatrical forms of performance stimulated her creative impulse, but could not decide in which of the associated artistic domains to make her mark. Fortunately, her creative impulse ultimately led her to the dance arts.

Once the artist gains some grounding in a specific artistic domain, for example, visual art, dance, or music, the artist, who has now attained greater sophistication, becomes seduced by a set of specific aesthetic elements, such as color and imagination, movement and form, or rhythm and composition. At this stage, the artist develops specific proclivities toward expressing certain aesthetic elements based on creative intention, personality, experience, and aesthetic appeal.

My early research revealed the supreme value of the creative impulse. It motivates the production of big C and little c artistic productions. Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner elucidates the magnitude of acts of creativity with the big C and creativity with a little c with the following explanation: Big C, along with social progress and civilization development, enables the creation of artistic masterpieces, whereas the little c provides daily aesthetics enhancements like arranging flowers in a vase, setting a colorful table, or designing a plan for a vegetable garden (Malchiodi, 2007, p. 64).

A person driven by creative impulse to express art, even without prior knowledge of its aesthetics, is a potential artist and will learn to express many of these aesthetic elements through self-discovery. However, teaching someone to recognize each of the root and branch artistic elements outlined in this book (which, in some combination account for all artistic expressiveness) aids the artistically-inclined individual to become more artistically actualized.

Exposing the artist to all of the artistic elements allows the artist to recognize the particular elemental attributes of the creative impulse being expressed. For example, a poet may have the creative urge to express the self more through poetic form than through imagination. In this case, actualizing the form would be the emphasis of the artistic intention. On the other hand, a dramatic artist may, for a particular performance, stress spontaneity as an elemental aesthetic over dramatic form; achieving the desired expression of spontaneity equals success on that basis.

Of course, these examples are highly simplistic, as an artist usually conveys a combination of aesthetic elements through every artistic expression. As choreographers Lynne Anne Blom and Tarin L. Chaplin suggest, many times there isn’t a clear intention; there is only an inner drive, a restless energy, vague and undirected, a need to create (Blom & Chaplin, 1982, p. 9).

Nevertheless, these cases illustrate the inclinations of the artist’s desire to express certain elements based on artistic intent, even if the specific artistic elements are only vaguely understood. To increase the artist’s awareness of the dynamic forces that comprise this master impulse, it could be helpful to visualize the creative impulse as a large tree trunk. Though the tree trunk jutting out from the ground appears to possess only one energy source, an examination of the roots anchoring the tree below the surface would show the trunk branching off into a complex root system. If the larger roots of this system represented the major aesthetic elements of artistic expression, nine massive roots would feed into the trunk. Therefore, at the major elemental level, nine root elements would feed the creative impulse channel. To illustrate this with another analogy, the creative impulse channel comprises nine smaller impulse channels that express the nine root elements of creative artistry.

The nine creative impulses of artistry are as follows:

Impulse 1 - Formal Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of form.

Impulse 2 - Compositional Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of composition.

Impulse 3 - Technical Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of technique.

Impulse 4 - Perceptual Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of perception and sensation.

Impulse 5 - Emotional Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of emotions.

Impulse 6 - Conscious Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express conscious imagination.

Impulse 7 - Subconscious (Intuitive) Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of intuitive (subconscious) imagination.

Impulse 8 - Spiritual Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of spirituality.

Impulse 9 - Improvisational Artistry

The creative impulse of the artist to express the aesthetics of spontaneity.

An artist usually leans toward expressing one subset of the nine creative impulses over another. This can be an acute leaning, which changes from composition to composition, depending on overall artistic intent, or it may be a chronic leaning, due to limitations in artistic development. For example, in the latter case an artist may possess a blind spot that disables the expression of a certain set of impulses. If an artist lacks the faculty to express the self through imagination, the resultant ideas expressed may be lackluster, or worse, cliché.

Each of the nine creative impulses has minor impulses branching off from them. Returning to the root system analogy, from each of the nine major roots would branch a series of smaller offshoots. Where the nine main roots are called root elements, these smaller off shoots are called branch elements. Below are 36 branch elements that branch from the nine major root elements.

Formal Artistry

Form – root element

Form Expression – knowledge base

Form Structure – branch element

Form Function – branch element

Form Content – branch element

Form Context – branch element

Compositional Artistry

Composition (art product) – root element

Perspective – knowledge base

Medium – media

Compositional Space – branch element

Arrangement – branch element

Balance – branch element

Focus – branch element

Movement – branch element

Technical Artistry

Technique – root element

Technical Knowledge – knowledge base

Skill Dexterity – branch element

Concentration – branch element

Perceptual Artistry

Perception – root element

Sensation – branch element

Sense Memory (Impression) – knowledge base

Emotional Artistry

Emotionality – root element

Emotional Attitude – branch element

Emotional Memory – knowledge base

Emotional Depth – branch element

Emotional Range – branch element

Conscious Artistry

Conscious Imagination – root element

Experience – knowledge base

Conception – branch element

Relative Truth – branch element

Artistic Choice – branch element

Subconscious Artistry

Subconscious Imagination– root element

Symbolism – branch element

Epiphany – knowledge base

Spiritual Artistry

Spirituality – root element

The Call – branch element

Transcendental Experience - knowledge base

Passion – branch element

Artistic Faith – branch element

Ecstasy – branch element

Inspiration – branch element

Improvisational Artistry

Spontaneity – root element

Improvisation – knowledge base

Self-discovery – branch element

Simplicity – branch element

Extending the analogy to its logical conclusion, each of the root elements is comprised of a set of branch elements. For example, technique, the third root element, is comprised of the following three branch elements: technical knowledge, skill dexterity, and concentration. An artist may have a creative impulse to express the self through technique; however, an artist may have a more specified creative impulse to express the self through one of the branch elements, i.e., technical knowledge, skill dexterity, or concentration.

An artist has the potential to express any of the nine broad groups of elements (i.e., root elements) of artistry or the 36 more specified branch elements of artistry. Understanding the impulses an artist has expressed or is inclined to express leads to identifying and developing underutilized or dormant impulses. An impulse can be described as superdominant, dominant, subdominant, or dormant. Ideally, perhaps, the artist should evolve the facility to express any grouping of impulses. This is usually a lifelong pursuit, which, depending upon the intentional goals of the artist, may or may not be worthwhile.

Style is the expression of the creative impulse by the artistic personality. As personality consists of the melding of technical and improvisational skills, as well as emotional, psychological, and spiritual temperament, style is complex and not easily analyzed. Oftentimes, analysis of an artist’s particular style is made in respect to only one or two of these characteristics. However, studying the artist in relation to the above attributes provides a more nuanced profile of an artist’s particular style.

Unit 1

Chapter 2



No matter how interesting your ideas are, they have no value if you do not find the form which expresses them.

—Sonia Moore, actor, dancer, author, and teacher

The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has.

—Michelangelo, Italian sculptor, painter, and architect


The conception of an artistic form for the artist is the impetus of the creative process. Whether the form is an existing form or an emerging one, it must first be conceptualized. Sparked by the vitality of imagination, form often germinates the artistic vision. Form and its active cousin, performance, materially expressed through composition are the end creations of all artistic disciplines.


Form: 1) an expression of aesthetics; 2) the expression of the aesthetics of artistry through the visual arts (e.g., painting, collage, and sculpture), the literary arts (e.g., fiction, poetry), and the performing arts (e.g., drama, music, and dance); 3) the aesthetics of art expressed through matter, energy, space, and time; and 4) performance.

Performance: 1) the live or recorded presentation of aesthetics through the performing arts, including music, dance, and drama; 2) the artistic presentation of the aesthetics through media in motion; and 3) the aesthetic actions related to the expression of the dramatic, kinesthetic, and musical arts.

An Overview of Form

The conception of artistic form is the initial step for actualizing any artistic work, whether an art product or performance. The next step is the materialization of the form through some type of medium. Once the form is conceptualized, the artist then applies technique to express the central form and other supporting forms through a materialized composition. This conception-materialization process expresses the aesthetic elements of imagination, perception, emotionality, spirituality, and spontaneity through some art form, such as music, drama, dance, or literature, ultimately leading to the creation of an artistic work.

The constituents of form consists of five branch elements:

form expression

form function

form structure

form content

form context

As the topic of formal expression is complex, these aspects of form cannot be cleanly extracted from one another. Nonetheless, the next five chapters of this unit will be devoted to defining, analyzing, and exploring each of these branch elements and their interrelationships.

In conjunction with imagination (and spontaneity, which is in a special category by itself), form is the most significant root element. Form succinctly expresses the shapes of the experiences embedded in the imagination in a conceptual way. Philosopher and educator John Dewey (1934) believed form was a way of intensely expressing images, feelings, and experiences to effectively impact the reality of the observer. The most impressive artistic productions and performances accomplish this.

Form works to symbolize imagination in a conventional way. Anthropologist Alexander Alland (1977) explains artistic form as play involving rules … Rules imply form. In art, at least, formal rules are reflected in the end product itself. They are frozen in sound or visual space. Even when individual artists vary widely in style, they still conform to some degree to a formal aesthetic system that identifies them as members of particular schools and cultures (p. 30). Lynne Anne Blom and Tarin L. and Tarin L. Chaplin (1982) define the aesthetic conventions of form as providing internal logic that holds a piece of art together and makes it work (p. 84). In fact, art theorist and critic George Lansing Raymond (1921) suggests that beauty is the conception of the unity of complexity, the integration of aesthetic conventions arising from the imagination in an appropriate form.

At one time, beauty was perhaps an adequate descriptor of the emotional response resulting from the merging or layering of complex forms; but Alland offers a better description. Alland (1977) states, I have shifted ground away from ‘beauty’ to the ‘appreciation of form.’ The latter term is used throughout to delimit ‘pattern’ or ‘schema’ and ‘good form’ is used in reference to those forms that produce the aesthetic response in ‘sensitive’ individuals (p. xii).

Forms evoke a range of emotional responses. Whereas Alland uses good form, expressive form may be more useful for it refers to an aesthetic response along a spectrum from intensely pleasurable to repulsive. In any case, beauty disallows a broad range of expressive anti-beautiful, perhaps even revolting, forms.

American composer and teacher Stephen Douglas Burton (1982) makes a great point. In various periods and styles certain combinations which have seemed ‘ugly’ or not aesthetically pleasing can, at another time, seem beautiful and correct (p. 338). In the end, whether the artist achieves this unity of complexity through the expression of form is a subjective conclusion.

Accordingly the uncultivated and the cultivated alike are impelled to originate expressions for themselves. In doing this, they are obliged to interpret nature in a certain way. They must think about that which they have observed, and before they have had time to examine it critically, through the exercise of their conscious powers, they must judge of it instinctively through the exercise of their unconscious promptings. This principle applies … to their whole methods of conceiving of the material world. (Raymond, 1921, p. 53)

Raymond (1921) believes some degrees and classes of art forms are finer than others (p. 7), but rightly concludes in the end that the cultivated and the uncultivated alike must intuitively make their own judgments of forms (p. 53). As the artist and the critic expand their knowledge of particular artistic domains, their perceptions and tastes often change to accommodate increasing understanding. However, although it is difficult to argue that there exist degrees and classes of forms expressed by an artist, the value of a form is often determined solely by the distinction of whether the form derives from a high-art intention that exists only for artistic reasons, or a low-art intention that exists only to serve some end (commercial, hedonistic) (Frith, 1996, pp. 17–18).

There are several critical thinking errors in forgoing independent evaluation and dismissing artistic work because of its commercial association, or because it has been deemed as low art or popular art. The first error is assuming that producing art for commercial reasons means that the artist will abandon aesthetic judgment to produce a low grade of art. Think about the commissioned portraits of fine artists like Rembrandt. There are also the significant commissions that Andy Warhol enjoyed through his celebrity contacts of well-known artists and entertainers and his international social circles (Andy Warhol—What’s On—The Permanent Collection, 2008). Are the paintings that are produced to satisfy commercial aims of little artistic merit because an artist has to eat?

Secondly, considering an artist’s worth based on the so-called low art designation ignores Shakespeare’s evolved literary status. Lawrence W. Levin (1988) states in Highbrow Lowbrow, Being the product of my own society in which Shakespeare is firmly entrenched in the pantheon of high culture … It took a great deal of evidence to allow me to transcend my own cultural assumptions and accept the fact that Shakespeare actually was popular entertainment in nineteenth century America (p. 4). Levin, in this last comment, seems to use popular to imply low art.

Thirdly, if unity of complexity is a criterion of expressiveness, then there are many great popular works of art in film, music, and literature that meet this standard. Within cinema of the last two decades, there are mature and exquisitely complex films that contain memorable visual and audio imagery. These films include: Alfonso Arau’s Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) (1992); Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993); Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996); Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Amores Perros (2000); Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002); Yimous Zhang’s Hero (2004); Guillermo del Toro’s Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (2006); Ethan Coen and Joel Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2007); Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker (2008); and Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

The emphasis should not be on whether a form is high art or low art or popular art, but whether the forms are good or expressive. Kenneth Koch, a professor of English at Columbia University and a poet, has devoted much time to teaching poetry to public school children. He has had great success teaching public school students to write poetry. How did he do it? His technique involves exposure to examples of good poetry and the assigning of themes familiar to the children. A great deal of freedom of composition is allowed and the results are quite startling. One is impressed with the quality of the poems written, the number of children who write good poetry, and the early age at which a mastery of poetic structure appears (Alland, 1977, p. 53).

I experienced a similar success while directing the adolescent curriculum for a youth literacy program called Read Up. For four years, I exposed middle school children to expressive poetry, masterfully written classic and contemporary short stories or novel vignettes, well-crafted songs, and tightly structured cinematic scenes from screenplays and stage plays. These young people routinely created artistic writings with startlingly expressive forms. All artists need a wide knowledge of forms through exposure, including unfamiliar ones. Even if a form is less than good, a well-versed artist can easily make the necessary discrimination, or at least do so over time. Besides, as reported by Levine (1988) in Highbrow Lowbrow,

The overlapping of cultural categories became so common that it was hardly surprising … a 1987 recording by San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet that included a scherzo by Charles Ives, an arrangement of the jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, a modernist version of the American hymn Amazing Grace, and Bela Bartok’s Quartet No. 3. At this late date in our musical history, the critic John Rockwell wrote, interesting new compositions can come from any source, conventionally classical or otherwise. In terms of quality and innovation, he concluded, genre distinctions mean next to nothing. (p. 244)

Lest the artist becomes oblivious to the adaptations of artistic domains sharing, swapping, and merging forms, awareness must be maintained.

The rules of structure and form (aesthetic universals) provide cognitive order, but this order is unconscious … Our ability to create metaphors, so essential to any art form, is due partially to this grammar, as well as to the relatively open nature of the symbolic process. If linguistic meaning were a closed system, if every term had a single unchanging set of referents, language would lose most of its flexibility, and its adaptive significance would be reduced. (Alland, 1977, p. 101)

The amazing aspect of forms, which Alland alludes to, is that though their underlying order is subconscious, an artist can hit on the right forms to produce universal expression. Consider the globally appealing forms expressed through the songs of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. As a solo artist, Jackson charted 47 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100, with 13 of them going to number one (Entertainment, 2009). Many of his performances with the Jackson Five or as a soloist rank among the most thrilling and successful recordings in musical history: Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, Man in the Mirror, Smooth Criminal, The Way You Make Me Feel, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Who’s Lovin’ You, ABC, Remember the Time, Scream, Human Nature, and Black or White.

According to a discography that appears in my Sing with Emotion and Style, song recordings from Jackson’s early and later career revealed a broad variety of emotional, melodic, rhythmic, and well-articulated vocal tones. Regardless of the personal controversies surrounding this legendary artist, Michael Jackson possessed the keen gift of giving form to his imagination. Whether through vocal performance, musical composition, choreographic performance, or videographic performance, Jackson has birthed a rich legacy of enduring artistic forms, transcending various artistic disciplines and cultural boundaries.

Whether listening to or watching Jackson, the forms he expressed were often registered by the senses before they were fully interpreted by the intellect. In Performing Rites, Simon Frith (1996) provides extensive discussion about this sensuous and rhetorical nature of artistic expression that allows expressive forms to be conveyed without the intellectual processing of language.

Performance art is a form of rhetoric, a rhetoric of gestures in which, by and large, bodily movements and signs (including the use of the voice) dominate other forms of communicative signs, such as language and iconography. And such a use of the body (which is obviously central to what’s meant here by performance art) depends on the audience’s ability to understand it both as an object (an erotic object, an attractive object, a repulsive object, a social object) and as a subject, that is, as a willed or shaped object, an object with meaning. (p. 205)

At the May 11, 2008, dance performance of Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature (1974), collections of dancers morphed through a series of expressively choreographed geometric and organic formations, culminating in a huddle of dancers flinging their arms into an exploding starburst form. The starburst formation, though geometric, pulsed as if it were a living, breathing entity. While the sensual appeal was readily felt, it took reflection to decipher the meaning of the dance piece. Though the geometric formations initially opposed the organic ones, the choreographer finally, skillfully and ingenuously coalesced the geometric and organic into an ultimate breathtaking formation.

Strong, expressive forms are likely to garner more lasting attention than weak ones. For example, the idea that war is hell has been expressed many times in many kinds of paintings. However, how particular and singular is this expression in Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. The painting immediately conveys primal agony and fear amid the chaos of discombobulated and disturbing imagery. It’s not the truthfulness of the antiwar message that is disturbing, but the actual central and support forms that Picasso selects to depict his message. There is a grieving mother holding her dead baby; a dying horse rearing up in agony; a confused female staggering amid violence; a panic-stricken woman being consumed alive by fire; a traumatized, ghostly female witnessing the carnage; and the decomposing remains of a soldier whose dismembered hand still clutches a shattered sword.

Picasso expresses this form from a subjective point of view, which requires the emotional investment of the artist. How different might Picasso’s Guernica have been if he expressed it from a more objective or intellectual perspective? I have expressed my sentiments about war in several forms, objectively through a poem while an adolescent and subjectively through song lyrics recently written. Note the difference in tone and potential audience engagement between a form expressed subjectively and one expressed objectively.

The Soldier’s Din (Battle Song)

The dirge of soldiers marching on

To the din of battle songs,

Celebrating victories of a glorious past,

Of blood and carnage and bombast.

Forever to defend the battle cry:

For my country! For to die!

And men decked out in battle ’ray

Like little boys engaged in play,

March onto the slaughter house

To record their courage: Man or mouse.

While parades of patriotic pride

Mask charades of stupid suicide.

Fresh bodies kindle long-drawn wars,

Wars of long forgotten cause,

Men blaming the war on angry gods

Instead of on angry men.

And, oh, the shameless ostentations

Of governmental machinations,

Roving around the bloodied beast

To revel in a carnal feast,

Stirring qualms in an endless raging sea

To quench the thirst of human savagery.

Both sides vowing not to yield

Bloodletting on the battlefield,

Sightless souls who fail to see

That if war is hell—

Then men must surely the devils be.

Yes, Man is the fiend that incites war—

Not some invisible deity.

Darfur (We Can’t Cry No More)

De sun echoes in de sky

As we push our livestock south.

We must forage for de water,

Surviving hand to mouth.

But distress is a-brewing,

It cries out through de land,

It sweeps de famine and disease

Across de desert sand.

De violence rumbles like boomba,

Boom-boom—ready to bust.

Then soldiers of de nearby tribes,

Dey start dey slaughter of us.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Boomba! Tell us what for!

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

We can’t cry no more.

Once de desert was full of life,

And it was safe to graze.

But now in a time of war,

Sands sweep each secret grave.

Our male children—dey go missing.

Our females—dey are raped.

Wit days of endless killings,

How do you estimate your fate?

Mercenaries come like rumors,

We fight, but dey strike us down.

Dey steal resources from de land,

Pipe blood and oil from de ground.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Boomba! What for! What for!


De striving and de fighting,

De bloodbath and de aftermath,

De bloodletting, de forgetting,

How long will it last?

Sky and earth don’t cry no more,

Dey done cried dry all dey tears.

We can barely weep ourselves,

Huddling ’round for daily prayers.

How does a man kill his brother?

It’s beyond me mentally.

I’m only a poor farmer.

I see only in degrees.

Our bodies suffer starvation,

But our enemies suffer dey soul.

We just want de refuge of peace.

Mercy, please let our people go.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Boomba! Tell us what for!

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

Darfur, Darfur. Death in Darfur.

We can’t cry no more,

So who cries for us?

A performing art consists of a series of concatenated forms that create action. This is true of the series of movements presented through dance performance, the succession of sounds presented through musical performance, and the series of physical and vocal actions presented through dramatic performance. All of these performances are simply one form presented after another through time.

Acting teacher, dancer, and author Sonia Moore (1979) explains how the artist must delineate the major forms of a performance:

All the events on stage must be important, but you must give special emphasis to: 1) the central event, which is the stimulus to the through line of actions; 2) the first event, which begins the through line of actions and explains the beginning of relationships in a play, and must be energetic; and 3) the final event, which either brings about the solution of the conflict or shows the impossibility of solution. A dramatist should not be afraid of a strong and dramatic finale. (p. 292)

Although Moore offers this advice to actors and directors, it is equally relevant to all other performing artists. Essentially, she is saying: 1) the artist must highlight the central event of the performance, whether dramatic or melodic, for it makes the action of the play, dance, or song progress; 2) the artist must express the first event with vitality; and 3) whatever the resolution of the performance, the artist must dramatically and strikingly present it.

Whether speaking about dance, music, or drama, most audience members remember the opening forms of a performance and the closing ones. Standard advice offered to singers include: When singing a song, start off strong and finish big. If for some reason a performer’s opening lines are disastrous, perhaps due to nervousness, unrehearsed vocal cords, or squealing microphone feedback or some other technical difficulty, the artist must remain calm, re-center the self, and finish off strong anyway. Audience members are more inclined to remember how strongly the singer completes the song than opening it.

Reiterating this point, author and screenwriter Ray Bradbury gives pointed advice to film directors and other movie industry professionals responsible for producing film scenes, especially the opening and closing segments of a film.

For Christ’s sake, when you make films, make them with brilliant endings, will you? Why do I say this? I’ve noticed over the years that if you do a mediocre film with a great ending, you have a great film. If you do a brilliant film with a bad ending, then you have no film at all. It’s very interesting that it’s the last moment that counts for so much. Citizen Kane is one of the great films all the way down the line. But it also has that fantastic ending to tie it all together, so it’s riveted into your brain and you never forget it. (Stevens, 2006, p. 380)

Unit 1

Chapter 3

Form Expression


To reform means to shatter one form and to create another; but the two sides of this act are not always equally intended nor equally successful.

—George Santayana, American philosopher

I see music as one language. If one musical form eats its own tail, it dies. So it needs to be a mongrel, it needs to be hybridized.

—Sting, British musician and actor


The opening chapter of this unit discussed the root element of form. This chapter analyzes form expression, the first of five constituent branch elements that comprise form. A form expresses itself in many different ways. This chapter focuses on three characteristics that are essential to the potential expressiveness of forms.


Form Expression: 1) the aesthetical expressiveness of and responsiveness to a form or performance conveying specific values; and 2) the classification of forms based on characteristics of aesthetic expressivity, responsivity, and valuation.

The Factors of Form Expressions

Every artistic form expression inherently contains multiple aesthetic characteristics. For example, the way a pirouette is performed can convey its balletic-derived origin. The quality of its execution can convey the technical proficiency a dancer has over the movement. The pirouette’s sequential relationship to other forms in a dance phrase can reveal its relative significance in the phrase. The social and artistic ranking of the performer executing the movement can determine the probable response by the audience, and so forth.

Understanding a form expression can provide a significant amount of information about a form’s origin and history, a form’s possible evolution, a form’s role in the greater artistic work, and a form’s reception by a particular audience. Additionally, the artist learns new and revealing ways to create, observe, and interact with artistic forms.

Three major characteristics determine the overall expressiveness of a form. The first characteristic of form expressiveness can be called form expressivity, or the capacity of a form to express artistic intention; the second characteristic can be called form responsivity, or the level of appreciation of a form by the spectator; and the third characteristic can be called form valuation, or the values expressed by a form as determined by form type.

A simple equation to represent form expressiveness might be as follows:

FE = X + R + V

In this equation, FE is form expressiveness, X is the form expressivity variable, R is the form responsivity variable, and V is the form valuation variable. Theoretically, each of these variables could be assigned a numerical value that would determine the overall expressiveness of a form. There are several models. For example, a fully expressive form expression could equal 100% and be assigned a value that proportionately assesses the worth of each variable to overall expression. Alternatively, equal weight could be assigned to each variable; in this case, each variable would be potentially responsible for 1/3 of overall form expressiveness. As in the previous model, overall expressiveness cannot exceed 100%. Lastly, using a point system, 300 points can be set for overall expressiveness; each variable would be limited to 100 points. The summation of the variables in this case would let you know that a form has only achieved x number of points out of 300. As in the first model, as long as the sum of the variables does not exceed the 300 points, you could eliminate numerical expressiveness limits and proportionately assess the worth of each variable with respect to the 300-point limit.

Form Expressivity

Form expressivity, the first variable of form expressiveness, determines what role a form plays in the greater artistic composition. A form can have three designations in this configuration hierarchy: central or primary, secondary or auxiliary, or incidental. (Note: In general, form expressivity can encompass form valuation, which is expressed as form type. Only when assigning a theoretical numerical value to an artistic expression must form expressivity include form valuation. In other words, for most practical discussions pertaining to the general expressiveness of a form or the general responsiveness to a form by a spectator, form expressivity and form responsivity will suffice.)

If a form serves as the primary expressive form in an artistic work, then the artistic work develops around the central form, the primary subject of the artistic work. In a portrait, the central figure would be the subject of the painting. In performance, the central figure is usually the designated star of the production.

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), Emma Bovary is clearly the central figure around whom the novel unfolds. However, in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1952), the central form is not obvious. Vladimir and Estragon endlessly wait for the apparent central figure of the play to appear, the play’s namesake Godot, but he never does. (In this case, the play’s no-show namesake character actually reinforces the theme of extreme alienation from the central figure, which is the point of this theater-of-the-absurd classic.)

The secondary or auxiliary form serves in a supporting role to the central form. In a dramatic performance, while the leading lady or leading man will play the drama’s central role, the secondary figures play the supporting roles. In the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, the rock opera’s central character is undoubtedly Jesus; however, the most vital support character around which the plot progresses is the Judas character. If it were not for Judas propelling the plot toward Jesus’s betrayal, the story would lose much of its emotional tension.

The final role a form can play in an artistic work is as an incidental form, which informally can be called a prop form or simply a prop. These third-class forms play a supportive role to both primary and secondary forms. Prop forms can be viewed as a type of connective tissue both integrating and interrelating primary and secondary forms within an artistic work.

Central and auxiliary forms function to express the main subject, idea, experience, theme, or motif of an artistic work, while incidental forms provide contextual and subtextual elaboration. The structural combination of central, support, and incidental forms creates the full artistic composition or performance.

In Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with a Wine Glass (c. 1659–1660) (The Girl with a Wine Glass by Johannes Vermeer, 2009), there is no doubt that the girl with the wine glass functions as the central form of the overall composition. The gentleman leaning over her, a hopeful suitor, contrasts with a second gentleman in the background, perhaps a dejected or past suitor. These two men serve as counterbalancing auxiliary support forms. The incidental forms, which include the wall-mounted ancestral portrait, a jug of wine, the wine glass, a stained glass window, the still life of lemons or oranges on the table, and the white tablecloth, all put this seduction attempt scenario into stronger relief.

In a literary work, the central form is usually a primary character through which the primary conflict, plot, or theme of the work is expressed. Support characters serve as auxiliary forms to reinforce the established theme or express related subthemes and subplots and to concentrate aesthetic effects. Incidental or prop forms can include stock characters or extras, as well as sets, wardrobe, and lighting. The function of incidental props is to heighten dramatization of the primary and secondary performances.

In performance, the principal actor of a theatrical production or the principal dancer(s) of a dance performance provide the primary performances, while supporting actors or support dancers perform auxiliary performances. Background extras, sets, lighting, set dressing, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and all other props work in a complementary fashion to heighten the sense of place and the now of the performance.

Form Responsivity

Form responsivity, the second variable of form expressiveness, concerns the responsiveness and receptiveness of the spectator to a particular form. The medium and context in which a form is expressed establish the quality of responsiveness between a form and its observer. Musical forms appeal to recipients in a different way than do literary forms. One medium is not necessarily better or more expressive than is another; they simply communicate to us differently. Moving from the least to the most communicative and adaptive, the responsivity levels of artistic forms can be classified as passive, active, and interactive.

Passive forms are static and inadaptive. Forms comprising a painting are as passive as they are static and inadaptive. The forms of a marble sculpture are static and immobile and inadaptive. However, active forms express movement or actions of some sort. Recorded performances (audio or video) are active forms, regardless of the artistic domain. Many props used in performances are active as well.

The forms of a painting are passive because they are viewed after the cycle of their production. However, in the 20-minute 1950 documentary by Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts entitled Visite à Picasso (A Visit with Picasso), Picasso is depicted at his home painting forms on a large glass pane while the camera records the activity from the other side of the glass (Haesaerts, 1950). As the observer watches Picasso create form after form over time, these normally passive forms now take on an active quality, and, in fact, appear animated. Watching these forms being produced is as active as any recorded performance. Sometimes providing the observer access to witness the production cycle of art offers a new perspective of form.

Interactive forms are forms that respond to stimuli external to the artistic work. All live performances are interactive to some degree; however, performances encouraging either audience involvement or audience participation offer greater responsivity due to their greater interactiveness. The moving forms of a mobile are interactive as they react to motion generated by external sources. The act of reading literature is also interactive, even if conditionally so, as the plot and action of a story are correspondingly suspended when the reader suspends his interaction with the written text and resumes when the reader reengages it.

The radio dramas of the 1930s through the 1960s, such as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (1947–1951), Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (1949–1962), Gunsmoke (1952–1961), Let George Do It (1946–1954), Dimension X (1950–1951), and Suspense (1942–1962) (Wayne’s Old Time Radio Page, 2009), are much more imaginationally interactive than television, but probably less so than literature. Unlike television, these radio dramas provided more mental space for listeners to imagine and personalize the visual forms expressed in their narratives. Perhaps the most infamous example of an audience interacting with a radio drama was Orson Welles’s 1938 dramatization of H.G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds, which induced actual fear and panic in listeners who actually believed they were listening to breaking news accounts of alien invasion. Here is how the idea for this journalistic radio drama evolved.

When producer John Houseman suggested The War of the Worlds as the Mercury Theater’s Halloween eve broadcast, director and star Orson Welles laughed it off as silly and dull. Eventually, the idea surfaced to update the 1898 H.G. Wells story and split it into two. The first part would take the form of a series of musical pieces broken up by increasingly urgent news bulletins. No radio play before had toyed with the form like this, and the bulletins—at this point old hat to Americans familiar with the dire updates coming out of Europe—gave the story a sense of verisimilitude that it otherwise would have lacked … Following the broadcast’s end, news got to Welles of angry calls to the CBS building, and exaggerated accounts of death and mayhem in the streets of America lingered for days. (Cruz, 2008)

How is this for listener responsivity!

Form Valuation

Form valuation, the third variable of form expressiveness, calls for interpreting the aesthetically-encoded values normally attributed to and expressed by certain classes of artistic forms. There are 11 common form types that express similar values within their respective groups. Moreover, these 11 form types are universal among all artistic domains. Perhaps other formal categories could be established; however, these form types seem to represent the significant ones shared by all artistic disciplines. As the aim of this book is to demonstrate the artistic factors general to all artistic domains, this classification system is intended to be generic.

Categorizing a form as popular or classical has little to do with so-called high or low art, and more to do with values intrinsic to these form types, including their expressivity and responsivity.

The Common Types of Artistic Forms diagram identifies significant form types:

Figurative (Representative)











Figurative Form

The figurative form is one of two ubiquitous artistic form types. Figurative forms depict perceptual phenomena of the universe, in essence, animate and inanimate objects, such as people, animals, landscapes, or household items. An example of the figurative form in visual art is the American artist Winslow Homer’s Milk Maid (1878) (National Gallery of Art, 2010).

Abstract Form

The abstract form is the second of two ubiquitous artistic form types. An abstract form usually represents the essentials of a thought or concept that ordinarily has no perceptual tangibility, such as love or the subconscious mind, or an abstract form may represent the extracted essentials or qualities of a dematerialized object. Chilean-born painter Roberto Matta produced a prolific series of disturbing abstracts during 1942. Three of these paintings are The End of Everything, The Disasters of Mysticism, and Galaxies (Mysteries of Infinity).

Primitive Form

The primitive form is any primarily ritualistic form or performance expressed by prehistoric man and propagated by tribal societies around the world. Primitive can also be used to describe conventions that adopt the values inherent in archetypal, primitive forms to produce neo-primitive forms. As Alexander Alland (1977) states, In primitive society, art is a central locus of a widely shared cognitive structure. It is a material manifestation of the intangibles of prophecy and belief (p. 120). The characteristic sculpture of Africa, which forms the largest part of what is usually considered primitive art, can be seen as early as 500 BC in the Nok culture—named from the village in Nigeria where pottery figures of this kind were first found (Gascoigne, 2001). Finally, lest the class of men who considers themselves the ‘superior man’ by their idealizing of the ‘noble savage’ (Dewey, 1934, p. 347), John Dewey (1934) reminds us, …the arts by which primitive folk commemorated and transmitted their customs and institutions, arts that were communal, are the sources out of which all fine arts have developed" (p. 341).

Classical Form

The classical form preserves traditional, conventional, and original forms of antiquity, or employs modern forms suggestive of these classical conventions. For example, a classical form can be a form developed during the classical era of the greater society or of an artistic domain, or it may be a form that suggests characteristics commonly associated with classical form. For example, Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex is a classical Greek play written in the classical tradition. In another example, my play called Latona was about a maiden who, after the seduction of Jupiter, faced a relentless pursuit across the known Earth by Juno, who allowed her no quarter by any peoples unless they wished to face her jealous wrath. The play was a Greco-Roman tragedy peppered with hints of Roman bawdy comedy. Other classical dramatic forms might include those presented in Shakespearean Theater or Kabuki Theater.

Folk Form

Folk art comprises

the art works of a culturally homogeneous people produced by artists without formal training. The forms of such works are generally developed into a tradition that is either cut off from or tenuously connected to the contemporary cultural mainstream. Folk art often involves craft processes, e.g., in America, quilting and sculpture of ships’ figureheads, cigar-store figures, and carousel animals … Folk art is generally nationalistic in character and expresses the values and aspirations of a culturally united group. (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001–2010)

It has been suggested that due to the advent of mass production, folk art has ceased to exist. For European scholars, folk art is generally identified with the peasant class: rural communities with a deep connection to place, the members of which are bound together by ties of kinship, ethnicity, religious faith, common agrarian life patterns, and inherited or received traditions in the arts (Wertkin, 2004, p. xxviii).

Several groundbreaking exhibitions of the 1930s redefined those objects which can be labeled folk art:

[Holder] Cahill’s exhibitions American Primitives: An Exhibit of the Paintings of Nineteenth Century Folk Artists. (The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, 1930–1931); American Folk Sculpture: The Work of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Craftsmen (The Newark Museum, 1931–1932); and American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man in America, 1750–1900 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1932) established a pattern that would influence American thinking on the subject to the beginning of the twenty-first century … Cahill exhibited portraits of prosperous nineteenth-century merchants and farmers and their families by itinerant professional painters, landscape and still-life paintings by young women in seminaries, weathervanes, ship figureheads, shop figures, tavern signs, wildfowl decoys, and other objects. Some of these objects were produced in small shops by trained artisans; others represented the work of talented amateurs. Some were utilitarian in nature, while others were examples of pure fancy. (Wertkin, 2004, pp. xxx–xxxi)

Oftentimes, folk art can be recognized by its rough-hewn quality, a convention that is frequently admired and imitated by sophisticated artists (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001–2010).

Modern Form

Modern art forms are generated by

a wide variety of movements, theories, and attitudes whose modernism resides particularly in a tendency to reject traditional, historical, or academic forms and conventions in an effort to create an art more in keeping with changed social, economic, and intellectual conditions. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010)

For example,

The beginnings of modern painting cannot be clearly

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