Dynamic relationships are held together with forces, tensions & equilibrium…and occasionally string and duct tape

In another chapter from Form, Space & Vision, by Graham Collier, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963,


Recalling a previous project, the drawing of a dried out, rock-strewn riverbed, large rocks and smaller pebbles lie in some kind of purposive order.  Imagine how this positioning was achieved—what force pushed or pulled these stones to the position they occupy—consider the cause behind the effect, of the force of water to which the new dry stones bear silent testimony.

Now refer to the drawing that was the outcome of a chance placing of pebbles on paper, where the eye jumps from one black mark to another, threading them along an imaginary line as beads on a string.  Here again it is the dynamic relationship between the marks that binds them together, the directional movement that is suggested between mark and mark.  Any suggestion of the force involved is weak by comparison with the riverbed drawings, because space is fairly evenly distributed between the marks.  As soon as space becomes compressed and the objects begin to ‘cluster,’ then an operating force becomes apparent.  Hence, in the riverbed drawings, the smaller stones tend to be forced in, close to the larger stones.  When no space remains between them, their grouping indicates that the force was a strong one.  The seed head provides a good illustration of such a cluster.  Does this suggest a force of attraction to the center or a force of repulsion from the center?  it could be either, but it is quite obvious from this drawing that the more diffuse the space becomes between the seed marks, the weaker grows the force.  So a concentration of objects and a compression of space is evidence that a powerful operating force was involved.

Dynamic implies activity and movement; it is the opposite of ‘static.’

Force is that entity that determines the movement of mass, as the water moving the stones of a riverbed, the wind blowing a tree, the opening of a flower bud, or gravity attracting an object to the earth.

When several opposing forces are operating in the same region, tensions are created.  Tension is simply a force opposing a force.  When forces oppose each other in the parts of a building, or in a rocky natural landscape, and when they are in balance, a state of equilibrium is achieved.  When forces, because of their strengths or directions, remain unresolved and in restless opposition, the tensions created within the region, or over the form of the mass, or between the parts of the object, are not in balance and a state of non-equilibric tension or disintegration is apparent.  Unstable tensions represent impermanence and instability—a fluid rather than a static situation.

For an example of equilibrium, look to a Gothic cathedral.  The mass of the roof vault is concentrated and directed through stone ribs making a downward thrust to fixed points.  These fixed points are met by the counterthrust of the vertical, up-pushing piers; and to complete the stability, a flying arch is thrusting in to the same point from an outside freestanding buttress.  This concentration, up, down and across to one point in the structure creates a dynamic equilibrium that is the essence of Gothic architecture.

Through a system of lines, we tend to perceive the type of force that is involved in moving objects in space and the types of pressure produced in objects.

A point thrust is force concentrated to one point, like a punch straight from the shoulder.   A centripetal thrust is delivered outward from a center, as the ripples on the surface of water when a stone is dropped.  A swelling pressure thrust is a movement distributed over a surface, like that produced by an expanding surface of blowing up a balloon.


Using all three force movements (point, centripetal and pressure,) make a series of free drawings on one sheet of paper.  The challenge is to contain the three different forces within the limiting size of the rectangle.  Study how the space is disturbed, what direction the forces take, what the relationship is among the forces operating in the confined space, and which force dominates.  Or perhaps the forces will all be equal in importance.

It is important to be very free in the manner of drawing and in the expression of the forces.  Let yourself actually feel the type of energy they represent.

Now select from this sheet of drawings the one that conveys the most dynamic suggestion of forces, and on a larger scale, redraw this as a finished drawing, making whatever refinements you feel are necessary to intensify this feeling of energy.  Make this drawing in line only, but then repeat it, blocking in areas of solid black so that you have 2 drawings.  Which treatment helps to suggest the greatest dynamic activity, the more restless disturbance of space, and so on?

The drawings you have made so far may be drawings of equilibric tension or disintegrating tension; it depends on how you instinctively dispose the three forces.  In the last stage of this work, however, produce as many drawings as you like, but with two definite aims in view: to depict forces that are in balance, creating stability, as in the Gothic cathedral, and forces that are in opposition, producing restless tension.  In making these drawings, use one type of force movement—the point thrust, for example—or use two together, or again all three.

First, how important are dynamic pressure relationships in the single object?  Can you think of any complex object that lacks such relationships?  An earlier section of the book talked about the aesthetic implications of form; now, having worked with forces, you should realize how strongly the dynamic element influences our aesthetic response.

When we move from a single object to a group arrangement of many objects in space, the same factors hold—the suggested dynamic connection between the objects…nature knows no stability.  As in nature, so in art.  No work of art can be completely devoid of some dynamic quality, although, as we now know, spatial regularity and directional uniformity can reduce it to a minimum.  Possibly the greatest painting in which tremendous forces are held for a moment in a state of equilibrium is Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam.’

In this great design, the forces producing the parallel movements of God and Adam are, for a fraction of time, held suspended, as the point thrust of their outstretched arms and extended forefingers create an intense, yet delicate, stability—a stability charged with electrical energy… The essence of composition in art is the disposition of forms in space.


[the next lesson here.]

[More of Apryl's art here.]


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