Monday, August 22, 2011

Of form and matter

Artwork consists of two basic aspects: physical matter of which it is made, such as wood and paint, and a spiritual form, such as its shape and design. In Kabbalah, physical substance is referred to as chomer, matter, and spiritual design, tzurah, form. The hallmark of artistic talent is the ability to fuse the two together.
Though taken for granted, this talent is prodigious. Form, which initially lives in the spirit, imperceptible to anyone but the artist, is drawn down into concrete matter where it is revealed for all to see. Simultaneously, physical matter is dramatically transformed. What was a gross piece of physicality becomes an expression of abstract ideas and deep sentiments. Matter is subsumed within form. Through art, the spiritual 'descends' into the physical and the physical 'ascends' into the spiritual.
Arguably, this principle applies to most human endeavours and is not unique to art. The businessperson, for instance, applies abstract concepts of statistics to improve his business, and doctors use medical theories to treat patients. Nevertheless, a major difference exists between art and other activities. In most activities, form is subservient to matter; in art however, matter is subservient to form. In business, theories (form) are applied to increase material prosperity (matter), and medical theories (form) are developed to heal the body (matter). In contrast, an artist uses paint (matter) to express abstract images or concepts (form), and someone dancing uses the body (matter) to manifest the joy felt (form) at hearing music. In short: a politician may use the abstract concept of lying to advance his career; an artist may use a politician to depict the abstract concept of lying.
Similarly, divine creativity involves the fusion of form and matter. In creating the world, God clearly combined form and matter. The sun, for example, consists of a physical substance, its matter, as well as shape, size, and function, its form. The same applies to the entire natural world: every entity has its matter and form.

Aside from form and matter, entities consists of a third dimension known as tzurah amiti - 'true form.'
These three parts are visible in human speech:

 1. the raw breath and voice underlying all speech is matter;
2. the shaping of breath and voice into particular sounds or combinations of sounds (as in words) is form; and
3. the idea that a speaker wishes to communicate through a specific word is the true form.
For instance, if a person wants to communicate the idea of a house (true form), he'll shape his voice (matter) into the particular sequence of sounds that produce the word 'house' (form). The 'form' of each word spoken is thus based upon the 'true form' in the mind.
In creating the world God utilized the same model. The human, for example, consists of matter, as it is written, “God formed Adam from the dust of the earth.” He also consists of a form that distinguishes him from all other creations. Yet the human form is itself based upon a deeper form, a true form, which is the unique spirit that God wants to reveal via the human.
The human spirit is capable of a top-down response to reality: understanding can comes first, followed by an emotional reaction, and finally, a change in behaviour. God formed the human body to parallel this spiritual nature. Thus the head, the seat of intellect, is at the top. Beneath it is the heart, the primary repository of emotion, and lower still are the legs which neither think nor feel but merely transport the person from place to place.
If we examine the form of an animal, however, we find that the head tends to be at the same height as the body. This reveals the nature of its 'true form' or its spirit: though an animal possesses all three qualities mentioned above - intellect, emotion, and action - unlike the human, its intellect cannot control its emotions. 

How does all this translate into skateboarding? At the simplest level, a skateboard consists of a basic form and matter. The matter being the wood, metal, and plastic of which it is made, and the form being the shape and design of the board and its various other components. However, the typical skateboard serves two different functions: a) travel and b) trick performance. Travel is a pragmatic aspect of skateboarding, where the board is simply used to get from one place to another. Trick performance, however, is an art form. Tricks are performed as expressions of skill, grace, and beauty, as ends in their own right. 

As a practical manner of transport, form is subordinate to matter. Hence, the skateboard is designed to enable safe and smooth travel. As a medium for expressive art, matter is subordinate to form. Hence, a skateboard also has features which serve no function other than trick performance. So a skateboard (and the activity of skateboarding) not only fuses form with matter, it fuses the two general types of form/matter relationships into one. 

This may explain, in part, why skateboarding is such an all pervasive aspect of a serious skater's life - especially in that of one who doesn't drive yet. Skateboarding caters to the two fundamental human needs: the practical and the artistic. The true form of skateboarding, like a cloak, envelops the two poles of the human condition...  


No comments:

Post a Comment