The Move Beyond Form by Mary Joe Hughes


Creative Undoing in Literature and the Arts since 1960

The Move Beyond Form: Creative Undoing in Literature and the Arts since 1960 describes a process in the visual arts, literature, music, and film in which the formal limits of a work begin to undo themselves, defying self-containment. This undoing invites interaction and interconnections beyond the boundaries of the art form, eroding the idea of a work as a separate thing-in-itself and focusing attention on in-between spaces. (See links (below) to representative visual arts discussed in the text.)

Ultimately the move beyond form argues for the need to think in terms of a dynamic, interactive organism rather than a series of separate and self-contained entities or beings. This alternative way of thinking contains genuine philosophical significance that is best conveyed through the (mostly nonverbal) language of the arts. While parallels and contrasts between the move beyond form and deconstruction are noted, The Move Beyond Form attends to the language of the arts themselves, arguing that this language (expressed formally) presents an accessible and important commentary on such postmodern trends as globalization, the echo chambers of the media, and digital technology.

Central Park New York, NY

Hughes begins her study with an analysis of earthwork artist Robert Smithson’s essay on Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park as the first example of Earthwork art. In turn, she argues that the aspects of the design of Central Park  noted by Smithson might also be used to describe the move beyond form in all the arts. These include:

1) a work that is allowed to evolve over time, while open to the ways that people and nature effect change upon it;

2) a work that emerges from or works with what already exists in the world, rather than springing from an abstract conception that only exists in the mind of the artist; and

3) a work that extends beyond itself to a maze of relations and interconnections, in which nothing remains a self-contained ‘thing-in-itself’.

Dialectics of this type, wrote Smithson, represent “a way of seeing things in a manifold of relations, not as isolated objects.” Ultimately, Hughes argues, this conception evokes an alternative way of seeing the world, not just as a series of separate objects or living things but as a maze of interconnections. It is this aspect of the move beyond form in the arts that suggests a departure from earlier works of art as self-contained little worlds. At the same time this new way of thinking provides a commentary on the culture in which these moves beyond form are embedded.

Artists discussed in "The Move Beyond Form" include: