Structure: A Synthesis of Atomism and Form

In order to understand a system in its entirety, it is often tempting to examine only the outside form and responses of a system, as in the Gestalt school of psychology. In this case visual experience is accentuated, and analysis is neglected. However, this type of examination often leads to an extreme generalization about an integral object and therefore can be misleading.

On the other hand, systems may be broken down into discrete units and analyzed separately, as does Atomism. The goal here is to understand a whole from the study of its individual components. However, we cannot accurately describe the operation of a system by examining exclusively the properties of the individual parts, without considering its structure, that is, the interaction of all parts that comprise the whole. The union of these two approaches (Atomism and Structure) allows the identification of Form. Lancelot Whyte refers to structure as a definite arrangement, static or changing, of localizable parts, i.e. the association of the fundamental units. This formal system of relations determines what appears on the outside, what the eye perceives, or the form. Therefore, Atomism and Form are not mutually exclusive. Structure is the essential link between the two.

Structure is the basis of science and art. Artists such as Cezanne and Mondrian are very concerned not only with the individual pieces of their works but the manner in which these pieces relate to one another. Cezanne spoke of tone, line, and color as the three elements of the formal structure of his painting. His goal was to create a prefect harmony of these three factors in a superior blend and ordered representation . This harmony is equivalent to structure and the final representation is the painting's form. Seurat's work is also a direct visual representation of the structure of his particular style of painting: pointillism.

According to Jacob Bronowski, the goals of science in the twentiet h century shifted from being focused on individual facts to searching for the structure in which precise measurements fit. He says, "In place of the arithmetic of nature we now look for her geometry: the architecture of nature." The study of crystals is no longer centered on what they are made of, but their arrangement. Amino acids need to be studied individually initially, but it to their manifold functions and interactions in the structure of proteins which is more closely tied to biological understanding.

Some structure is explicitly expressed in what may be called isomorphic structure. The goals of modern structural engineering are to produce elegant works through the expression of structure. Suspension bridges for example, combine structure and form, because the ordered parts combined through structure to make the bridge stand up are not covered by a facade. The functions (distribution of load) of the members are obvious, and their arrangement is aesthetic as well. The form and the structure are one in the same and together they produce a useful and beautiful thing.

There is a hierarchy of structure in natural systems, ranging from the arrangement of our universe to the association of the particles of atoms. However, there should be no real antithesis: atomic units with their properties, versus the partly ordered form of the whole. It is necessary to search for meaning in visual form and ordered structure beneath the facade in order to make the most complete assessment possible of any system, whether it be an oil painting or an atom of hydrogen.

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