Quarantine Gestalt Exercises #2: Opposing Forces

Kazimir Malevich, “Head” (1929)

“Think of some pairs of opposites in which neither member could exist if it were not for the real or implied existence of its opposite.”*.

(If you have not read the first installment and practiced Gestalt Exercise #1: Feeling the Actual, read it here.)

The original purpose of the Gestalt Exercises was to create a more “self-actualized person.”
Abraham Maslow described self-actualization in this way “What a man (sic) can be, he must be.”
And Joaquin Selva** clarified itIn other words, self-actualization can generally be thought of as the full realization of one’s creative, intellectual, and social potential through internal drive (versus for external rewards like money, status, or power).”
An estimable goal, no doubt, but the exercises can also be used for a higher aspiration—to become a better painter.

Painting is all about opposed forces (and harmonic ones too!)
The complements, Red and Green for example—and when you mix them, voila! Black.  And Black and White—mix them, shades of gray. Near and far, focused and amorphous, abstract and figurative.

“Consider some everyday-life situations, objects, or activities as if they were precisely the opposite of what you take them to be…”
Our situation today, when I feel so oppressed by “Stay at Home!”, Afraid of dying and— of what the future will be.The Opposite? I want to stay in my cave, I’m tired of living, I’m bored with things as they are.
Or the Opposite of Things as They Are: I want to hug everybody, walk across the USA, live outside…

Or I’d like to be essential like the sanitation workers who are picking up my garbage right now.

Vincent van Gogh, “Shoes” (1888)

You may say this has nothing to do with painting, but really it does. The evolution of art is often about pursuing a strategy that is the opposite of the one prevailing at the time.  Figuration, Abstraction and the New Figuration.  Irony, pouring paint, working without preparatory sketches, without a commission, by chance, using random marks or painting an old pair of shoes….

Loren Munk, “The Myth of the Avant-Garde, 1900-2000,” (2013)

It will be impossible to understand Art History without a conscious effort to understand that these were brand new ideas once—and the history of art is the history of how we see the world.
Has anyone else actually tried to paint Art History?

Sharon Butler, “January 25, 2018” (2018) 18” x 24”

How about Casualism? Which very interestingly implies its opposite.


Don Doe, “They are St. Sebastian” (2017) 20” x 16

“The exercises go on to suggest that you imagine “reversing functions and motions, imagine yourself as a different sex…Let loose the schizophrenic possibilities of your imagination–for most of them are no more strange than the bitterly held conviction that persons, and society as a whole, act in an obviously sensible way.”

I ought to add the caveat that the inventors of these exercises did not mean to say that the opposite of what you believe that you believe is the real truth, or to make us believe in fake news. This really is an exercise in expanding the mind, understanding what a neutral point between opposing forces is, and in making your own evaluations.


Joan Miró, “Harlequin’s Carnival” (1924–5)

They encourage us to “be playful, not judgmental, to imagine the world upside down…”

Not so difficult right now, eh?


PS Are painters essential? Not as much as grocery store checkout people, but I think they are. They haven’t been acting like it lately though.
Are collectors? Yes, when they preserve the best of our culture and No, if they are just silly, greedy consumers of the bullshit served up by corporate galleries.

*Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality
by Frederick Salomon Perls, Ralph Hefferline, Paul Goodman
to read a short review in Goodreads


To read the first installment Gestalt Exercise#1: Feeling the Actual, read it here.


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