Water: experiencing movement 


Water as an element is characterised by flow and penetrability. Seeing flowing water makes you want to flow along. The nature of this desire may depend on whether you're looking at a slow river, a rustling brook or a wild mountain stream. You might even feel a desire to jump into the water and allow yourself to float along with it. On the other hand, when you watch the smooth surface of a quiet lake, you start to feel quiet and tranquil yourself. So your mood is influenced by the nature of the water.

You not only observe flow, but you automatically connect with it. You no longer remain an impartial observer, as you were in earth-type observations. You develop an inner flow, adopting to some extent the flow you observe.

The penetrable character of water shows itself in the fact that clear water allows you to see plants and fishes in it, as well as the streambed.


This mode of observation is valuable for everything that has acquired shape over time and for everything that is influenced by time, that is, everything that changes and develops.

Respect and admiration are particularly important for this mode of observation, as you connect with the object and adopt its flow, and have to be able to perceive and experience the mood that the object evokes in you. This requires you to be receptive to its movement and mood and not to confuse them with your own movement and mood. Nor should you lose yourself in an object, but concentrate alternately on the object and on yourself.

The basis of water-type observation is a concrete or imagined (actual or solidified) movement or a number of images from an object's history. The result is the movement perceived in your inner self, which you can amplify by concentrating on it. Bockemühl called this inwardly perceived movement a 'dynamic experience', which reflects the forces that have shaped the object. This experience cannot be expressed in words. You will have to call it up again each time. As you describe it, it loses its dynamic character. Nevertheless, you will have to try and describe it, draw it or depict it in some other way. Just like water running through your hands, the dynamic experience keeps slipping away. Someone else will have to 'internalise' and create a mental picture of the description in order to experience this movement.

You can think of different kinds of water-type observations:

In many cases, examining objects and situations automatically raises the question how they have developed. They make you want to study the process by which they came into existence. It's important to distinguish between history and present state, as you're often unconsciously inclined to include the past in the present and use it as an explanation.


The result of the water mode of observation is that:

This type of observation does not allow you to examine the static shape as precisely as you did in the previous step. You have to follow movements, for instance by imitating them or drawing them. This will result in drawings which are less accurate than those based on earth-type observations, but which display life. There are various ways to depict the movement you have observed, after which you need to experience the movement yourself. You can start by calling up the various developmental stages in your mind. It may then be helpful to imagine yourself following the development by first imagining the object in one stage and then transforming it into the next. This will allow you to experience the changes in the object's shape and the forces that shape it, in a 'dynamic experience'.


Visual description and impressions of a common oak

The leaf of the common oak clearly shows veins with a pinnate (feather-shaped) structure. Its margin has fairly deep incisions, which separate the lobes. The lobes themselves have rounded tips. Although the secondary veins run towards the tips of the lobes, the latter are never sharply serrated. The characteristic shape of the lobes can even be seen at the base of the leaf blade, where the two first lobes partly cover the short petiole; these are called auricles.

Examining this leaf, you get the impression that the welling, surface-forming forces are so dominant here, that the forces of attraction are unable to form sharp serrations. Although the tendency to do so can be seen as the leaves first open up, as their edges still show fairly sharp points, these soon disappear. The welling forces, which make the leave surface 'swell' outwards from the inside, can be said to overwhelm the forces that attract from the outside. (Van Romunde, 2000)

akkerdistel akkermelkdistel kleinhoefblad
Creeping thistleField milk-thistleColtsfoot

Creeping thistle, field milk-thistle and coltsfoot

In a study into these three weeds, farmers reported the following observations.

Creeping thistle
A certain dynamic character can be perceived in the highly curved shape of the leaf. Its margin features many spines. This means that the vegetative force of the leaf does not extend horizontally, in the plane of the leaf, but shows extreme tension.

Field milk-thistle
The leaf is curved and features many spines along the margins. Its outer margin is lobed; it does not have a simple geometric shape, but is more playful. The leaves protrude from the stalk at an angle. Towards the top of the stalk, they hang down in a free, unconstrained dynamic curve (like an arc of water in a fountain). Like the leaf and its margin, the orientation of the leaves relative to the stalk expresses the playfulness of its abundant vitality as a dynamic quality.

Striking features include the long petioles and relatively large, flat leaf blades. The leaf's vegetative force shows a peripheral orientation and is abundantly present there. The same dynamic character is found at the petiole, which is round and fleshy. Its upper surface features a groove with reddish margins. The prickly leaf margin is a surprising feature (Baars and de Vries, 1999).

 « 12345678910
11121314 » 

Water: the dynamic element

Branches can be seen as a solidified movement

The dynamics of a running horse

Leaves of a strawberry through the year

kleur aardbei
The colours of the leaves of the strawberry

Leaves of an oak


You can only do these exercises after you have done the earth-type observations. Try to use expressive imagery in your verbal descriptions. You can also do these exercises in a group and exchange your findings.

Movements of an object

Describe the movement represented by the shape of a solid object. Make an accurate, true-to-life drawing of the movement, using the knowledge you have gained from your earth-type observations. Don't go into details, but use long, flowing lines in your drawing. It might be helpful if you remove the pencil from the paper as little as possible. Clay modelling may be more suitable for animals and other three-dimensional objects. Imitate the movements with your hands and arms or with your whole body. Now try to create a mental image of this movement. Observe your 'dynamic experience' and describe it. Describe your impressions and mood.

Movement in the past

Select a plant, an animal, a farm or something else that has gone through a change or development. Describe the developmental stages of a number of its aspects. Describe the lines of development. Internalise these and describe the experience this provides.

© Heirs Tom van Gelder - Stichting AntroVista