Every Force Evolves a Form: A Tale of Two Clothespins

I have been reconsidering a deep idea lately. It’s not my idea. It’s Shaker founder, Mother Ann Lee’s vision.  She argued that every force evolves a form. Writer Guy Davenport elaborates, “A work of art is a form that articulates forces, making them intelligible.”  For the Shakers, the force of dignity articulated as the invention of the modern broom but it also created an egalitarian society of believers.  For the Shakers, simplicity shook out as a force articulated in every aspect of their lives from architecture to furniture to music to dance.

I think this idea is as handy as a handle on a skillet. Let’s look at two clothespins.img_3418-2

The clothespin on the right is a classic example of mass produced consumer products that only marginally does its job.  You can pin up lightweight clothes with them, but who uses clothespins for that anymore? Very few folks.  I live near Amish communities and I see lots of work clothes spanking on their lines on wash day.  There is no way they are using the cheap, easy-come-easy-go pins that we see on the right. What force has evolved that form?  Consumerism. Throwaway culture. No sense of history or need or long-term consequence.

I remember my mother had a clothespin bag that came in and out with the laundry.  Such a lovely memory of working to help her hang out the bed clothes and blouses and jeans with patched knees and all the rest.  I was the only one she let borrow her clothespins to make the old bedsheets into my ‘reading tents’. She knew I would always bring them back.  And you never ever let them get rained on.  They were heritage, heirlooms from my father’s mother.  And they worked for the heaviest cloth on the line as well as the lightest. I wonder where they have gotten to.

I looked for regular commercial clothespins for years.  They were all made someplace under duress and under the thumb of the bottom line. The forces they evolved from were very simple: make them as cheaply as possible with as little care for durability as could be managed.  They were built to fail quickly not endure.  I would say they were “obsolescence planned”, but they didn’t even have that amount of care lavished on them.

I finally found what I was looking for. It is the clothespin on the left. It has evolved from an opposite force. It’s hand made. They aren’t cheap. They arose from a desire to craft something durable to pass on into the future.  They arose from a real need.

Yet…their design is exactly the same. How can we explain this difference?

Every force evolves a form.

Now…how can we extend that into the world of learning?  What forces have formed our current educational forms?  What forces make the best forms?  These are among the questions I will be exploring. I would love to have your help. Perhaps the form that arises from our collaborative force is just what our learner are looking for?

A picture of a boy hanging from a clothesline by a series of clothespins attached to his shirt and pants.
Real clothespins



  1. // Reply

    At first glance, the clothes pins look the same. Only on deeper investigation do you learn the differences. Apply that to all of the ideas surrounding education, opportunity, inequality, etc. All the ideas may seem similar. Only by digging deeper can we understand what is a really good idea, and what falls apart with just a little use.

    This concept applies to learners of all ages, and to all things we might want to learn or better understand.

    Too few spending time in deeper investigation, I think.

    Hope you enjoy the holidays. The year has been a gift due in part to the ways you’ve shared ideas with me and shared my ideas with your networks.

    1. // Reply

      Those questions at the end are probably the most important ones for me right now but you also bring up another one: which are the important forces, the ones that make a difference.I think that one of those forces is steadfast friendship. that force creates a form of connection that takes on lots of shapes. Perhaps the best image I can conjure is that of a braided rope that keeps getting stronger as you twist more braids of connection on. Thanks for that, Dan. Hope you had a great birthday. Your Facebook pix certainly show that you did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *