Monday, January 31, 2011

Inspiration and Realization

My friend Tom Rebold just emailed me a fantastic quote from Wendell Berry. Although I can assume Berry was not thinking of sculpture when he wrote this, his words happen to sum up perfectly the enormous and complex challenge of making sculpture. And they parallel and complement the words of sculptors Arthur Ganson and Tony Cragg that I have included below.

"There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."
— Wendell Berry

"...The real, physical world keeps me honest. Because I can imagine anything, but I like the discipline of the actual, physical world. It's a really good grounding plane for me."
––Arthur Ganson (speaking at the DeYoung Museum, SF, October 2010)

"... although sculpture remains for the greater part useless, unlike designed objects, it is an attempt to make dumb material express human thoughts and emotions. It is the attempt not just to project intelligence into the material but also to use material to think with. Sculptures are often and at their best not just the result of an artist taking a material, for example a piece of stone or a lump of clay, out if its normal environment and forcing them into a form which expresses a preformulated notion, but rather the result of a dialogue between the material and the artist. The material finds itself in a new form and the sculptor finds himself with new content and new meaning."
––Tony Cragg, from the exhibition catalog, A New Thing Breathing

It occurred to me after juxtaposing these quotes, that they bring up another, more practical, issue for sculptors. That is, if I succeed merely in "realizing" my "preformulated notion," then there is a good chance that another artist is out there realizing the same notion a week or two before me! This happens with many of my projects. In these cases, the only things that can save my work from sudden obsolescence are the richness and specificity that arise solely from process. This reminds me of yet another quote, from my longtime mentor, Elizabeth King: "It's our process that saves us from the poverty of our intent."