There are many more extravagant arrangements in this article, including a delightful video of Grab at work:
I love artists who don’t see themselves as artists, art that makes no claims on being art. Someone recently sent me this about Michael Grab. He appears to make no great claims for his art, but he has taken rock balancing far beyond what I ever imagined in my gentle Stone Poem gestures. One of my favorite images of his is this humble arrangement. It would take a mean person indeed who would find no beauty in this work, wouldn't it? Or to deny that it is art?
There are many more extravagant arrangements in this article, including a delightful video of Grab at work:
I picked up a journal at the bookstore this week. It’s called Parabola. Have you come across it? I remember seeing it years (maybe decades) ago, so when I spotted it this week I picked it up. I think I have a new favorite artist now.
I don’t know her name. She’s identified only as an old lady in an article by Ram Dass. Here’s his story:
I remember lecturing in a hall once, back in the early ‘70s. Most of my audience at that time was young, and they tended to wear white and smile a lot and wear flowers. I wore my Mala and had a long beard. In the front row there was a woman of about seventy, who had on a hat with little fake cherries and strawberries and things like that on it. She was wearing black oxfords and a print dress, and she had a black patent leather bag. I looked at her, and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing in the audience. She looked so dissimilar to all the rest.
These talks were like a gathering of an explorer’s club, where we would come together and just share our experiences. I started to describe some of my experiences, some of which were pretty far out. I looked at her, and she was nodding with understanding. I couldn’t believe that she could understand what I was talking about. I was describing experiences that I had using psychedelic chemicals, experiences that involved other planes of consciousness. I’d look over at her and there she was, nodding away. I began to think maybe she had a problem with her neck and maybe it had nothing whatsoever to do with what I was saying. I kept watching and getting more and more fascinated and getting more and more outrageous, and she kept nodding and nodding.
At the end of the lecture, I just kind of smiled at her so intensely that she just had to come up and speak to me. She came up and said, “Thank you so much. That makes perfect sense. That’s just the way I understand the universe to be.”
And I said, “How do you know? I mean, what have you done in your life that brought you into those kinds of experiences?”
She leaned forward very conspiratorially, and she said, “I crochet.”
Do you love that story as I do? And the woman? I hope so. I read it on the bus yesterday and nearly laughed out loud with delight. God, it seems to me, comes to whom he will, in the manner in which he will. But he seems to enjoy finding people at work with their hands, in a contemplative engagement.
WHAT DOES SILENCE LOOK LIKE?
I don’t know if contemplation requires silence, but it seems clear that silence requires contemplative attention. And it seems natural for those inclined towards contemplation to seek out silence.
So I seek it out.
Annie Dillard, in an essay called, “A Field of Silence,” describes an experience of seeing silence. She tells of a day in a barnyard, after the rooster had crowed, when she looked away.
“When I was turned away in this manner, the silence gathered and struck me. It bashed me broadside from the heavens above me like yard goods; ten acres of fallen, invisible sky choked the fields. The pastures on either side of the road turned green in a surrealistic fashion, monstrous, impeccable, as if they were holding their breaths. The roosters stopped. All the things of the world -- the fields and the fencing, the road, a parked orange truck -- were stricken and self-conscious. A world pressed down on their surfaces, a world battered just within their surfaces, and that real world, so near to emerging, had got stuck.
“There was only silence. It was the silence of matter caught in the act and embarrassed. There were no cells moving, and yet there were cells. I could see the shape of the land, how it lay holding silence. Its poise and its stillness were unendurable, like the ring of the silence you hear in your skull when you’re little and notice you’re living, the ring which resumes later in life when you’re sick.
“There were flies buzzing over the dirt by the henhouse, moving in circles and buzzing, black dreams in chips off the one long dream, the dream of the regular world. But the silent fields were the real world, eternity’s outpost in time, whose look I remembered but never like this, this God-blasted, paralyzed day.” (From Teaching a Stone to Talk, pp. 135-136)
I recognize myself in her description of youthful awareness. And I recognize those fields.
I have also seen it in certain paintings.
In this country we see people driving cars to the gym in order to work out - then vying for the parking space closest to the door. Once inside many who would never dream of riding a bicycle to work or to shop will ride stationary bicycles for long stretches to... nowhere at all. Working out has replaced work, exercise has replaced manual labor, and efficiency has replaced engagement in our culture.
In the same way, we see people who may have posters of fine artwork hanging on their walls, or even original artwork, but it’s their televisions that absorb their attention. Looking has been replaced by watching.
Contemplative art is unlikely to play much of a role in our lives unless our culture finds a way to become more contemplative. Perhaps as fossil fuels become less tenable and manual labor more important, a slower, more satisfying engagement with our environment will evolve, and people will learn, once more, the importance of looking at the world and at art.
My good friend, Brain Dykhuisen, is a quilt maker, living and working in Kalispell, Montana.
He recently sent me this photo of his most recent creation.
I thought it a good image for the last day of the year.
I send it along with blessings and hope for deep goodness for all in 2013.
When I put the quote from Beverly Lanzetta at the top of my website, “Contemplation is always a revolutionary act,” I was not thinking about politics. I was thinking of our visual culture. We live in a time and place where contemplation goes against the mainstream visual landscape. Our postmodern art scene tends towards the narcissistic, neurotic, derisive and offensive. Every trip to the art museum seems to offer new ways to offend, disgust and bully the visually sensitive and the contemplative spirit. This is what was in my mind at the time.
But it wasn’t the visual elite of the art world who had the Chris Drury piece on the campus of the University of Wyoming destroyed. [Please see my last two entries.] It was the politically elite, the reigning oligarchy, the moneyed interests, those with the wealth and power to destroy what they will.
In a recent essay, Chris Hedges talked about this ruling class. He said, “The elite deeply fears any art, literature, philosophy, poetry, theology and drama that challenge the assumptions and structures of authority.” The destruction of “Carbon Sink,” seems to bear this out. What else might have been the impetus to remove and destroy a work of art but fear? Fear that it would encourage contemplation of our situation, our relationship with nature, or our relationship with the corporations who provide us with energy. Any considered opinions on these topics are not welcome. Hedges goes on to say that, “The role of education, the elites believe, is to train us vocationally for our allotted positions and assure proper deference to the wealthy. Disciplines that prod us to think are—and the sneering elites are not wrong about this—‘political,’ ‘leftist,’ ‘liberal’ or ‘subversive.’ And schools and universities across the country are effectively stomping out these disciplines.”
Stomping, in this case, almost literally.
You may find the full essay at Common Dreams:
I don’t think of my own artwork as political, any more than Drury appears to, but I am not unaware of the political ramifications of the contemplative engagement in these times.
Contemplative art might point things out, but it’s not finger-pointing art. It’s not accusatory. It may show us something – and we may learn something about ourselves – but it doesn’t have anyone on its agenda. It doesn’t have an agenda at all, unless it’s simply to bring some good into the world -- though even that might be stating it a little strongly. Its purpose is to be goodness. It is an offering, like the offering of the gift of good food, from the generosity of the heart. It is the gift of contemplation.
This is what I see in Drury’s destroyed artwork, the full title of which is, “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around.” I cannot see that he is attacking the fossil fuel industry. There is nothing in it that suggests, for instance, that he doesn’t appreciate all the goodness that these sources of energy have brought to our culture, and he doesn’t point a finger at any particular person or company. In fact the work is (was) very beautiful in its archetypal spiral, and in the age-old wisdom in the title, that what goes around comes around. That would seem hard to argue with, wouldn’t it? So why were some so offended? Why the vitriol of defensive demands for destruction of the art? Do these people have something against the beauty of spirals or the wisdom of the ages? Is this what they are afraid of?
It appears so. Because beauty and wisdom question the use of fossil fuels. Even without the title (though without the title, who would have noticed?), this work stands for all that is being destroyed in the name of industry. And it brings up questions that the fossil fuel tycoons do not want raised. In an age where over 500 mountain tops have been “removed” (utterly destroyed) in the Appalachian mountains, billions of gallons of crude oil spilled into our oceans, and the continued burning of these fuels is destroying the capacity of the planet itself to feed and clothe and shelter us, it is important to these corporations that this beauty and wisdom not be embraced, these questions not be raised. Once raised the answers are not that difficult to come by. I will say here what Drury does not say in his artwork, that if we do not end our dependence on these fuel sources, and very very soon, it will be the end of life on this planet as we know it.
If we care about any of this, we should be thanking Chris Drury and others who raise these questions, not destroying their work and silencing their voices.
Carbon Sink, by Chris Drury, 2011-1012
When does contemplative artwork become offensive enough that it gets destroyed?
I recently blogged about the artwork of Chris Drury. I like it very much. But then, I'm not financially invested in the destruction of our planet. Apparently if you are, you might be threatened by artwork that you take to be a challenge to your privileged position. Drury's installation work, "Carbon Sink," on the campus of the University of Wyoming, was destroyed recently on the orders of the industry whose wisdom he dared to question.
The Sierra Club reports on it here:
I don't usually use this space to make political statements, but then, Drury says that he didn't create his piece to make a political statement either. He only sought to instigate discussion. But I guess we can’t have that at a university that is funded by the fossil fuel industry. Maybe we should be talking about climate change at our universities – and maybe our public universities should be funded by the public.
But there is something encouraging too, isn’t there, in the realization that art may indeed challenge the powers that be? It is somehow heartening to me to see that Big Coal is threatened by this work. They, apparently, still believe in the power of art in our culture, even if it is largely perceived by many to be innocuous and irrelevant.
I discovered a new artist this week. I picked up a book by Bryan Nash Gill called Woodcut. It's a wonderfully designed volume, made up entirely of woodcuts printed directly from sections of trees. The tree is cut, but the woodblock is otherwise untouched, offering us a view directly into the heart of the wood. Gill, who is also a sculptor, has developed a way to work with these sections in such a way as to honor the tree and provide for viewers a new way to contemplate and appreciate these extraordinary life forms. It's all about the trees.
You may see his works on paper, as well as his sculpture at his website:
I had the pleasure this past weekend of seeing the artwork of Toby Sisson at the air sweet air gallery in St. Paul, where she had a one person show. Toby was my student many years ago at The College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, and it was very good to see her again. After CVA she went to grad school at the University of Minnesota, and she is now an Assistent Professor of Studio Art at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is very gratifying to see what she has accomplished. She has a rare gift. She is also working in a rare medium, encaustic. It is an old technique of working with wax on panels, and with it she creates a wonderful surface of texture and light.
Her website is http://tobysisson.com/news.html
I am an artist. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.