January 6, 2010
The New York art world is kind of like a peacock; it is not merely self-centered and self-interested, it preens and struts, using the mechanisms of museums and art critics to heap adoration on itself for being just oh so clever and exotic. A few people have begun to pull back from that state of obsequious and blissful worship, however. A friend sent me an article from New York magazine a while back. The author was an art critic of some standing himself, and he was expressing his sense of futility and frustration over the vain and self-congratulatory attitudes, and especially in view of the fact that the work seems ever more inane and arrogant, lacking any real ‘juice’, so to speak.
Well, it turns out the world doesn’t really revolve around New York City, and the impression that it does is fading with every passing season. A large part of the reason for this fundamental shift away from the baseness and elitism is that there are other artists outside of that sphere who really are making fine art that is actually and perceivably fine. Novel idea, eh? Un-hampered by the nattering nabobs, these artists are doing what truly speaks to them on a level that embodies sincerity and profound meaning. One of these is an Englishman by the name of Andy Goldsworthy. If you haven’t heard of him or seen his work, please give yourself the fine gift of looking him up on the web and even browsing books of his work in the bookstore. Here is a link to his website, which has an extensive catalog of his work: http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/
Most of what Goldsworthy does is ephemeral, which is to say it melts, falls apart or is swept away within hours of his creating it. He uses natural materials, declining even tools, to the best of my knowledge, and throws himself into a piece until it is finished. He has even relied on using his own urine to ‘cement’ pieces of ice into his chosen shape. He is amazingly resourceful and ingenious in his selection of materials and sites. When his effort is complete, then he, or a photographer, takes pictures of the work before it disintegrates, and that is the only evidence that it ever existed. His work ranges from the very subtle pieces of earthen structure that only reveal themselves as the mud dries and cracks in a pattern that he has caused it to do so, all the way to rather monumental gatherings of stone, some of which do last a while, simply because stone is such a heavy and durable medium. Many of his pieces are intended to reveal another dimension of themselves as the incoming tide, or wind, tears them down, or blows them apart.
The common ingredient that all of his work shares is HARMONY. And, since we tend to react to harmony with an emotional response that is identical to how we respond to Beauty, it is fair to say that all of his work is indeed beautiful as well. He has an innate sense of what constitutes a harmonious curve or shape, and he uses this as he assembles such mundane found objects as stones, leaves, twigs, pine needles, mud, icicles…and even cherishes the shapes that a piece of red rock makes when it is powdered and tossed into the air as a red cloud of dust. Almost nothing has escaped Andy Goldsworthy’s attention over the years. A quick check reveals that there are about twenty-eight books of Goldsworthy’s art available. I regret to say I have only one, but I have a list of ones that I would like to acquire as time passes.
What this determined artist is doing is transformative, not only to the spot and the materials where he creates a piece or an event, but to peoples’ view of art in general. He is showing us that it need not be inaccessible, perplexing, weird, kinky, stupid, and just plain annoying. I look at even the simplest of his ever so brief creations and it makes me smile. It reminds me that nature is rife with simple gifts and it is the role of the artist to gently and skillfully, call our attention to them in ways that we have never encountered, therefore helping us to see the inherent beauty all around us with new eyes.
I believe with all my heart that this was the original and remains the enduring purpose of doing art. Artists down through the ages have known this and Andy is just reminding us that all of that is not lost, but has been merely—and temporarily, thank God-- hidden by the smoke and mirrors of the modernist elite.
Again, check him out, you will be delighted that you did : http://www.goldsworthy.cc.gla.ac.uk/