Saturday, August 24, 2013

But is it art?


If intention is the determinant, which is arguable, it is not art. But, it must be asked, why then did I, after finding, picking up and admiring the perfectly oval stone, carry it with me for some distance without conscious intention? The impulse to select this particular stone, with its remarkable geometrical form, from amongst the hundreds of thousands piled up in a great mountain of similar stones along the back of Cape Hedge Beach is an aesthetic one; perhaps even more than aesthetic, for it speaks of a desire to find (in this case literally to discover) order in a chaotic world, meaning in an incomprehensible world; and by placing the stone just so—on its long axis, atop the natural irregularity, the jumble of weathered granite, the rocky outcrop at the edge of the continent, facing with its fragile stance and balanced by my agency against the currently calm but ultimately implacable, all consuming ocean—that act of placing is likewise aesthetic, likewise an assertion of meaning; an act of optimism, perhaps, hope that order will prevail, that balance and, if only for a moment, a mystical harmony with the universe can be achieved.

Similar “interventions” in the landscape have certainly been called art. What is art, after all, but a cry in the wind, a mark in the sand? Not a futile gesture (one hopes), but only rarely a transcendent one. What is intention anyway? My life, my choice to be an artist, that is the salient intention. I am not Andy Warhol. I don’t believe that everything I do is art or that my presence on earth is itself a form of art. But now and then I do something, make something, assert myself, place a stone carefully, consciously upright on a pinnacle of rock. And I ask, is it art? (And I don’t mean the photograph, which is a separate question and one that’s easier to answer, I think.)

Feeling the luxury of time and space, I sit with the stone and the rocky cape and the ocean and wind and the sky. When eventually I leave, the stone remains standing on its precarious perch, for the moment, to be found, perhaps, by the next person who comes clambering out onto the headland in search of whatever epiphanies are at hand. It brings me joy to think that this humble offering might come as a joyful surprise. Art, even with deliberate intention, can do worse.

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