Friday, January 16, 2009

The Initial Act / A Vital Image

At first I thought it odd to find a sculpture essay in a book on spirituality. That was before it brought tears to my eyes. It spoke to my own experience as a carver of wood and to the lineage of artists who have gone before us. This wonderful excerpt is from "On Constantin Brancusi" is by Dore Ashton. Found in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2007 by Philip Zaleski.

"Brancusi liked to begin at the beginning - as he said, he placed himself within nature and sought to experience, through nature's creations such as wood and stone, the metamorphosis within each material. We know from his many photographs of his studios that he treasured great timbers and great blocks of stone. What commentators tend to forget is that the process of creating an image, a sculpture, begins with the quest outside of the studio. Both Brancusi and his admirer Noguchi visited quarries and timber yards. The initial act is not the cut, but the choosing. The divining. A stone sculptor, for example tries to divine the inner crystals and veins as he gazes at a block of stone or a quarry wall. A wood sculptor does the same, divining the direction of the wood grain and its irregular patterns. And all this, they never forget, has been wrought by nature- by winds and waters and climate. Time. Furthermore, they think with their hands, that is their tools. The heft of a tool and the sharpness of a blade are always with them. As they gaze at the virgin block of timber, they bring an almost visceral calculation with them. Brancusi made his own tools for good reason. The point for him was that these substances - limestone, marble, cherry, oak - have a past. For artists as for writers the past is essential and above all, alive. As Hannah Arendt so often said, quoting William Faulkner: " The past is never dead. It is not even past." So for Brancusi the process was to reveal, and in so doing, make visually poetic mataphors. The question became for him: how much could be condensed to create a vital image?"

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