01 August 2000

By Its Nature, Art

1 August 2000

Artwork is often in danger of being 'overworked.' By that I mean, fussed over by the artist, artists, or community until the spontaneity and improvisation that is a part of all art is gone.

An example of this overworking was brought to my attention recently.

A while back two, nearly life-sized sculptures of horses were placed on a rise next to Ronald Bog near my home.  The first time I saw them I was driving and I thought for a moment that they were real horses.  Wild horses had just crested the rise and were looking down onto the street below.  They were beautiful and I was charmed by the breath of life they brought to a busy street in Shoreline.

Ever since their installation, I have enjoyed walking or driving by the horses and have looked forward to seeing them.

That all changed two months ago.  One day I looked at the horses and instead of the lively sculptures there was a framed portrait. 

Someone had landscaped around the horses and transformed a magical piece of art into a flower bed with lawn ornaments.  Instead of enhancing the artwork, the installation of flower beds and other landscaping froze the horses in place, removing them from flowing beauty of the natural setting and transforming them into two horses standing in a flowerbed.

A few days after noticing the change, I read in the local paper that it was to be considered an enhancement and had been planned for a while.

I'm not surprised.

There is a struggle between life and technique in art.  When an artist is a child— spontaneity dominates.  The art is about process—not the final product.  After a while the same artist might take or study other artists works.  Then technique and structure can surge to the fore and making art about product.  That structure can often lock the vision of the artist in a cage—holding it hostage to some preconceived notion of what the final work should look like.

The best art uses both life and technique to inform Vision.  For me—art is about what a friend calls ‘happy pencil moments.’  Moments of inspiration combine with hours of practice to make a work of art live.

For example, a lot of work and planning went into casting the horses in the first place.  Once they were complete. Their placement allowed for the interaction of structure and spontaneity to create a living work of art that drew the my eye and made me look forward to seeing that particular work over and over again.

Now the either the artist or the community has worked over the setting of the pieces.  By changing the frame they have removed the life from the art.

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