Do you have any idea of what might appear…of what you’re waiting for?
I like to explain the work of the artist in relation to Genesis—of Adam being the first artist in the form of a gardener. As a gardener your main job is to create the proper conditions for growth. A lot of your energies go into understanding dirt. Your job is to keep it moist, flexible, and good for things to make roots. You even introduce nasty stuff like worms to produce the sort of earth that visible stuff will come out of.
I think of this whenever I get any sort of praise for a finished work—it’s like a gardener getting praised for his roses. But he didn’t create any of that. His job was digging in the dirt. This reminds me that in some ways the better you do the invisible work (and often there’s nothing to show for it except dirty hands!), then in the long run the more growth you will have in areas that somehow come about by themselves.
This requires a lot of patience.
Some days you handle the dirty work better. And then there are days where you do something artificial or contrived. This is like a gardener saying, “I don’t want to work with the dirt. I want roses!” The only way you’ll get roses without working in the dirt is by making artificial roses or buying them.
So how do you know when you are starting to see what is actually sprouting?
The same way a gardener will forget to stop and enjoy the roses, you need someone to come in who hasn’t done the work and comment on the beauty that has flourished. You need someone else. I will look at them looking at the work and try to see what they see because I can’t see it myself. I need this moment that the viewer provides, often standing in silence.
I have no problem talking about the work, but I find myself waiting for what the person who is new to the work will see. Whatever I have found is not equal to what this new encounter will bring to the work.
I think this is a true thing about aesthetic experience in general—it is very hard to have them by yourself.
Bringing others into this space of waiting together, and the act of sharing patience—in silence, or in mutual questioning, or expectation of something to happen—this is something really beautiful.
Do you feel that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?
In German we have the word “Jein” which is yes (ja) and no (nein) together.
Our culture is so individualistic. Really the idea that you have any experience outside of being shaped by your community is absurd. You’ve experienced this in public. In a subway station, a baby is doing something cute, and you can lock eyes with a stranger and be in agreement. Not only are you in agreement, but you need the agreement to fully understand what is going on.
When it comes to beauty, your eyes are the least important thing. It’s the eyes and words of the people around you sharing the experience that will actually make it a reality.