One of the books on the philosophy of art that I return to time and again is Suzi Gablik “The Reenchantment of Art.” Published in 1995, her attempt to outline how to restore our "to our culture its sense of aliveness, possibility and magic” remains as relevant today as ever.
One of the interesting artists Gablik posits as an example of “reconstructive postmodern practice” is Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy goes out in nature and creates artwork with found natural objects such as twigs, leaves, icicles, etc., and then photographs them before the wind, rain, sun, etc., reclaim them.
Goldsworthy’s spire on the Presidio has been written about by many SF art bloggers. I went out there last week to see for myself. The spire is not that easy to find but once you get there, the path upwards is clearly marked. A lot of people have climbed that hill and the dry bush around the site is marked with trails. Once you get to the top of the hill, you can’t get close as a large chain link fence fences off the site. The tree is in a depression and the whole area is torn up with huge chunks scooped out of the ground and large machinery obviously in place for the next day’s work.
I found it appropriate that a man who has based his life on creating art out of nature’s ephemeral material really doesn’t appear to give a damn if anybody sees it or not. In fact, in various interviews, he appears to hope that his spire will disappear from view. The art of the transitory sounds poetic on paper but in practice it’s a lot less satisfactory for the ordinary viewer. It's also ironic that all this transitory work is carefully documented by photography but then, that also may be transitory in 20 or 30 years time. We don't know how long those materials will last either.
“Over time the spires will change from an extroverted, outgoing sculpture to an internal,
quiet work within the forest” — something, he said, you may be able to spot through the trees, but maybe not. “Or maybe they’ll take it down,” he added.
In an essay on John Haber’s blog (Chelea 2007) , he quotes Danto’s essay on “The Artist as Prime Mover." While Danto is referring to Peter Fischli and David Weiss, the essay could just as easily refer to Goldsworthy:
“The prime mover makes art indiscernible from "ordinary things" and then withdraws from the creation, just as Fischli and Weiss never quite enter the frame. Like the physical world, it has components as elemental as fire and water, but also laws as elementary and impersonal as chemistry and physics. Like the real world, too, it seems senseless but always threatens to end in a catastrophe—and it surely trashes the artists' studio along the way. Not that Danto believes in a last judgment, whether in art or life. Anything can become art, he has argued, and the work's tires and old shoes might confirm that thesis as well.”
I went, expecting to be moved a great deal more than I was. I loved the movie "Rivers and Tides" and gained probably a very idealistic view of Goldsworthy. But afterwards, when I was looking at my photographs, I started questioning the value of what he was doing - making art in (mostly) obscure places, from (mostly) transitory materials and not appearing to care if it lasts or not. Except that he does care because each piece is carefully documented. Maybe I'll feel different when the piece is finished; in the meantime, I have a lot of impressions that I haven't sorted out.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
Arthur C. Danto's The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World was published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The essays first appeared starting in 1993, mostly in The Nation.
Books by Andy Goldsworthy include A Collaboration with Nature, Stone, Wood, and others. A DVD, Rivers and Tides, is also available.