Thursday, March 7, 2013


The inspiration for this post came from this short documentary on the making of John Mayer's new album cover art. John Mayer, on a long, rambling search for an ephemeral look that he couldn't quite describe, eventually came across David A. Smith from England, who may be one of the last people still doing the meticulous but beautiful work of traditionally hand-painted and lettered signage and glasswork.

While I watched this, I was reminded of a documentary my parents rented when I was in high school called 'Rivers and Tides.' It chronicles the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish 'sculptor' who works almost exclusively out in nature. His creations are not permanent - they are meant to fade, slowly but surely, back into the wild from which they came. As Goldsworthy says, "Each work grows, stays, decays – integral parts of a cycle which the photograph [of the work] shows at its heights, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image. Process and decay are implicit."

It was without doubt the slowest film I have ever seen, in every sense of the word. I'm fairly certain I napped through part of it. But looking back, I think it influenced me a lot. The trailer is below just to give you a sense of his work. (The trailer does its best to convince you it was filmed in the late 70s, but don't be fooled, it was made in 2004.)

Both artists go through an incredibly painstaking process to create beautiful works without ever sitting down at a computer. They must have an extraordinary amount of patience and take extreme care when working, because one wrong move could ruin hours upon hours of work. David A. Smith's medium of choice is LITERALLY as fragile as glass. Because, you know... it is glass. Jokes. Tell everyone you read a hilarious blog today.

Patience, as well as hand-made work, seems to have gone out the window lately. It seems cliché to write about the fast-paced, always-plugged-in world that we live in, but it's true. And yes I appreciate the irony of writing a blog post about this problem. But quality work that takes time and is done by hand is harder and harder to come by. Everyone wants everything as fast as possible.

I was raised Quaker. (Yes they still exist, no they didn't die out, no my family doesn't live on a farm, yes we can use electricity, no my dad doesn't wear a funny hat. You are almost definitely thinking of the Amish, or the guy on the Quaker Oats box.) Quakers are probably best described as the hippie faction of Christianity - they believe in simplicity, solutions through peaceful means, and in "finding the light within," emphasizing a personal and direct relationship with god. The Quaker churches (called 'meetings') I went to also did not have a conventional service. The gathering would generally sit in silence for an hour - basically, group meditation - and if someone had a thought they'd like to share, they could stand and speak aloud. I have fond memories of these services, and believe they taught me the two very important lessons of learning to sit quietly and patiently and turn my focus inwards (probably something I do too much of these days), and also to pay attention to what other people might be thinking or feeling.

Patience is an important thing for children to learn, I think. The name of this post comes from the French word, attend, which literally means 'wait', and which in turn comes from the book I'm reading, Bringing Up Bebé, about an American mother's experience having and raising children in Paris. (NO I'm not expecting children soon, it's just an interesting read.) The French seem to have the child-rearing thing down pat. One among their many great methods is to teach children that instant gratification is just not possible. 'Attend' is said to children all the time, to teach them patience and to help them understand they must be considerate of others before getting what they want.

I am glad to have learned patience so early on. Yet, I'm still certain I would not have the patience to create work on the level of what David A. Smith or Andy Goldsworthy do.

I actually feel quite impatient lately, mostly with my art. I understand why. I realize that I'll probably always have a complicated relationship with my own artwork, but right now the results of my work are so far from the original conception that it's hard not to want to skip to the point where I can just DRAW and have it at least somewhat resemble what I'm thinking about. My skills just aren't there yet. I often catch myself looking for quick fixes. But I think it's good to remember that the journey is of the reward, and that the process of struggling is important. It's how you learn, how you earn the skill.

I may keep a blog, but I also think it's important to step away from the internet, go out into the real world, and do things by hand. (It's Rule #4 in Steal Like an Artist: Use Your Hands. It recommends keeping separate desks for traditional work and for your computer/digital work, if you have the space. Can't wait till I can do that.) I have no doubt that my forgetfulness, impatience, and scatterbrained state of mind lately is caused by my constant proximity to computers and the internet. I've focused on setting boundaries for myself for the past few months to keep distraction at a minimum. I try to remember: Do one thing at a time. Take the time to really look, really think. Have patience. Slow down. Wait.

© Gina Florio 2013

1 comment:

  1. Getting way too enthusiastic ..bordering on stalker..but I really can't help but jump up and scream like a teen "me tooo". I bought Steal like an Artist this winter and that rule really stuck in my head. I have been dreaming of my next visit to Ikea, where I can get a table that folds, which would fit nicely in my tiny tiny place. And perhaps be of use when it is time for sketches.