When a small press suggested
that I might write a book about my views on
sculpture and its future, I received as a Christmas
gift a hint of what my book might resemble.
Although I did not respond to
Italo Calvino's Six Memos
For The Next Millennium
as strongly as might have been hoped, I have indeed
written a small book and, to honor the gift, will
include here a quote from Calvino's fifth memo,
Overambitious projects may be
objectionable in many fields, but not in
literature. Literature remains alive only if we set
ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope
of achievement. Only if poets and writers set
themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine
will literature continue to have a function. Since
science has begun to distrust general explanations
and solutions that are not sectorial and
specialized, the grand challenge for literature is
to be capable of weaving together the various
branches of knowledge, the various "codes," into a
manifold and multifaceted vision of the
This, I feel is a statement for
all of the arts. As metaphorists we must be
to stretch out and expand and reclaim space taken
as well as territories unnamed.
Since 1945, mainstream artists
have tried to be honest - abstract expressionism,
pop-art, et al. - but since honesty is not a
metaphorist's virtue and is, in fact, antithetical
to Art's process, critics and culture-makers have
become metaphorists to give meaning and expression
to what isn't there. Rhetoric and colorful
interpretation fill the gap, and the artifacts are
removed to the marketplace for historical
validation. This cultural phenomenon is in complete
force today, economically set.
Artists are making art,
galleries are selling art, buyers are buying art,
museums are collecting art. What is the problem,
then, if all seems in place and functioning? Is
there a problem?
Unhappily, the problem lies in
how we feel, what we know. Something's off. Not
authentic. Like having sex with the wrong
The problem is, it's not Art.
All of the mechanics are in place saying it is, but
we know it isn't. What is missing, I think, is
what I call Desire.
What is being produced and
delivered today in the name of Art simply hasn't
the weight or density to forgive our lives. It is
pretense in the name of process, parasitism without
nourishment, fame without achievement. As artists,
we are not up to the task. All the metaphors have
changed and we have not the Desire to interpret
them.We are being erased.
The metaphorical wall between
process and Being is rubbed thinner. Ever thinner.
And, in some areas, there is no boundary at all. In
a finite world, this is, of course, the way of it.
Everything begins to assume the same weight; parts
become interchangeable, definitions blurred.
As artists, we are asked not to
make Art but to produce tchotchkies.
Scale is only relative to placement; whether it be
on a shelf or in a park, it exists within the same
What interests me most as a
metaphorist is that, in this finite world, time is
the most valuable commodity. We pretend it is
money, but it is time. Oddly, we don't save it but
merely spend it faster and by so doing have less
and less of it. This also applies to the production
of art. I was surprised to read as the philosophy
of an outstanding art academy: "More art faster." I
assume this was meant to attract students. As an
artist and as a graduate of this particular school,
I was greatly offended. "More art faster" implies
expediency. Students beware.
There is one absolute in the
making of Art. It is the pause. The moment between
thought and action, eye and hand. In that instant,
all things are possible. If "More art faster"is a
virtuous goal, then the making of tchotchkies is
a virtuous enterprise. It simply has nothing to do
with making Art, only the shortening of the
essential pause and the diminishing of
This is not a lament. We are
experiencing, in a sense, the promise of Art, a
melding with process. There is, however, the very
real possibility that within the limitations of
finitude there is no place for Being. If that is
the case, then artists have no place either. The
Art Experience has always been absolution, a
cleansing and purifying epiphany, a burst of
understanding and acceptance.This, of course,
implies guilt and conscience and Being. If this is
now merely baggage carried over from the
superstitions of infinitude, then let us be done
with it. If, however, Art and Being give purpose to
our parasitism within the process of nature -
We only take, and give
back nothing. Wrapping our dead selves in metallic
separation, we enter the earth unusable. The
arrogance of our greed is magnificent. Total.
Complete. - then the
creation and re-creation of metaphor is essential
for survival. Without a constant search for
meaning, our existence is cancerous, malignant; and
as our numbers surpass balance, the force of our
hunger will be definitive.
Exerpted from the
of The Tenth Arch
The publisher wishes to thank Harvard
University Press for permission to reprint the
quotation from SIX MEMOS FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM by
Italo Calvino, Copyright © 1988 by the Estate
of Italo Calvino.