Exerpts from the Third Erasure of Dialogues and Parables, A Plimpsest in Five Erasures




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, Multiplicity:

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 world.

This, I feel is a statement for all of the arts. As metaphorists we must be overambitious, 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 gender.

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 Calvino's ambition...and 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 metaphorical dimension.

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 possibility.

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 Outer Wall 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.




At last, an artist's book with ideas and a use of language that matches its elegant fabrication. Conceptual artists with banal concepts, artists who insist on providing simplistic accounts of their work--they pale before Robert Cremean's literate and complex metaphoric "extension" of the Vatican Corridor, his monumental wood sculpture. In the process, Cremean aims to lift art out of its current morass of trivialization. You might not agree with some of his arguments, but then again he has constructed The Tenth Arch so that a reader can enter and leave by a path of one's choosing.


Dickran Tashjian

Professor of Art History

UC Irvine


Sculptor Robert Cremean is widely recognized for the brilliant muscularity of his wood carving and famously complex sculptural assemblies. Now with The Tenth Arch we have a chance to know the subtlety of his thought and the rich historicism of his reference. Cremean's dialogues within the text between the Artist and Other and the Eye and the I are marvelous ruminations on creativity, identity, and the historical moment. This artist's palimpsest of desires is worthy of many afternoons spent in its reverie.


Bruce Guenther

Chief Curator, Orange County Museum of Art


The singular sculptural work of Robert Cremean, examples of which I first encountered and deeply admired in the 1960s, are profoundly humanistic in both form and content. I recognized from this first exposure that Cremean was an artist whose ideas and convictions, and a willingness to follow his own expressive imperatives regardless of the consequences, were the true sources of his art. What we did not fully know at the time is that Cremean was among the first to understand the deleterious effect an art market and gallery system, closely tied to certain fashion-driven museum curatorial practices, can have on the creative process and artistic independence. These critical insights inform much of Cremean's recent activities, and they play an important underlying role in The Tenth Arch. This publication, an eloquent statement of a philosophical as well as aesthetic position, provides a rejoinder and possible alternative to the cynicism and opportunism that have unfortunately trivialized much recent art.


Paul J. Karlstrom

Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution


...he is a powerful writer as well as an artist... More than most artists, Robert Cremean has sacrificed himself for his art.


Edward Lucie-Smith

Robert Cremean, A Mirror For The Self

The above appears on the dust cover of the third edition of