Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Gifts and Self-indulgence
That wasn't my friend's question but it was at the heart of how I evaded a real answer. She asked, after I'd mentioned that the year-plus hiatus in sand sculpture hadn't hurt my engineering chops but had allowed my holistic design sense to atrophy, if I thought the deterioration were due to no longer being comfortable showing myself out there.
My answer wasn't really evasive. I just explained the reality: I don't think about that very much. If I did I wouldn't be able to carve at all. I grew up with a strong sense that I would best be invisible. That I ended up doing art in about as public a place as can be imagined is easily explained: it didn't start as art. I just wanted to make an arch. I was comfortable as an engineer because I was doing research into the structural qualities of packed sand.
Since my friend asked me about that, the Holy Spirit has been giving me something of an itch to drag this whole unwieldy structure out into the daylight. To justify sand sculpture after it turned into nearly pure design--what else can you do when you've solved all the engineering problems?--I just quit thinking about it. Each sculpture stood alone. Then it washed away, leaving no tracks to show my completely self-immersed indulgence of a useless practice.
Those who are the most showy usually have little really to show. Those who make the most noise are the ones who should really keep quiet. I don't like show-offs and self-important people. That's why it's handy that I work in sand: it's hard to be self-important when the Greatest Artwork in the World just dries out and crumbles when a seagull lands on top of it. Go to the beach the next day and there's either a stump or nothing.
And yet, all that said, people have been interested in my engineering/art since the day I started making them. I used to discount this. They're just being nice. But I'm sensitive enough to know that this wasn't true. I could see the looks on many people's faces: fascination. Well, it is unusual to see a lacy structure of sand standing nearly as tall as a person from a base about the same size as their footprints.
I imagine that all creative people have doubts. I wonder how Fernando Ortega handles it. His music is beautiful and humble, yet he stands on a stage and sings for crowds.
There are some truths in sand. One is that I developed the whole process from scratch. Another is that what I do is unique, not in the currently overused connotation of that word but in truth. No one else does anything like it, in all the world.
That doesn't really matter to God. We were discussing this tonight. I'm practice-oriented. I have value so long as I do something useful. Sand sculpture for God. God values me for who I am, which is a concept I may someday understand. His outlook is more like mine in 1984: forget the questions, quit thinking, just go out and make a sculpture and see if it stands. Half the time that year it didn't stand. From just about my birth, though, the easiest way to find me was to go where there was a pile of sand or dirt. I'd be there digging, making roads. I like the feel of the material. Sculpture comes out of my hands and heart, sneaking out the back door deliberately left open while I'm not looking. Maybe that's the same door that God sneaked in through in 2003. Sure enough it's the door that has been closed for the last year or so, until I decided, well, to hell with the thinking. Go make a sculpture.
I still enjoy it. Is that good enough? Can I ever become comfortable with being publicly creative? From my viewpoint it's about as pure an artform as can be conceived: no economic attachments, no politics, no focus group nor design by committee. One man, one day, one beach and an Idea that leads step by step into places I never thought about before. If someone had told me in high school that I'd be on the beach doing art because I liked it I'd have said they were nuts.
I always did art in high school while looking over my shoulder for disapproval. I'd learned long before that my way of seeing things, and the things I enjoyed, were askew from the rest of the world. I was tactile, soft, experimental in a hard-edged we-know-everything culture. That's why I had to hide my art. I kept it in my head. Images built and changed.
Sand sculpture starts from those images. How does one get comfortable with anything like that? Maybe really creative people never do. Maybe they reach accommodation and go on, but the deep itch never goes away. Maybe it was a comparable deep itch that caused Jesus to open his mouth and sing a universe into being.
If I'm being self-indulgent, I have a good role model. Creativity is a gift. My friend says she has no artistic talent. I wonder. I think everyone has some and the key is to keep experimenting until you find a mode of expression that you enjoy enough to keep after it. I benefit from not having a well-trodden path ahead of me. Every sculpture I do makes another blaze on a path in the wilderness. If I were trying to paint people would have all of history to use as a judgment standard. They have no idea what to make of my sculptures, meeting them on the sculpture's own terms. Maybe they're no more comfortable than I am.