Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's Like a Poem, Dude

There's this guy who gets up every morning and goes outside, his favorite place. He feels a strong compulsion to make patterns out of natural things: twigs, stones, flower petals, busted-up ice. His name is Andy Goldsworthy, and he's a famous artist, and he's made art all over the world. Some of it is totally ephemeral—it'll be resorbed by nature in a day or a week—and some of it would be considered 'permanent': carefully built dry-stone walls, for instance.

But of course, the whole point is that nothing's permanent, everything changes, everything that comes will someday go.

So why make anything? Why do anything?

Because eternity is to be found in any honest activity, be it lining up fern stems in a spiral pattern that almost makes you cry to behold it, or running a dry-cleaners in a strip plaza.

A few years ago, Goldsworthy was quoted in Time: "Right in front of your face is the stuff you choose to ignore."

A contrast to Andy Goldsworthy, yet totally heroically similar, is Mark Borchardt, working-class auteur best known as the subject of the 1999 documentary "American Movie: The Making of Northwestern." He's a guy who wanted to make a movie, not just any movie, but his firm vision of a movie.

The thing is, Mark appears to have zero artistic pretensions. He didn't go to film school, he didn't go to Hollywood and work his way up, he just did what he had to do right where he was, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with whatever the hell sparse money and resources he could scrape up. Instead of finishing "Northwestern," he wound up making a horror short called "Coven" (which he pronounced "Coe-ven").

"American Movie," won a big prize at Sundance and called lots of attention to Mark, and since then he's been a minor celebrity, dipping in and out of public view, slowly working on another picture.

"Coven" essentially sucks, but that's beside the point. Deep at Mark's core lies a bluntly heroic artist.

Mark on inspiration:

"I don't care about making a movie, but I care about making a movie that's spiritually satisfying."

On artistic integrity:

"It's like a poem, dude: 'My girlfriend punched me in my right eye, broke the glass coffee table.' That can't be altered. No one co-writes that with you."

On achievement:

"I've always been my own worst enemy, and that's a hell of a fight."

Andy and Mark are guys I've learned a lot from.

[photo info: Andy Goldsworthy's Arch at Goodwood, image harvested from Wikipedia Commons]

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  1. This reminds me of Brother Lawrence "peeling potatoes to the glory of God" (full disclosure: I haven't read him, just read about him; the quote is from Maddy Prior's song about him).

    Or maybe it's like a reverse of Ozymandias--If/since ultimately all our work is ephemeral, then what really matters is the connection we make with one another through the work. The chain/web of human connection is our legacy.

    1. Yeah, Jo! All is ephemeral, and all is worthwhile, provided we do it with all our heart. Down to the smallest action...


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