Unweaving a Rainbow: What Makes Something Beautiful?

Investigate Everything!

Some of you might not want to parse out what makes one thing more beautiful than another. I completely understand. Keats complained that Newton had “destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism.”

I’m here to meld that duality and I contend further that prism and poetry can co-exist fruitfully. In fact, in order to make my best art, I require that generation of The Third which emerges from Opposites.

I’ve tried the romance of just messing around with the crayons, the keyboard, and the clay, rather juvenilely hoping that the lightening bolt of genius will make a lucky strike. (Even sometimes thinking it actually did, for me.) Ultimately, though, it’s like playing Blackjack: while the odds are better than most games of chance, they still are in the House’s favor, not mine.

Goal-less and right-brained fooling around is creatively essential, but it is a warm-up: the beginning doodle, the free-write, the initial pinching, coiling and rolling. It so rarely makes it to that zen place of offhanded perfection, as much as we might be glancing over our shoulders to see if it did.

To take my craft into beauty and excellence –leaving the lightening bolts to shock themselves –I explored the nature of the creative process, studied Color Theories and The Principles and Elements of Art until I felt conversant and sometimes even fluent.

In other words, I got scientific and it helped. Now I could not only wonder at the rainbow’s glories, I could unweave it and put it back together in my own poetic way.

When I changed my art-making from 2D mixed media to 3D ceramics, a whole new set of loveliness standards came into play. What about Line and Form in Space? What about that Viewer in motion around the piece – or actually using it? What about Front, Side and Back? Top and Bottom?

So…. besides sticking to the work in my studio evolving my efforts, besides near constant conversations with mentors, colleagues, fellow enthusiasts and supporters, besides Art History courses and museum gallery visits, and besides deep thought on what motivates and thrills me, I read books.

And here are those that I deliciously don’t quite understand, but every time I delve through them, a little more is revealed:

The Nature and Art of Workmanship and The Nature and Aesthetics of Design, both by woodworker David Pye. If you click on the links, you will get descriptions and reviews. (Don’t miss the one for the Design book by wiredweird! I can’t describe the power of this book any better.)

Li: Dynamic Form in Nature by David Wade

And two exploring the realms of Sacred Geometry, whose philosophies lie at the heart of my seeking the Music of the Spheres in all I do.

Sacred Geometry by Miranda Lundy

The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art and Architecture by Gyorgy Doczi. The cover of my edition gives a hint of how the author connects the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci sequence to both the natural and visual world: with the language of mathematics.

Certain proportions occur over and over again joining unity and diversity

Herein lie richly illustrated pages with examples from plants, crafts, animals, Art: both ancient and modern, writing, the human body, music and more, all pointed toward a revelation of cosmic order so universal the author coined a new word for it Dinergy. “…Made up of two Greek words: dia — ‘across, through, opposite;’ and ‘energy.'”

A sample page.

So this is why Acoma Pottery is so pleasing! (Hint: maybe)

So what makes something beautiful? It’s surely not book learning and the methods of parsing, unweaving, reducing and dissecting! I don’t play around with numbers at all, I make art.

Rather, it’s about understanding that essential beauty’s out there, we’re all capable of perceiving it and here’s a Tiny Bit o’ Why. We may wildly disagree on specifics because there are many ways these patterns manifest.

Time, place, culture, narrative and materials don’t matter, yet there it is: A certainty of visual knowing instinctive and true.

I swear this knowing is how I sense when a work is done. There’s an out-breath, a hand relaxation, a satisfaction, all related to the cessation of seeking more for that piece. The rainbow is rewoven for now and I don’t need to measure it to make sure.

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Time and Gravity Fall Down Go Boom

Fallen Sphinx Totem

It happens several times daily: the dog pushes open the back door to get in and I am too pre-occupied to get up and shut it. Besides, we are having weeks upon weeks of the best Summer-in-the-Winter ever here on the Monterey Bay and there is no need to batten the hatches. The daffodils are blooming and the bugs are still asleep, a sweet time.

Last week Zorro, our sly XL Mini Schnauzer, pushed himself inside and disappeared around a corner. Shortly, I heard an emphatic crash which ended with semi-tinkling flourishes. Well, that got me up! I wasn’t sure where the sound came from and found no obvious broken dog messes anywhere in the house. Nothing jiggled off the dryer, no artwork detached from the walls, my studio remained quietly waiting for me. The dog was unconcerned. I concluded that because of the open door I must have heard one of our (nine – but that’s another story) neighbors, or the roofers three doors down. Back to my pre-occupations.

What fell is pictured above. It has been a fixture in the side yard for years and it fell over behind plants, a wooden cart and the fence so I didn’t notice it until days later. I called it the Sphinx Totem and it is still one of the most wildly complicated things I have ever pulled-off in hand-building ceramics class.

Each of its parts were soulful references to ancient and classical imagery, the entirety crafted to resonate with the sacred geometry of the Golden Mean as explored and diagrammed in the commanding book The Power of Limits by Gyorgy Doczi.

I can’t locate a photo of the completed piece in its former wholeness. Instead, I found my concept drawings:

Sphinx Totem Sketch with Golden Mean Harmonics

Starting at the bottom, a ring of roots surrounding a Greek column – a column being a formalized tree as well as an axis mundi. On top of the column a sphere within a cube frame. Then a large shallow bowl windrose with symbols for the eight winds of the Mediterranean around its rim. Above the windrose, an s-ribbed wind turbine which I had designed to spin at the slightest puff, but inertia and friction have long-proved to be fearsome contenders.

Guarding the whole piece at eye level, the Sphinx, one of my first figures in clay. She’s magnificently capable of issuing a perplexing riddle. She rendered the top pieces – a fairly graceful Lamp of Learning and a lumpy Rub ‘n’ Buff-colored Chakra Tower – mere finials of denouement.

The interior support for this four foot high twelve-part affair was a metal pipe which went about half way up, with a longer wooden dowel inserted into it running the entire height. As predicted for Someday, the dowel rotted and broke at the exact top of the metal pipe, toppling everything higher than the axis mundi onto the marble, bricks, and Mexican river rocks below. Teetering Empyrean! Someday’s arrived!

Years of ceramics have left me with little resistance to the shardy reality of a broken Opus. This might be an oxymoron, but I felt rather Vulcan: it was fascinating! I photographed it, swept up the pieces and noted that my favorites survived whole: the roots ring, the column, the Sphinx.

What's meant to remain

I take this as a sign of necessary evolution and simplification, of putting away childish things, of movement and progress, crossing the bridge, fording the river, sailing to the New World. I am blessedly released from a certain kind of past and this crash reinforces it.

With a new studio, the new year, new associations and the ACGA Exhibiting Member acceptance, fresh vistas have appeared. And while a few somethings, even significant ones, are lost, Time is currently sending more fascination than lack. Gravity is just not all that grave right now.

Fall seven times, rise eight as the saying goes. But maybe it’s easier than that; maybe falling is like autumn leaves, utterly natural… and if we trust and allow, don’t mope and protest, and stay fascinated, we see that rising up and leafy renewal are already written within Fall Down Go Boom.

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