Art, Accident vs. Intent

Transience, Fallen
Transience, Fallen

Hill and valley and still water, mountain and canyon and deep are the work of one creation; and why have I been placed in it? And what do I do in it, with such a little while before I am gone? The valley stays, and the hills I climb now, and the still waters run, and I will be laid somewhere beneath them all. Yet in time they, too, will be gathered up in some mighty motion of  fire or flood or ice.

Therefore all valleys are shadowed with death, yet they live in beauty. And the shadow, as in painting , is what gives roundness and ripeness to shapes and colors that would other-wise have little beauty at all. Death rims life with the beauty of transiency. This is because  beauty is always passing – clouds moving, waters flowing , leaves scattering, youth aging – that it is so pierces our hearts.     Bradford Smith

This passage, found in the book of Faith and Practice of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers), partly inspired the creation of this sculpture Transience. I sculpted this female torso 13 years ago out of eastern hemlock, 5 feet tall by 3 feet in diameter. The concept for this sculpture was the transience and decay of natural beauty. The sculpture was to be placed outside in a wooded setting to slowly decay with the ravages of time and weather.

Last week here in Vermont we had a terrific wind storm with wind gusts up to 70 mph. This wind caused the trees to sway violently causing the loss of limbs and branches. One of these limbs landed squarely on the sculpture, toppling it to the ground.

So the question becomes does this unusual event become part of the original concept? Should I leave it as is or restore it to a standing position? A crisis of concept!

Here is a dirty little secret about artists: I don’t think people who are not artists realize the extent to which artists use accident or chance in their work. Some artists may not admit to it or even realize they are using chance but it is a very common practice. They rarely talk about it to people who are not artists. I feel that being open to accident is a lot like being open to inspiration. Part of the goal is recognizing it for what it is and making use of it…or not.

In this case, my inclination is to restore her to vertical in order to realize the full 30 year life span of this artwork. What would you do?

3 thoughts on “Art, Accident vs. Intent

  1. kristin 02/06/2013 / 8:12 pm


  2. Whine And Cheers For Wine 02/06/2013 / 10:30 pm

    First off thank you for sharing Bradford Smith’s beautiful ode. I was/am truly moved by its descriptive honesty.

    Transience?? Really? All these years [13?] I thought it was called THE BUTT! A beautiful one at that but lets not get into my opinion on this topic. Unusual events/accidents is a wonderful topic for art. One I had not considered before as an option but now realize how true this is. As to decay; I see around me pieces of art made with the intention of decaying over time, usually outdoors. This always surprises me because my first reaction would be to restore it or keep on it to prolong its original beauty. Funny how one could apply this to human life too. Maybe I was always young or thought I would be and therefore everything should be kept that way too. Luckily no Botox or surgery for me. Yet! But as I age and my youthful beauty fades or faded already, I do come to appreciate as you say the natural “ravages of time and weather”. Yes, even mine. Now back to the question at hand. I was very surprised to read your inclination. I expected the complete opposite. That said, even though either option makes for an interesting outcome my vote is RESTORE her to vertical!!!

    • avidseeker 02/07/2013 / 9:55 am

      I could not add one better word than those Ernest expressed and, yes, I would restore her to vertical. After all, we stumble and fall many times before our days are over, but just like nature, have the ability to “right” ourselves and continue to live our lives with intent and by some miraculous accident. I’ve always liked that sculpture. Thank you for sharing the wonderful, moving piece by Bradford Smith. It is strangely comforting. Ginger

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s