Tuesday, March 07, 2006

creating, accumulating and chipping away

There is a famous quote, attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti, in which, when asked how he creates a statue of a horse, he answers that he simply takes a block of marble and carves away everything that is not a horse. Of course, I paraphrase. There are versions in which he says he sees what the rock contains and then carves away everything else.
This is certainly a beautiful, romantic picture of the need, possibility, desire to chip away everything that is not what it ought to be.

Often though, or maybe usually, it is impossible or unfeasible to simply chip away at an existing piece of stone to reveal what is there. It is ever so difficult to know when you’ve removed everything that is not a horse, or maybe even gone beyond and removed part of the horse. One interesting problem is, that in seeing that the marble contains a horse, one can mistake the entire chunk of marble for a horse. Because we visualize the horse in the marble, we eventually become convinced that a horse looks like a chunk of marble.
But also, maybe the marble is just too troublesome, unyielding. Perhaps it cracks at unintended places. Perhaps there is nothing there worth revealing by chipping away. Sometimes it’s necessary to build from scratch, with clay for example. A clay piece is not chipped away to reveal everything that is not a horse, it is a glob of nothing that is formed and shaped and molded into the desired work.

Even what becomes degrades and gets dirty over time. I am fascinated at the meticulousness of the cleaning process for these works of art. Though Michelangelo's David is certainly an amazing representation of perfection of marblehood, over these past centuries, David’s skin has become somewhat dull and ruddy. Though he is still, evidently, the ultimate hard-body, his surface has become tainted. And so the experts set about cleaning away everything that is not Michelangelo’s David. No doubt, they took nearly as much time cleaning away what had accumulated on the stone as the artist had spent carving away the stone itself until he had exposed what was contained therein. And “expose” he did, but that is not the point of this post.

Perhaps, if a completed clay piece becomes dull and ruddy over time, it will need to be rid of everything that is not it, as was done with the restoration of David. But first, originally, the clay had to be formed into something new, from scratch.
People usually have to be re-created from scratch. Made new. Demolished and re-formed. Over time though, having been made new, they tend to accumulate junk and must be cleaned or restored.

When people create and clean, it is of enormous difficulty to strip away what doesn’t belong. We have a natural ability to become attached to accumulation even if it was not desired in the first place. God creates, forms, and molds things from globs. He assembles and builds. He makes all things new. Sometimes his pieces are astounding, sometimes they don't seem like much. His creations are beneath him, less than him. Though it is very difficult, people who make a difference create from what we’ve been given, we chip away at what is, and create new things. Our creations are above us, bigger than us, beyond us. That’s why one of these can create one of these. But the majority of us tend to take what has been created from a glob and add on and add on and on, until at some point, it is hardly recognizable as what it first was.