Grahame Sydney gave a thought provoking talk at the outdoor sculpture exhibition at Olssen’s Vineyard, Bannockburn, Central Otago on Labour weekend. In his talk Grahame speaks about trusting your own unique instincts when studying an artwork.
“We may not spend much time in the actual physical engagement with an art work, standing there in front of it, or walking around it in a concentrated, contemplative silence, but we know too well it still matters a great deal to us, and plays a necessary part in our lives.
If we obeyed cold logic, or allowed that commonsense to rule the cheque book and the hand which reaches for it, I believe few really fine works of art would be made, and our country’s culture would be a thinner, meaner thing: the courage to be a buyer parallels the courage it takes to accept that understanding and immediate acceptance are NOT pre-requisites for something to be wonderful. The wonder often resides in the inability to explain.
In fact, I tend towards the harsher belief that if we DO feel we understand and know – if we “get it” – immediately when confronting a new work of art, it is very likely not much good at all. If it can be known so rapidly, understood with such ease, arguably it then contains no depth, can only be shallow.
By trusting their own unique instincts, by being “utterly peculiar to themselves”, and by defying all pressure to conform to norms which are not their own, they deliver something which feeds a need deep inside another life. It takes courage to dig deep and find that separate, personal, instinctive manner which is yours alone, trusting that voice which no-one else can hear, which no-one has taught you. Whether a maker or a buyer, courage is the operative word, and without it we are all ordinary. Risk is so often richly rewarded: to not risk is to condemn ourselves to dull, predictable, conventional tedium, and to die unexplored, untested.
I have believed for many years now that a strong work of art is more “valuable” – not monetarily, though that is the “value” of choice to many these days – no, a strong, lasting work of art, whether it be sculpture in glorious 3 dimensions, like so many of these works here today, or the magical play of pigment of a flat 2 dimensional surface, is best judged by its capacity to linger and play in our memories.
Just like people: the most valuable – not monetarily – friends in life are those we are unable to forget, regardless of whether they appear on a daily basis, or only rarely. We may only look closely at them for a few minutes, but they remain significant, vital to our lives, feeding us privately.
Theory has nothing to do with it, nor does fashion : there is nothing less attractive to me – and this has been a good week to be reminded of its essential vacuousness – nothing so shallow and transitory as fashion. No artist should ever long for their work to be fashionable.
Lasting, memorable, unforgettable, being of one’s time, being true to one’s own instincts alone, being like nobody else – defying all other expectations, and finding the appropriate skills to give those private instincts proper form – these are the keys to quality.
Just like people – and sculpture, in its human scale and occupation of spaces, as we do, often delivers notion this more powerfully than any other art – an exhibition is a platform for testing our judgment, and our instincts. It’s easy for a man to feel his heart hammering at the sight of a gorgeous woman….. I guess Nature is responsible for that. But that gorgeous woman quickly loses all magic, all her initial seductive appeal if that man discovers there is no brain at home, no mystery, no heart, nothing more to admire than the superficial, shallow glamour. That experience will become a bad memory, a guilty memory because of the foolishness it symbolises.
Good and great works must be good memories, companions for life, companions which remain fascinating, challenging ideally, and pleasing for our closeness to them. We may not look at them long and lovingly, but they are locked securely within, and travel with us wherever we go. We may never understand them, like our own children we never really understand. But we love them all our lives, and they sing like the songs of birds inside us.
Courage in the making, courage in the supporting – these risks are best rewarded. Understanding and explanation are not always necessary – to try to do so often sterilises the mystery and kills the lingering, lasting wonder. Hope instead for something you can’t forget, no matter how much else crowds your head. The song of a bird inside us.
And if you can’t forget it, you know you’ve seen something wonderful. You may even be fortunate enough, as its caretaker, to be able to look at it for a minute or two every now and then.
Grahame Sydney. 22 October 2005. Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Olssen’s Vineyard.