On this shortest day of the year we arrived home tonight just at sunset squeezing in a brief amble around the pond. We then lit a small bonfire, swelling our senses with the outdoors and the flickering light and the quiet. There is a thin coat of ice on the pond that spoke to us in a shimmering, bird-like voice reminding us that as dark as the night may seem the days are getting longer and the garden will be green again.
These nights are gifts
our hands unwrapping the darkness
to see what we have.
--Carol Ann Duffy, from "December," Rapture: Poems (Picador, 2005)
After an afternoon of errands we returned home to feed our pets and walk. The sun had dropped below the horizon and the pale colors set the tempo of our steps. The temperature dropped and our hoods came up, but we kept the rhythm going, beating the same path, yet paying attention to the day's nuances.
Lines for Winter
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself--
inside the dome
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under
the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
(for Ros Krauss)
The long hours without the sun need to be loved, like the potato loves the dark dirt or the potter loves plastic soils. We love the clay as much as the shape it describes or the words they reference.
The long silences need to be loved, perhaps
more than the words
to describe them
--Franz Wright, from "Home Remedy," God's Silence: Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008
When we fire the wood kiln I think of the process as a type of collaboration with the heat and ash from the burning wood, the clay from which we make the pots, and our hands. We work with the kiln knowing how to place things, making educated guesses based on past history. We stack, fire, and then we wait while the kiln cools for a week. We wait and rest and refresh our vision so that when the kiln is opened we (perhaps) can move beyond preconceived ideas. There is a moment of trust, a rigorous permissive process, wherein the object which has been held in suspension can be recognized for what is working and not working. Ash which is heavy or surfaces which are rough, colors that are quiet or unexpected are all part of the conversation. My responsibility as an artist is to be open to all manners of result, and to recognize what I was after all along.
But not knowing, waiting and finding -- though they may happen
accidentally, aren't accidents. They involve work and research. Not
knowing isn't ignorance. (Fear springs from ignorance.) Not knowing is a
permissive and rigorous willingness to trust, leaving knowing in
suspension, trusting in possibility without result, regarding as
possible all manner of response. The responsibility of the artist ... is
the practice of recognizing.
-- Ann Hamilton
We woke this morning to a thin coat of ice on every surface. I was exhausted but wandered the field paying attention to how the ice covered every pine needle and piece of gravel, listening to the way my feet crushed the frozen grass and leaves. I meandered from pond to wood pile, mail box to compost, Chinese chestnut to black walnut. The shifting light of the day kept me engaged and as always at this time of year the sunset took me by surprise. As if the question already was waiting in the wings, more important than the answer now?
A life of making isn't a series of shows, or projects, or productions,
or things: it is an everyday practice. It is a practice of questions
more than answers, of waiting to find what you need more often than
knowing what you need to do. Waiting, like listening and meandering, is
best when it is an active and not a passive state.
Last night we went to the MFA open studios at SVA where our daughter is in her second year. While standing in her studio with some friends Zoe wore one of her soft sculptures which she had titled "armor." The acquaintance asked, "where did you grow up?" "Funny you ask," said Zoe. "I grew up in rural Virginia, but my Mom grew up here in New York City as the child of two artists." Zoe went on to explain that we made pottery and there was always an ongoing discussion about the world of art and craft whether in a gallery or at the breakfast table.
"I asked my ten-year-old son, Emmett, what he thought art was for and he
said, "Nothing." He said, "It isn't good for anything." And as he saw my
eyes roll back in my head, thinking, this is what you get from a kid
whose parents are both artists, he quickly added: "Art just is." He said
"Art just is" with an assumption that, like breakfast on the table, it
will always be there -- a given of a culture. In my head, I could hear a
voice saying in response to his confidence: "Yes, but..." Can I
really believe ... that all the collective acts of making carry a weight
that can counter the acts of unmaking that accrue daily? For acts of
making to be acts of resistance and tools of remembering, this
given-ness has to be made and maintained, and to have room made for it."
One doesn't arrive -- in words or in art -- by necessarily knowing where
one is going. In every work of art something appears that does not
previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to
what you don't know. You may set out for New York but you may find
yourself as I did in Ohio. You may set out to make a sculpture and find
that time is your material. You may pick up a paint brush and find that
your making is not on canvas or wood but in relations between people.
You may set out to walk across the room but getting to what is on the
other side might take ten years. You have to be open to all
possibilities and to all routes -- circuitous or otherwise.
-- Ann Hamilton
When friends ask about how do I construct these epistles I never know exactly how to answer. I collect pots and bits of backgrounds and quotes. I make my way through the day noticing the light, the wildlife, or something in the garden. I then collage it all together, hoping that in the process I see something new. Even if I put a leaf in a bowl each season, it is a different sculptural sense of leaf or a different bowl on a new ground. The assemblage changes the way I see. Perhaps it might change your sight, amplifying what it means to make things.
Every act of making matters. How we make matters. I like to remember, and remark with regularity, that the word "making" occupies seventeen pages in the Oxford English Dictionary,
so there are multiple possibilities for a lifetime of making: make a
cup, a conversation, a building, an institution, make memory, make
peace, make a poem, a song, a drawing, a play; make a metaphor that
changes, enlarges, or inverts the way we understand or see something.
Make something to change your mind -- acts that amplify.
On my evening dog walk tonight I circled around the pond below the studio. The light was bending in that December way through the trees. The dog seems to love the way the deer poop marinates in the cold perhaps making it even more delicious. I scooted her along and then the close, muscle-sound of big wings pulsed just above my head. I looked up and across to watch a massive bald eagle join its mate in the top of a tulip poplar. My unswept corner of the shore seemed safe, far enough from the majesty of these large birds. There was a scrap of sunlight similar to the brilliance of this small calendula flower growing with confidence while tucked in a protected corner of the garden. Only if I move my arm a certain way,
it comes back.
Or the way the light bends in the trees
this time of year,
so a scrap of sorrow, like a bird, lights on the heart.
I carry this in my body, seed
in an unswept corner, husk-encowled and seeming safe.
But they guard me, these small pains,
from growing sure
of myself and perhaps forgetting.
-- Jane Hirshfield, "To Hear the Falling World," Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988)
From December to March, there are for many of us
three gardens -
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind's eye.
-- Katherine S. White