Be that as it may, once I see it, I often can find an awful lot to say about it.
One morning, a couple of weeks ago, a local businessman came over to our place to discuss something or other. While we stood in the driveway and spoke for fifteen or twenty minutes, his little girl – a cute, bright-eyed three-year-old carrying a large, pink, stuffed rabbit – played by herself around the front of the house.
As they were about to leave, with the little girl already strapped into her car seat, her father had to step out of the car to retrieve the pink stuffed rabbit, which had been left lying in the driveway.
That evening, stepping out onto our front porch, I looked down and saw this:
I knew it was art as soon as I saw it.
Who had done this? Who had placed these stones on my stacks of blocks? I went through a process of elimination, but only out of habit. I knew who the artist was.
It is not surprising that, if a three-year-old were to be stirred by artistic inspiration, the stimulation should be stacks of blocks and, nearby in the driveway, an abundance of small stones.
Careful here, though. Simply to place small stones on stacked cement blocks is something a toddler might do as toddler play; it is not, ipso facto, art. This is an artwork because it was created mindfully; it has a form. No stack is left empty; no stack receives more than one stone. If she had only been playing let’s-put-stones-on-the-blocks, why did she stop when she did? She stopped because she had been making something and then it was finished. This kind of restraint is difficult for any artist, much less a three-year-old one.
The stunning effect of this piece of environmental sculpture (or whatever label you want to give it) arises from its revealing an intriguing differentiation between the stacks of blocks. Without the hint from the small, carefully placed stones – each purposefully positioned in relation to the center of the block it rests on – the evocative relationship of each block to the others would remain overlooked or, at best, vague.
That stones lying about a driveway are intricately, interestingly, dissimilar goes without saying. (My own daughter, at that age, preferred examining the stones in the driveway to looking at the “pretty flowers” that grew alongside it for that very reason.) That stacks of two, three or four cement blocks, outside their obvious quantitative difference, can have a qualitative difference, is the sort of revelation that moves us in a work of art. The conflict between the uniformity intrinsic to stacks of cement blocks and the individuality of each of these seven stacks, pointed out by the stones, gives each stack its own character, with an emotional impact based on how it differs from the others. For example, there is a poignancy in the comparison between the graceful instability of the stack of four blocks, third from the left, and the awkward instability of the stack of three, fifth from the left and in front of the others.
This is art; it is beautiful.
No wonder the little girl, filled with the pride and satisfaction of artistic creation, forgot all about her fuzzy pink rabbit.
I do so much wish her well in life.
I knew that Cement Blocks with Stones (2018) was a temporary installation, but I was disappointed when, after only three days, it was destroyed by a lout with a leaf-blower.
(This parenthetical note should not be necessary but, sadly, many people these days read stupidly – that is, they read only what is in front of their eyes, without making any connection to anything else they may have read or thought or wondered about or intuited: I have attempted here to analyze what makes this piece a work of art. I do not imply – how could I? – that the little girl was aware of any of this, any more than any artist in the throes of inspiration anatomizes his or her work.)