Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. In this case, it was Christmas night and I was packing up the family to go to Austin for a family holiday get together and the TV had been left on. I was passing by with my stack of clothes when I was struck by an image of the Basilica of Saint-Denis in France. It was a Nova special about the Gothic arch and how it changed architecture. Eager for an excuse to shirk my task, I sat down and started to watch. The cathedral is an awesome sight. It was completed in 1144 and is considered to be the first medieval Gothic architecture ever built. It was truly an innovation.
In the process of explaining the gothic arch and how it changed architecture, the discussion went to the use of stained glass. Then they showed a modern day glass maker and the process of making one pane of colored glass. I watched as the glassmaker spent the better part of a day making one piece of golden yellow glass that was about 20" round. Then they showed a clip of someone cutting and placing tiny bits of glass into a large scale stained glass piece. All I could think was that the Basilica Saint-Denis would likely never be be built today. If it was built, it wouldn't be built like it was, by hand in painstaking fashion by visionaries with no mind to the cost. There is some debate over exactly who built it (the Abbot Suger or an anonymous master mason and architect) but the point I am trying to make is that it was the vision of a few people and it was built by craftsmen using simple tools, creativity, passion and ingenuity.
Today it's all about the fast, cheap and efficient. It's about profit and speed. It seems to me that almost everything (not just buildings) seems to be a question of how cost effective is it and how many people will like it and consume it. I see this ethos creeping into my own work and concerns over my own career and business. It's hard to be in business and not think of things in this way.
But that night, I was struck by the work of the modern day glass artist spending hours upon hours making a single pane of glass and the work of Abbot Suger and his anonymous counterparts. They changed the way things were built and these elaborate stained glass pieces that we are so familiar with today would have been a multimedia revelation in their day. It was the bible written in light on the wall. I imagined a common man walking into this wide open space with soaring ceilings and walls of glass and being so moved by it that, for a moment, he felt lifted out of the dirt, darkness and struggle of his medieval daily life. I was awestruck by it all.
It made me stop and think about my own life and work and how short sighted and impatient I can be. In this modern world we live in, I see myself becoming tied to the idea of an outcome. Is my work "working"? Is it meeting some sort of external, qualifying goal? Will people buy it? And, am I making my work based on this idea that it will produce something specific and quantifiable in the end, or am I building the cathedral?
This question is guiding all of my thoughts these days. Maybe I'll call it the resolution for 2014? Or maybe I shouldn't try and quantify *it* either? I'm not sure how to change but I am determined to try...to turn my focus away from projecting, measuring, worrying, comparing, spread-sheeting and over thinking. I want to work because I enjoy the work and because I believe in what I am doing. I want to let my hands and my heart guide my work and disengage from traditional measures of success. I want to revel in the joy and craft of being an artist and building the cathedral.