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Living in The Question

Today's Musings

The Big Cuts - Revealing What Lies Beneath

When I was an art student in London, one of my courses was in stone sculpture.  Having been a painter for years, I had to learn a totally new approach in this medium, one that required more courage than I had to muster in paint.  

Painting allowed me the leeway to make mistakes and correct them, to paint over what I didn’t like, to change colors, add and subtract as the painting evolved.  But sculpture was another story altogether.  Once those chunks of stone hit the floor there was no going back, no adding what I had taken away.  At first, I found that unnerving and my approach was tentative.  Instead of taking the first big chunks out of the block, I tried whittling away at it bit by bit.  What I wound up with was a diluted, unimpressive piece of stone with cuts that said absolutely nothing about what they were revealing beneath.  The entire process challenged me in ways that I was not aware of until today when I began the process of “cutting away” again.  This time, it was with a different medium, but the mindset was the same.  

You see, in order to sculpt, you have to have a vision of what lies within the block of stone.  The first cuts are the deepest, the boldest and require the most commitment. They tell you the boundaries of your sculpture and delineate the lines within which you will be working to reveal the beauty of your vision.  My work today was about making the first cuts to a legacy that had been left to me.  It was about marking the lines that distinguish me from my mother.  

In the last few months, living with all that my mother had left behind, it has been difficult for me to distinguish between us, to see who I am separate from who she was.  I work in her studio, sleep in her bedroom, wear her clothes and walk in her shoes—literally. I am not the same person, yet nothing looks different on the outside.  How do I know what is me and what is her?  I have been left with a block of stone that was her life. My work is to cut away all that isn’t mine, all that is concealing the diamond that lies inside.  

Yesterday I began that process and found myself to be the same tentative sculptor that took that class so many years ago.  I began by whittling, afraid to eliminate too much.  After hours of reviewing my results, the awareness hit me that I had been approaching the process with the wrong mindset, asking questions that could not bring me the result I was after.  

I was asking what I liked that was already there, rather than asking what I needed to remove to make space for myself to show up.  This might sound like a small distinction, but it makes all the difference in what I remove.  If my motivation is to make space for something to appear then I will have to remove more rather than less.  I will need to take out big chunks of stone, cut away even those pieces that could possibly be useful at some point.  There are parts of the stone that are beautiful in their raw state.  There might be veining or colors that are particularly appealing, but the question is, are they part of the final piece of art?  Do they hinder or reveal more of the truth?  

I went back at the process with this new mindset and found that I was able to eliminate much more than I did on that very first pass, but I knew that I was still too tentative in my approach.  What if I got rid of something that down the line, I wished I had kept?  What if I took away too much and then couldn’t replace it?  That is the part that requires courage and vision.   

You see, when I paint, I do not have a vision of a finished piece.  My process of painting is quite different and unique.  It is a process of listening and allowing my hands to be guided as the message is revealed before my eyes.  Most of the time I have no idea what it is until the painting is complete and I’ve had time to sit with it and let it speak to me.  I add paint, color, line, texture and it is a continual process of adding and subtracting, moving and dancing with the materials until something is revealed.  But in sculpting, unlike painting, those first strokes are ones of elimination, not addition.  Facing a blank canvas has its own challenges and they are not for the faint of heart either.  But facing a solid block of stone with no going back once those cuts have been made, means that there has to be a vision guiding me first. I have to have some idea of where the lines of demarcation are before I begin.  

After a day of cutting away, some strokes bolder than others, I am ready to go back to the work with more courage than I was able to muster before.  So what if I get rid of things that are beautiful and possibly useful at some later point?  That’s part of the process.  It’s not about keeping everything that is beautiful. It is more about making space for the unique beauty that is  mine to reveal to be seen.  It cannot be seen unless its lines are clearly defined and it is free to be fully itself, separate from what lived before it.  

My mother had her own beauty and I honor and cherish so much of what  she left me.  But it’s not mine.  It’s now up to me to choose which pieces to carry forward and which to leave as hers and hers alone, not diminishing either, but allowing space for each to shine in their own spotlight.  



1 Comment


This is quite lovely at so many levels.... the most fascinating one for me is that your/one's sculpting is about self reflection and growth by removing unnecessary pieces for this reflection... painting is your/one's reflecting about relationship with another... adding on to layers from perspectives and senses in the creation of what the relationship is.

Both mediums provide one/you a critical and creative process that involves patterns of mind, eye, heart, hand, soul, ear, unique to each human...

thank you for sharing your thoughts, your art, and your humanity.


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