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Olympic Sculpture Park

My sister was in town a few weeks ago and we took her down to the Olympic Sculpture Park on a near perfect Fall day. I think the park in it’s entirety is really wonderful. More so I appreciate each of the facets of the whole- the individual sculptures, the pathway, the vistas, the beach, the bike path. The firm who developed the park did an excellent job of stepping back and letting Opportunity and Experience take center stage.


I find one of the more entertaining things to do when here (or any museum or tourist-y eye-candy building we visit) is to watch the watchers, try to read other people’s reactions and opinion formation as they react with a piece or space. Even better is to listen in on conversations. You see, most people are in the mindset Art and Architecture are to be viewed, looked at. Most often people stop along the path, stare at a piece, share a few words about what it means (or that they don’t get it), then move on to the next. I find it odd, or perhaps ironic, that the two central sculptures in the park are done by two men who’s installations are based solely on the interaction with them, and most people never get close enough. Therefore they won’t ever get the chance of truly experiencing the piece.


Those who miss out are too rigorous in their definition of art and beauty or influenced by extreme philosophical deconstructionists. People who are looking for surface beauty don’t call these piles of steel ‘art’- they don’t look like the fine paintings of realist art. Others brow beat those for being so naïve as to think that art has anything to do with beauty. Beauty, so they say, is the adversary of art, and people who are in love with beauty are adding to the restriction of artistic progress. It is not about looking at something beautiful; it is also not about looking for meaning in processes that are not there.


Appreciation of the beauty in Calder and Serra’s work affects me in astonishing ways. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Of course, the reality is art is about a multitude of things. Art is about everything, including those things that are not beautiful. Much of this life is not beautiful. But is this kind of thinking (on both sides) the aversion to art is it creating such a climate that looking for beauty in the wrong ways could become the new area of artistic subversion against the establishment? Perhaps beauty will manifest itself though this type of work in an entirely new way, and most of us are too set in our idea of how to appreciate art we just miss it.


It makes me wonder when I see Araiya playing around these structures if this is indeed how they are intended to be enjoyed- through interaction. Installation art and the design of space for me has always been a transcendent experience. I am more interested in the user than the viewer. Watching Araiya dodge in and out and around soaring plates of corten steel, laughing her head off as she peeks around and edge, finding endless ways to weave her way through the fluid forms- I think often times we must approach art like a child. Our preconceptions limit the fullness of the experience we could have, and thus we truncate the original intention for interaction the artist created the piece to evoke. She shows me how to look for things otherwise unseen and unnoticed. Her perspective is unmatched and untainted.


Often we over- or under-assume what the artist intention was. We look for meaning where there is little and impose meaning where it was unintended. Qualities I appreciate about Serra and Calder in particular are the clean minimalist purpose they create from. They do not bombard with information – the lines and forms are usually very slow, kept to a bare minimum. In the spaces between, they give the chance to breathe, a chance to reflect on what they are taking in and engage in a dialogue with the piece. There is a graceful fluidity of change as you move about, perspectives shift, forms merge, converge, diverge to expose something new. This is what great art does. Art does not exist so that hip art snobs can one-up each other in their awareness of it, or the uninformed walk away feeling like something is lacking. It exists to evoke responses, which can be an intertwinement of the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual, the psychological, and the physical.


To understand art, one should simply watch a toddler’s pure enjoyment of the environment art makes. If only we could have that same freedom.


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