Saturday, October 9, 2010


Yesterday I went on one of my quick walks around campus to get some fresh air. First I stopped by the art gallery. It was an impressive collection of photographs, but then I noticed the flyer that said that the two artists worked for two years on the project. I'm not sure how to interpret that, but it seems like an inefficient pace of work.

After that, I spent some time watching a construction site nearby. There was a guy breaking ground with an excavator and moving the dirt into a dump truck. It seemed to me that this activity displayed far more artistry than what I had seen in the gallery. He was moving the machine with incredible precision, playing it like a musical instrument. In about 15 seconds, a massive load of red clay was transferred from the ground to the truck, with very little spillage or wasted movement. I spent some time thinking of how many hours it would take me to move that dirt with a shovel, and how slow, clumsy, and dangerous I would be if I was in the cab of the excavator.

There is a certain sentiment that was avant-garde in the early days of the last century, but is now limited mainly to the 'unsophisticated' section of our society. That sentiment is the celebration of machinery, and the union of man and machinery. The buzz that surrounds new computer stuff today once surrounded things like steel mills and engines and railroads and steam shovels, the ancestors of the excavator I saw.

Now we take such things for granted, and the only people who get excited about machines are the people who go to demolition derbies and monster truck rallies. I think is is a shame that we have lost our appreciation of the massive labor-saving abilities of these machines. There is great value in what that excavator was doing; the man operating it probably contributed more to society in one hour than the artists did in their two-year project. But most people walk by it without caring; it is ignored, dismissed without thought as part of the background of life.

1 comment:

NotanEster said...

I think there's a distinction of artistic work, 'art for art' versus artisan/expert work on functional things.

Currently artistic skill/idea is given higher value than artisan skill & virtuosity.

You can be an artisan and an artist. But not all modern 'artists' possess artisanal skill (in my opinion). They guy on the tractor could be an artisan of sorts with his machine.