"Beauty has long since disappeared. It has slipped
beneath the surface of the noise, the noise of words, sunk deep as Atlantis."
The artist as explorer--I first heard the idea from Dale Chihuly while traveling with him on the island of Niijima off the coast of Japan in 1997. But while modern day explorers seek scientific discoveries or pursue extreme feats, what drives the artist as explorer?
One answer came after I accompanied the artist Catherine Rahn on two expeditions beneath the South Pacific in the Fiji Island chain in August 1997 and June 1998: The exploring artist is driven to seek wonders and pursue feats of beauty.
Robert Grant, in a review of The New Patricians by R.W.K. Paterson (TLS 4.23.99) describes the virtues that Paterson champions as "idealism; sincerity; heroism; generosity; disinterestedness; the fine, reckless impromptu gesture; the contempt for one's personal safety; the good, the beautiful and the true..." Art as Exploration isn't all these things, but it shares a similar sense of the scheme of things. If nothing else, it thrives on the "reckless, impromptu gesture."
Maybe art viewed as exploration is a means to re-activate--or better, to concentrate-- the pleasure of the aesthetically beautiful. I am an optimist, but the saddest trend I have experienced during my lifetime is the drowning of beauty by words. We no longer feel comfortable among wonders unless we can link them to some higher purpose. The nakedness of beautiful creatures or experiences embarrasses us: we have been trained to expect label or logo.
The scientist and adventurer William Beebe, who explored the ocean's depths between the two world wars, said in his book the Arcturus Adventure that standing on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean as a helmet diver was "one of the greatest moments of my whole life ." but that the experience itself was hard to grasp and retain; he wrote that only later does the experience mature: "it is the subsequent gradual appreciation which develops .... the wonder and beauty of the thing close at hand." That is the dilemma: how (and why) to preserve and concentrate and report the experience in a manner that befits the experience, when the experience itself is so overwhelming. When as Philippe Diole wrote in The Undersea Adventure in 1953, "A solitary pebble from the sea presented insoluble problems." (p.77).
Perhaps art as exploration offers a "third way" of being in nature, in addition to science and extreme sports. Now: select a hemisphere to visit, or consult the map below.
"My sole pastime, my only sport, was the purest of all: swimming.... I know nothing about harvests or picking grapes. But to plunge into water.... My body becomes the direct instrument of my mind, the author of its ideas."
William Warmus April 24, 1999 Ithaca, NY
(last revision 1.2.00)
The world map below defines three art as exploration projects. Move the cursor around the map to locate them or select
the buttons at the bottom.