I have been integrating stones, pebbles, sand and driftwood into the art programs that I am running for children on the island. I show the children various things that they are able to do, but as one said they are only suggestions, and the choice of what they do is really up to them, although unfortunately sometimes limited by what materials and resources I am able to provide for them.
One of the aims in all of the art programs I run, is to reconnect us to our natural artistic heritage, a heritage that dates back over 30,000 years ago to our prehistoric ancestors and their cave art. Intertwined in this heritage is an intimate, if not spiritual, relationship with nature that is essential in reminding us of our innate creativity. Not the creativity that perhaps lines the walls of museums and galleries, but an artistic impulse or gesture, that when freely expressed, has the potential to enhance our wellbeing, and sense of interconnectedness to each other & our environment.
The Victorian art critic and artist, John Ruskin, wrote of what he called "Theoria"; a way of observing beauty in art and nature ‘... to make ourselves susceptible of deep delight from the meanest objects of creation’ (Modern Painters Vol. III). One first had to have patience to first see properly. This might seem an odd thing to say, as we all use our eyes, but we have forgotten that seeing, in a deeper sense, is an art. Seeing, in this way, is feeling, something which is certainly a connection that we are losing in the digital and virtual age.
This might sound a little poetic, but do we notice the way the grass brushes patterns onto the sand, or the way the vines curl around a branch? We see the majesty of Adam Ansel's mountains, but the earth at our very feet commands our attention also. The earth that we can touch, that we can hold is so very essential to us, for it provides an intimate connection that is far more difficult to experience with a wide landscape.
Ruskin believed that beauty comes from nature, and art that takes anything but nature as its pattern is ugly. His ideas, encourage us to take notice of, and develop an aesthetic based on, the balance in nature, the movement in nature, the patterns in nature, which further help remind us, as we all often forget, that we too possess these inherent qualities. This for me, is a feeling of and for true beauty, far beyond any experience I could possibly have in an art museum.
Ruskin's ideas, I think, can be integrated into a way of using, and appreciating, the materials that we create art with. Work with them in a way that is natural to them, learn what they can do, feel what they can do, and let that be the guide to creating your art: do not force them to do something that they are not intended to create.
So, in looking for artists who use stone in a way that embodies perhaps some of Ruskin's notions of beauty, I came across Adrian Gray, who is a, or more aptly, the pioneer in stone balancing art. He works predominantly with sculpture and photography, exploring the natural world of balance. He creates balancing sculptures using weathered stone ranging in size from small tactile rocks to massive granite boulders.
Adrian films the initial balance and then fixes the sculpture in its new location. He also continues to create his pioneering ephemeral pieces, photographing them in natural locations to capture their transient beauty, and these are recorded in his book and collections of prints.
Adrian says, "[T]he process of balancing the stones is performance art in a very pure form. The audience can witness the creation of a sculpture, but the very process of balancing the stones has been called many things, some contradictory: calming, tense, therapeutic, mesmerising, beautiful, puzzling and even spiritual.
It has a meditative quality, it forces you to ignore the continual chattering in your head and absorb yourself in the process of the balance. You ‘listen’ with your fingers, your focus targeted and complete. Fundamentally, you find the stillness inside yourself and become one with the stones".
For more information on Adrian Gray, visit his website: https://www.stonebalancing.com
And in looking for artists who express a deep appreciation for beauty I came across, "Beauty" a traditional Scottish song by John Mitchell (1786-1856), who was born in Paisley and relieved the tedium of working as a weaver by writing songs and poems, eventually making a reasonable living from his pen. His graceful simplicity was accompanied by an elegant pathos...
What wakes the Poet's lyre?
What kindles his poetic fire? '
What makes him seek, at evening's hour,
The lonely glen, the leafy bower,
When dew hangs on each little flower?
Oh! it is Beauty.
What melts the soldier's soul?
What can his love of fame control?
For oft, amid the battle's rage,
Some lovely vision will engage
His thoughts and war's rough ills assuage:
Such power has Beauty.
What tames the savage mood?
What gives a polish to the rude?
What gives the peasant's lowly state
A charm which wealth cannot create,
And on the good alone will wait?
'Tis faithful Beauty.
Then let our favourite toast
Is it not king and peasant's boast?
Then let us guard with tender care
The gentle, th' inspiring fair,
And Love will a diviner air
Impart to Beauty.