The Art of Andy Goldsworthy: Part 2, Agents of Grace

Think, for a minute, about what Andy Goldsworthy does. He wanders out into the nature and, initially, spends time familiarizing himself with the space, its rhythms and the materials that are available to him. After this period of familiarization, which can take years and repeated visits (the best of Goldsworthy's work is around his own home because he knows the place so well), Goldsworthy then begins to work. He may find autumn leaves on the ground and arrange them, making a striking strip of color or fading yellows gradually into reds. He may impose some order upon the scene. This order might be geometrical, a circle or a line of flowers or stones. These sharp, precise Euclidean shapes jump out from the background of a world dominated by a chaotic and fractal geometry. But some of the order Goldsworthy creates might be more whimsical, like purple flower pedals threaded with a vine playing among the branches and green leaves of a tree. Or Goldsworthy may grind up stones to gather red pigment, then using that color to paint rocks or to turn a waterfall red.

When I encountered Goldsworthy's work my first thought was this: That is what the Christan life should be like. This artform is the perfect metaphor for how I should move and act in the world.

Here's what I mean. Today I'll wander out into the world (after I'm done writing to you). And around me I'll find all sorts people and all sorts of situations. It's a fractal, messy, and chaotic world out there. And its not all bad. There are beautiful things, like flowers, out there. But there is also sadness and brokenness, conflict and deadness. And what I'll try to do today (or what I should be doing today) is very similar to what Goldsworthy does. I'll try, given what I find out there, to bring grace and beauty into the world. First, like Goldsworthy, I need to take the time to listen and learn about the people around me. Who are they? What are their dreams? Where do they hurt? And then, once I know the materials and rhythms of their experience, I'll try to move and act in a way to bring beauty and grace into their lives. And I do this in a way very similar to how Goldsworthy goes about his art. I don't carry hammers, saws, bulldozers, and nails into people's lives with the goal of cutting everything down and building something artificial, imposed, and unnatural. Something I'd like to see but might not fit the person. No, like Goldsworthy, I carry nothing with me into the world. I just bring me. And as I work I don't use force to make "good" happen. My touch is light. I do not dominate, own, or control. And I only work with the materials around me. Which, like Goldsworthy, demands improvisation and creativity.

And, importantly, I don't control the outcome. Like Goldsworthy, once I've done my "work" for the day, trying to bring a little bit of beauty, peace, truth and grace into the lives of others, I can't control how it all turns out. I have to let people go. Just as Goldsworthy releases his art to the forces of time, wind, rain, and sun. I can't, by myself, hold all the brokeness together. All I can do is try, for a moment in time, to hold two broken pieces together in a way that is beautiful, redemptive, and hopeful. This "moment of art" rarely lasts, because it's not all up to me. I just act in a way that hints and gestures at what is possible, at that Beauty that sits behind all things.

And yet, there is sadness, lament and frustration at this letting go, this feeling of powerlessness, that things tend to fall back apart, that all our hard work in the lives of others seems to come to naught, that the mess of existence is too overwhelming, and that lining up daisies in a row can seem, in the face of human tragedy, a pretty futile exercise.

But that is where eschatological hope comes in. The belief that all these acts of kindness, grace, and beauty really do matter. That, despite appearances, nothing good and true is ever lost. That the heart of God is a rain barrel gathering every tear of joy and loss. That, one day, all will be well. In the words of Wendell Berry:

And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

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