Wandering through the northern Italian town of Tirano, I am struck by the very old, stonewalls. They circumscribe every property, miles of village roadways and impossibly steep hillside terraces. They are simply beautiful. Utilitarian but incredibly artful, their refined quality I can still see. This was how hillsides, roads and olive orchards were delineated and terraced centuries ago.
I imagine it took decades to complete many of these walls. But since they have existed for centuries, the investment of time and energy seems totally worth it. Whether the wall is in a forgotten corner of the city or lining a barely used road leading up the hill from the center of town, they are all made with the same degree of refinement. Stones are chosen and composed within these walls to complement one another. Large massive stones give way to patterns of smaller ones. Repetition of stone shapes and sizes are as varied and surprising as the pattern or passage of any painting I have ever done.
Walking up these steep village roads linking these tiny mountain Italian villages, the stonework accompanies me for miles. Although the maker of this wall is long forgotten I can feel his calloused but sensitive hands even now. It was only one of many moments in a single day of many but in that moment he, no doubt, held up a stone, felt its weight, considered its most smooth, most flattest side and then for time memorial, placed it just so into this wall.
These walls were not slapped together. You can tell. They are gorgeous displays of craftsmanship, care and design. I wonder if what I spend my time making, paintings composed of questionable brands of store bought oil paint, will last the test of time as well as these walls? How is what I make any different? Like those artisans that made these walls so long ago I too am just demonstrating my selectivity. I too am choosing my preferences in color, shape and line to make something.
Maybe that is just it. That is what all art is about. Whether it is a stonewall, a new recipe, an arrangement of cut flowers or even an abstract painting. It is an orientation to life. That the decisions, the choices we make, do matter especially when they result in something that stands outside of us. When we actually manifest something. It becomes part of the world. We leave it behind as a reminder of who we were and who we became.
Maybe the greatest benefit of our art is not for us. Maybe it is about what is felt and experienced by those who come across what we have made, maybe centuries later. When we too will probably be mostly forgotten. But then, in just a glance, in just a moment they too will get a sense of who we were and what, in the end, mattered to us.