July 20, 2021


Corrective measures — something I find myself endlessly charting right now in order to counter the fog which seems so determined to linger. Concentration is perhaps the prize I am mostly seeking in my plotting, and fortunately there are art museums. One of my go to upgrades in blurry moments is to take myself to these havens of wonder.


Art… it stands ever ready to meet us when the commotion of life depletes. Sometimes softly, and at other times more audibly, yet rarely does it fail to deliver. In its presence I reclaim my curiosity, source resilience and am reminded of some other way. A recent visit to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, found me gathering such offerings. Standing before Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, (1999) created by the Swedish-born American sculptor, Claes Oldenburg (in partnership with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen) my correction arrived.

Oldenburg is best known for his public art installations which typically feature over-sized replicas of everyday objects like the typewriter eraser. His works are a slow build, with an extended period of pre-op work playing an integral element to the finished product. “We work our way through one image after another in words and sketches, testing them in models that can serve as the starting point of fabrication in large scale.”


Visual Notes


Well before taking on his actual works, Oldenburg immerses himself in the practice of building “studies”. Studies have a long history in the visual arts, tracing as far back as the Italian Renaissance. They are drawings, sketches, models or paintings done in preparation for a finished piece. For the artist, they serve as visual notes and are often employed to explore the problems involved in rendering subjects and to sketch out its elements.

Oldenburg’s studies of his towering typewriter eraser are installed just steps away from the grand finale, and these initial iterations speak of what feels like some bygone era of making art, offering insights into the sculptor's slow process of acquainting himself with his subject. The work's early glimpses also drive home the fact that the extraordinary is not built on swift glimpses. It is born of staying and waiting and following one’s questions. While the sculpture (pictured at top) is the “wow,” it takes on an entirely different scale alongside the hints of its origins.


Although I am not one who sculpts, how might I weave "studies" into my practice(s) of making pictures and building sentences?  And, what do these visual notes require? Time and single pointed attention. And, perhaps most importantly patience — well before any first notes are played or brushstrokes are applied. And just like that, I find myself miles away from  my speedy and scattered reality — transported back to wonder by this history of another which has so powerfully illustrated that studies translate to work, in progress. I have seen for myself that beyond offering an artist fresh insights, studies force a slower climb. They add layers (and hours and days, and perhaps weeks) to the process, which of course runs counter to much of the messaging assailing us in today’s results oriented culture. Yet, these layers create time and space to consider multiple orientations and compositions, and to refine one’s vision. Fingers are not snapped to suddenly make happen such magnificence. 


“A request for concentration isn’t always answered, but people engaged in many disciplines have found ways to invite it in.” 


I’m in the habit of calling upon sculptures and paintings and assorted other works of fine art in my “requesting”. Museum field trips are my bridge back to me. What is the place or space or experience that sorts you out? The invitation that the author Jane Hirshfield refers to in the above language takes the shape it will for each of us individually. Roam where you want to? The point is to keep making the appeal.




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