“Make art,” I told the eight student interns from Isles of Trenton. The instruction was greeted with quizzical looks all around.
The Problem was the pile of large rocks that had been dumped onto a concrete pad 12 years ago during the digging of wells for a geothermal heating system, with no thought about how they might, or might not, be used in the future. Dried leaves collected in the cracks and, over the years, turned to compost. Poison ivy and enchanter’s nightshade (a plant that is not at all as pretty as its name) had taken hold in the crevices until the rocks were completely concealed during the summer months. With roots securely anchored by the weight of the unruly pile, the interlopers were resistant to my frequent attempts at manual control.
I envisioned something neat. Maintainable.
Morven is, after all, a historic property. Visitors visit. Students of history roam about. Watercolor artists sit in front of easels and paint beautiful scenes.
The opportunity for making art out of rocks and brawn arose in the last day of the tenth year of a collaboration between Morven, a museum and garden in prosperous Princeton, and YouthBuild, an organization that helps young men and women from the ‘hood rise above the expectations the world holds for them. The cultural divide cannot be overstated.
What happened next was pure magic. When asked to explain the remarkable construction that emerged after an hour of creative play, one of the artists remarked, “You can’t really explain it. That’s what makes it art.”
|Isles YouthBuild Institute 2012|
Even more thrilling than the individual components of the piece—the blocky frames, the found images that had been created by centuries of deposition of weathered rock and detritus, the round rocks dramatically perched—was the collective realization that “Art” is not out of reach. It can be grabbed at will. We need only give ourselves permission to “make art,” and magic happens.
Morven staff members wandered back in ones and twos to view the wonder. Visitors admired it. The creators posed beside their construction for photos, and added their signatures on a piece of slate with liquid chalk. The pride was communal, and it was individual. “IYI 2012” (Isles YouthBuild Institute 2012), reads the top line on the rock sign.
The group had completed many fine tasks during their five weeks on the job. They had edged and mulched garden beds, planted trees and flowers, pruned overgrown hedges, and reworked a hazardous stone walkway. As they showed off these accomplishments there was obvious pride of craftsmanship. None of these, however, came close to establishing the level of cross-cultural bonding created by the rock art.
|Make Art Not War (or something like that ...)|
The question raised by this experience is this: If it is so maddeningly simple to bridge a cultural divide by making collective art, how can we bring more creative play into our frenetic days?
We must give ourselves permission to play, to discover, to create. The creative spirit speaks a universal language, which in turn creates a universal bond. It cannot be expressed in words.