Sunday, 30 October 2016

How long should art last? - Lari Don

When I write a draft of a story, I am starting a process that I hope will result in a printed book, an object that will last forever. When I first start to tell a traditional tale out loud, I am developing a performance that I hope will become a long-term part of my repertoire of stories.

Sometimes a draft falls apart, sometimes a folktale or legend doesn’t grab the audience the way I hoped it would. So not all my time and effort and creativity goes into something that lasts. But I always start off hoping that it will. Except, it turns out, when I’m on holiday...

This summer, on holiday in Orkney, my family and I found a geo cutting into the coast of a small tidal island, which was filled with small stone sculptures.

We decided to join in with this community enterprise and use the flat and rounded stones lying on the shore to build our own sculptures.

Most passing sculptors had tried to find safe places to create their art. Far up the narrow beach, or high up the steep cliffs (a safe place for the stones, but surely not a safe place to build!). Somewhere that their creations would last, for at least a while.

But I walked right down to the water’s edge. I spent half an hour putting all my creativity and thought into selecting the perfect stones to build something that I expected, that I HOPED, would be knocked down by the first strong wave of the next high tide. I did this entirely deliberately. I tried to build something that was attractive and satisfying. But also unstable, and below the tide line.


Because I was on holiday, and I didn’t want to make anything permanent.

I wanted to let my brain create without worrying about audience or permanence, without trying to make it perfect for ever. I wanted to create something which was specifically designed to be temporary.

And that challenged me to think about the permanence of art, and whether caring about the longevity of the work you are doing stops you noticing the process of creating it and enjoying the moments of its present time because you are thinking too much about its future.

 And it forced me to consider whether ANY attempt to create permanent art is doomed to disappointment (the sun is going to burn out eventually, after all.) So my hope in the first line of this blog for books that last forever is probably naïve...

And it showed me that planned obsolesce is surprisingly difficult – it wasn’t easy to build something that wouldn’t fall down the moment I stepped away, but would fall down very soon.

And it amused me.

And it also freed me up.

But I wonder if I could have deliberately created something with no future, if I had been building with words...

(And I now realise that taking photos of the resulting temporary creation, means that it wasn’t temporary after all!  But it was my first time... )

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers. 


Patsy said...

Sometimes the temporary nature adds to the charm of something creative or beautiful. Real flowers always (to me anyway) seem more charming than artificial ones, live concerts even with noise from the audience are somehow better than a perfect recording, cakes are better when we can cut a slice and scoff it.

Lari Don said...

I agree Patsy - it's one of the reasons I love going to the theatre, because that particular performance can only happen once. It's an odd way to create though, for a writer used to aiming for both perfection and permanence, through constant redrafts...

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