We had a conversation in Power Boothe‘s theory class about whether or not art has value. Someone asked, does a blank canvas have value? The art students though that it did not. It’s just wood, they said, scraps of cloth. Everyone agreed that there was work put in to cut the wood and weave the cloth and construct the canvas—it costs money to buy a prepared canvas—but it had no functional value, no use value, and so was worthless. (Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction defines use value versus cult value in passing, as does Adolph Loos’s tyrannical essay, Ornament and Crime.) I disagreed. The blank canvas has incredible value in its potential—to be art. What’s more, the blank canvas is the hope of art, a gesture towards the power and transcendence of human creativity. It’s the emotional bell weather of our society. Here is the potential for beauty, for greatness, it says, for novelty, for personal expression—despite all odds. Despite the crushing weight of the world and our own doubts, here is the chance to escape, into art. What could be more valuable?
It’s always a delight to discover the sublime hidden in the pedestrian.
I caught an episode of Planet Earth the other night on Discovery HD theater. Episode 4: Caves. You can watch it in 10 minute chunks on You Tube, but take note: it’s the version with Richard Attenborough’s narration, not Sigourney Weaver’s, whose voice is more soothing. The episode takes the viewer through spectacular caves around the world, some adorned with gorgeous crystals and others endowed with severe environments populated by bizarre fauna. The largest of these caves is in the United States, Lechugilla Cave, in New Mexico. It measures 126 miles long and was discovered recently, in 1986. A mini-documentary at the end of the episode tells viewers it took two years for the film crew to get permission to enter the cave and travel as far along it as they did. Part of the reason is that the crystals in Lechugilla are extremely fragile, crystals made of gypsum… which brings me to dry wall.
Dry wall is what most walls are made of, in America. Is dry wall dry? Actually no, it isn’t. The name “dry wall” refers to the dryness of plaster board in contrast to wet plaster laid by hand. Early dry wall is just plaster encased in paper; current dry wall includes gypsum in the plaster matrix. Gypsum, or calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4·2H2O), contains two water molecules bound up by the mineral crystallization process. In a fire, this water is released. By incorporating gypsum into plaster, dry wall is in fact designed to be more wet. I happen not to be a fan of dry wall, or “gypsum board.” It’s a low quality material that easily turns moldy. I never would have thought that its primary ingredient could be so lovely.
Behold! the Chandelier Ballroom in Lechugilla cave, covered in so-called “alabaster” formations of the mineral gypsum. Here is a gypsum flower, and an aragonite tree. When I finally build my dream house, I want a room with towers like these. All these links go to the same website, www.cavepics.com, a home page for the photography of Peter and Ann Bosted. Fantastic. Read More