Artists and Architects

It takes structure, blueprints, and a clear plan to create something like Fallingwater, designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934

When I was in college, I enrolled in an Architecture studio class.  I’d fallen in love with the buildings and structures we’d studied in my many Art History classes, and I thought that perhaps architecture would be for me.  I struggled with the structure of the class, but did enjoy the final project – design a church for a seaside setting.  I created an imaginative building that would fit right into a natural setting, with the roofline echoing the waves below.  The professor appreciated the character of the building, but had a key question – how could you build a structure like that?  I learned then and there that being a architect was as much about engineering as art, and I decided that I was more of an artist.

I was lunging Tally, asking her to improve her balance and trying to get her swinging more in the back.  The two weeks of virus and inactivity had left her a bit tight, a permanent reminder of her injuries from her time at the training stable.  As I worked with her, reacting to what I saw or felt, I thought of how much of my training lacks a specific formula.  I mulled over the question of whether or not this was a weakness in my methods, and it brought to mind my earlier lesson in the difference between artists and architects.

I have known many “architects” in the horse world.  They have plans, goals, formulas – they set out a virtual blueprint for the horses they start and train.  Some of these “architects” are enviable in their structure, and create beautiful “works” in the form of well trained horse.  However, just as with my church design, many of these architects are limited in what they can create by the materials they have to work with.  As long as they work with a consistent type of horse, suitable to their formulas, they are successful.

Others make their “design” so formulaic that they end up creating ticky-tacky “little boxes” that lack beauty or individuality.  The name of the game is money – create them quickly and in sufficient volume to fill a commercial need.  Making something that approaches art is not their goal.

In both cases, those horses who do not fit into the “architect’s” formula become unstable “structures” that are often scrapped and replaced.  To their credit, most such “architect” types that I have known have stayed closely to the type of horse that fits well within their “blueprint”.

Once again I find myself in the “artist” category.  By this I do not have any high minded, snobbish meaning in mind.  The main distinction that I am making here is that artists are rarely confined by materials, and often have to adapt to their material for each piece.  (Clearly there are the occasional exceptions, such as a large public installation where safety is clearly an additional consideration.)

Was this a plan? Or a happy accident? Either way, knowledge of the material was key. Coppa con orlo mosso, Fausto Melotti, 1955

My material of choice, in college, was clay.  Each batch of clay was distinct, even when I made it from the same formula.  With every work I would start, the first thing I had to do was evaluate the material I had that day.  How wet?  How soft? What kind of structure would it support?  Would it build quickly?  Or would it need drying time in between?  As I build the sculpture I have to keep evaluating the state of the material.  The weather, handling, and later the firing, can all change what I’d originally envisioned.  Never did the finished result match exactly what my original vision had been – yet it did not make it any less beautiful.

I have approached training horses in much the same way.  Each must be evaluated as raw material.  What are the strengths?  What are the challenges?  Suited for the purpose, or must I adjust my expectations?  This evaluation must be checked each day, and my approach adjusted accordingly.  Unlike art materials, horses have not only physical qualities but also emotional qualities that have to be considered.  It is the latter that is more variable, day to day – and the most challenging to adjust to, as we too have variable emotions to contend with.

It is not that the artist’s approach does not have some structure (though I’ve known some artists where you’d be challenged to find it) – you have to know the properties of your medium, have an idea of what you are attempting to create, and the discipline to work toward the end you are seeking.  But the approach is far more fluid than that of an “architect” – the result thus less predictable.

I am not passing judgement on which approach is better.  For me, reading the horse in each moment, asking for the adjustment I feel is needed, and taking the fluid approach of an artist seems to work.  But, I cannot provide a formula or timeline for my approach.  The approach of the architect can be a more economic one – being able to reliably reach a finished product in a reasonably prescribed time, and easily replicate as needed.  It is an enviable approach, provided you are careful in selecting materials that fit the “blueprint”.  That has never been an option for me – which is fine, as I enjoy the variability in the “materials” that I have to work with, and the uniqueness of the results.

I have found this contrast between the “artist” and the “architect” as a theme throughout my life.  It is why I have dabbled in things like computer programming and project management, but could never take the plunge into either as a career.  I have often wondered why I lacked the discipline to be more like an architect in these things – but in recent years I have come to accept that my approach will always be more freeform … and that’s okay.  After all, the world is far more interesting because both types exist.  Which are you?

Be good to your horses!


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