I Am An Existentialist Artist

| 1/11/2011 10:49:04 AM

I am a philistine when it comes to art. I found this out when I took my daughters to the McMichael Art Gallery north of Toronto when they were young. We were outside when I overheard a well-to-do woman (you know, the kind they mock in National Lampoon movies) ranting on about all of the “philistines” who know nothing about art but take up space in the gallery. I was at the gallery because I am a big fan of the Group of Seven artists, who often painted in the areas of the country where I liked to canoe. I think it’s pretty neat to admire a painting by someone who would have paddled the same lakes and done the same portages as me. Apparently though I didn’t get the art and as far as that woman was concerned, I really shouldn’t have been there. Michelle and I chuckled over that woman’s arrogance.

I was pretty comfortable with not “getting” art, not that I ever really tried. The type of art that confused me the most were those big art installations that aren’t permanent. The artists put all of this effort into something that didn’t last. Eventually all the flags and the fabrics got taken down. Or the ice sculptures that eventually melted when it got warm enough. What’s with that?

But recently I had a little personal epiphany where I suddenly understood those artists who do art that doesn’t last. I was beginning to work on this year’s skating rink on the pond next to our house and I began to think about what a horrendous waste of time it is.  I put all this effort into a rink and as soon as we get our first big dumping of snow, I’m just going to let it go.

Really, what a stupid way to spend my time. It doesn’t make me any money. It doesn’t make the world a better place. Oh sure, my friends and family members will enjoy skating on it over the holidays but sometimes I think they just humor me. On the other hand, it doesn’t have a negative effect on anyone. Now that we know the environmental consequences of say flying to a beach in Mexico for a week, I think this is a far better use of my time. No one gets hurts. No one’s life is any the worse because I waste time on my skating rink. In fact, it makes me feel like a wealthy man, having a frozen pond to skate on right beside my house.

ice skating on pond
Xmas Eve Day Skating on the Pond

But I think this ephemeral, temporary element of a rink is part of its charm. This year the lower area of the pond that used to be pretty clear of plant matter has started to grow in, so I’ve had to hack away at bulrushes and various other protrusions through the ice. We had one of those Decembers when the ice didn’t freeze consistently and we had a bit of snow that made it a bit rough. I used to cut a hole in the ice and flood it with buckets, but now I run a hose from the basement faucet and water the rink with well water. This is a major undertaking for me, living off the grid in a low sunlight month like December. I would never have attempted this before I replaced my batteries with better ones that I know can handle the pump coming on a few times. Also I make sure to do the flooding on a sunny cold day.

First I have to scrape off any of the rough ice and pack snow down in places where the ice is too thin. There’s the hassle of thawing hoses and finding thin enough gloves to fit inside my waterproof ones so that my hands don’t get frozen. Standing out there flooding the rink really freezes your extremities. If there’s been a snowfall I have to shovel it too. And if it’s a big snow it can be an insane amount of work.

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