“We cannot be random in the same ways as the world fragmenting around us, but we can engage the randomness, not merely react to it, with our powers of spontaneity.” – Lebbeus Woods
I love Lebbeus Woods. His artwork — theoretical architecture, implausible spaces — alternately reaffirms and feeds my personal aesthetic. I’ve always been drawn to sharp lines (ha), but also to the imperfections in sharply drawn lines. Hard angles that break off in unexpected directions, or layered forms à la Jasper Johns’s stacked numerals. The seemingly perfect black mask of type on a white page; it’s rough imperfect surface when magnified.
What does that have to do with randomness, or spontaneity? I suppose it’s in the way we/I/you often intend on creating something polished, and how more likely than not the thing comes off less so, and we/I/you are forced to adjust to and accept that surprising product. When I was a kid I was frustrated by my ability to perfectly envision a thing — a skyscraper, or a person (I was fond of drawing aggressively muscled superheroes) — and my inability to render said thing on paper. I could never draw images as they existed in my mind. Was it a failure of my hand to do what my brain intended, a lacking in talent, or some other kind of cognitive dissonance? (When realist painters approach a canvas, what kind of image do they hold in their head? Is it perfect? Is it hyper-perfect in order to compensate for unavoidable transmission errors?)
At a gallery a while back (I can’t recall where, or who the artist was) I saw an exhibition of drawings where the artist had attempted to draw unaided some simple form — a diagonal line, a parabola, a circle, a bisecting line — in black ink, and then gone back and drawn the actual, accurate line (with the aid of a ruler or compass) in red ink. The artist’s unaided attempts were consistently fractionally off; sometimes the margin of error was much larger. The resulting work was unexpectedly elegant, and made me want to run home and try the experiment myself. I still haven’t, but I still intend to.
Woods’ quote reminds me of all this. Of the vanity of perfection and the charm of unexpected error.* Of having to improvise our path in a world where the patterns are still, and may forever remain, unknown to us. Also of having to learn to do away with jealousy, forgive myself for past mistakes, and peer with nervous eyes into my uncertain future. (My current Big Fear is that the post-grad school world will be just like the post-undergrad world. Ugh.)
* I’m really only speaking of things connected to art here. Imperfection in space flight, or driving, or hard math kind of sucks.