Today I revisited the Richard Serra sculpture, “Sequence” at the Cantor Museum on the Stanford Campus. It is a monumental, awe-inspiring work made of ship steel plates that twist and curve to form elegant and stunning spaces. At every turn there is an unexpected shadow casting the warm rusted steel into darker, deep browns, or the cool cement ground into rich dark greys. This play of light within the maze-like structure creates shape upon shape of triangles, circles, semi-circles rectangles, squares, and as you walk through these shapes you become part of this incredible space, literally appearing and disappearing around each twist and turn.
When I visit this installation it feels like going to church. For me the space is that powerful. I enter it with a degree of awe and I listen. Ian Roberts explains this best in his book “Creative Authenticity.” He says, “In the face of beauty we are silenced, because beauty expresses silence.” He goes on to say that, “A work of art is like a visual form of prayer. The depth of the artist’s attention, the prayer, is what we respond to…Our response comes from the power of the prayer that contributed to the making of the piece… Authenticity results from the depth of the artist’s feelings, and this is the key to how much silence, consciousness or attention the art reflects.”
I find Ian’s comments fascinating on so very many levels, however for this post, what strikes me is the truth of the “silence” that a great work of art imparts. When you go to a museum and you see a painting that you fall in love with, may gasp at, or may not even really like that well, but you see it and you are drawn to it. And you stand in silence. How much silence may determine how much of that artist’s energy you continue to feel/sense/absorb as you study the piece. Ian implies, and I totally agree, that the greater the work, the more silence comes through.