Houses of the holy

Sometimes these days, art seems to be so different from science that the two can barely address each other. However, the vision of holism, like that of the master builder, seems to live on, and there is evidence of it everywhere.

Once upon a time, notably before the Renaissance, and as evidenced for instance in massive, phenomenal cathedrals of Medieval times, there was the “master builder,” who both designed and supervised everything connected with the building of architectural structures of the day. The finished product was the sole vision of the master builder, and the result was a highly coherent product in both design and structure. The artist and engineer were all rolled together into one.

At some point, architect and builder separated into different areas, as did art and science, and the kind of basic holism once exhibited by a single master builder came to be achieved through collaboration by experts in different fields. It was the rise of Cartesian dualism, known in philosophy as the mind/body split, when abstract thought departed from physical reality.

Sometimes these days, art seems to be so different from science that the two can barely address each other. Formal academic disciplines have fragmented into thousands of areas which at times seem to have little in common. However, the vision of holism, like that of the master builder, seems to live on, and there is evidence of it everywhere.

In graduate school, I did an interdisplinary degree in the School of Architecture, one of the most multidisciplinary academic programs at the University of Texas. There, if not before, the boundaries between art and science were obliterated forever in my mind. With a love of art and design, and a background in math and science, I came to see all art as science and all science as art, each just a fragments of a greater whole. There is almost nothing more beautiful than a thrilling mathematical proof, and there is an equal revelation in great art, especially the kind that stimulates one to think “how did they do that?” Physics and a great piece of art, spirituality and mathematical harmony, to me, have everything to do with each other.

My recent post about Earthships stems from one of those thrilling observations containing that kind of holistic wonderment, and here is another, in this post.

On a recent Sunday, several friends and I got together for brunch at El Sol y La Luna, a local restaurant that has just moved to a new location on 6th Street in Austin, TX. The restaurant is filled with art and amazing tile creations by local artists among the many friends of the restaurant.

We finished our meal and inspected the restaurant’s tiles, paintings and artwork. Upon leaving, one thing led to another as it usually does, and we wound up in South Austin viewing some of the most amazing apparently spontaneous creations I’ve ever seen.

Artist Stefanie Distefano’s creativity is spilling out all over. After extensively mosaic tiling and mirroring her own house which she proclaims on her porch to be of the “Houses of the Holy,” she went out into the street with it, decorating the sidewalk and bridge adjacent to her property.

She describes a small struggle with the City of Austin about the exuberant decoration she provided free of charge, since it is an atypical thing that the City just didn’t know how to handle. But no one could argue that what is there isn’t a marvelous display of innovation and creativity, and for that alone but so very much more, the effort is applauded. So, much to her surprise, they let it stay on and under the bridge. Stefanie is definitely doing her part to do what the popular slogan says, and that is, to “Keep Austin Weird!”

I find it thrilling to see cities all over the country displaying art into the streets, allowing painted murals on the walls of old or formerly drab structures, and promoting artists to use the city as a palate for creative expression. In 1999, Chicago had 300 huge, decorated fiberglass cows that appeared overnight on Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Cow Project, one of the greatest public art projects of the decade. Raleigh, NC followed suit with in 2001 with the Red Wolf Ramble Public Art, peppering the town with over 100 red wolves. Austinites might remember the artfully designed Guitar Project where fantastically decorated fiberglass guitars lined sidewalks of the city in a great celebration of the live music capital of the world.

I think Stefanie’s public mosaics are a one-woman master-builder type of display, where she designs, engineers, and executes the final product with just a little help from her friends. Efforts like this, to me, erase the boundaries between art and science, and suggest a coming holism for our consciousness, i.e., getting it all together and going public with our inner lives. You can read more about Stefanie’s consciousness spilling out into public space and see many more photos of her mosaics and art at Flamingoranch.com.

Beverly Spicer