Here is your hammer and chisel; over there, you will find a slab of marble. You may begin.
It’s remarkable, isn’t it? It’s deeply plain, such a perfect blank canvas for you to start making your mark upon. It’s ready when you are; oh, I can see the thoughts as you circle around it, working out where to begin and how to start. Once or twice you start to raise the chisel, even apply the hammer just in preparation to begin the carving – at the last minute, you stop.
Why is that? I wonder what goes through your head when you do this.
I’d like to ask, but I don’t want to stop you in case whatever creative genius is at work in your brain gets disturbed. Don’t mind me: I’ll just sit here and quietly read. You won’t even know I’m here. (Will you? I can go inside if you like.) I try to place myself in your shoes, try to visualize your starting process. This whole scene isn’t generally my thing, I’ve never been an artist of any kind.
Your back is to me and the sunlight is getting to me. I forgot my sunglasses, so I’ll just duck inside and get them. I might make a coffee while I’m at it, just stay out of your way until you say it’s okay.
There’s a tiny space in one of the upstairs windows, a bedroom with a window seat. It’s well hidden by the curtains, but there’s enough of a gap in the curtains that I can watch you in the courtyard without you ever noticing I’m there. At least, the general idea is that you won’t see me. I wonder if you feel my eyes on you as I’m standing there, coffee cup in one hand and camera in the other.
The first strike makes me flinch; hammer on marble is louder than I thought, and the chunk that goes flying makes me duck involuntarily, startled for your sake. Oh, I see you have headphones on. Clever of you, it must reduce the noise at least a little bit. You don’t seem at all surprised at the noise as you continue removing hunks of the stone and start to form the crude base shape of your sculpture.
I get it now! It’s a person. Who did you decide upon? When they commissioned you, did they give you any guidelines or rules as to your subject? I hope they didn’t, it’s always such a shame when someone commissions art and then you have to follow the rules they put in place. Yes, you told me once that it’s a paycheck, but do you ever worry about money or following your own creative agenda?
I’m bored of standing here. I’ll come back later. Promise.
You’ve been at it nearly five hours. Did you have a break – oh, that’s good. Hey, you’ve got so much done! I don’t know how you do it… Hang on, is that me? What did you want to immortalize me in marble for? That doesn’t look right either, you’ve got the face right but my body doesn’t look like that. I’m not as tall, and I never really raise my fist in triumph. I don’t understand.
No, I know marble isn’t some frail delicate painting that can be damaged or need restoring, but is this really how you see me? Someone taller than she is, larger than life even, and boldly triumphant over life’s small challenges?
I don’t like it. It’s too much for me to live up to. These is how you perceive me, you’ve always had too much faith in me. It’s strange how you can have so much faith in me and at the same time accuse me of being a pessimist, I consider it being a realist. I know what I’m capable of, and I know what you think I’m capable of.
The two are not mutually exclusive, do you know that?
So you’ve carved my likeness in marble and the builders are due in to cement it in place – there’s no way at all to remove it once that happens. Surely your devotion to your perceptions isn’t that unwavering. Could you rework it, make it into someone else – make it someone who deserves to be memorialized as eternally triumphant? I hate to ask this of you, but it’s very uncomfortable to be looking at myself the way you see me.
This isn’t my mirror image. You’ve laid your expectations and images in place on this statue, carved them into the lines of the face and underscored them in the planes of the body. If I look into the statue’s eyes, what will I see? I almost don’t dare look, in case I see something that isn’t accurately me.
I’m going back inside. I think I’ll head back home. I know you asked me to stay with you while you worked, but it looks like you have everything pretty much in hand. I see you are that devoted to how you see me: this statue will always portray me like this now, it’ll never waver from that, and there’s really no other way for this to be interpreted. You’re not willing to create some flaw, make the statue a little more human – right now you’ve glossed over all the rough patches of the real person, and made a doll of her. No, not a doll, per se, but certainly something that has no flaws.
It doesn’t look right.