Can an artist be an entrepreneur? Our work at Fourth & Walnut needs to be both beautiful and efficient. Are these opposed? It would seem so – the pressure to be as efficient as a lawn & landscape crew shrinks creative space. Most meaningful artists were poor and hidden in obscurity for most of their lives. Why? Is art marketable?
These were my questions when I walked into a lecture by Professor David Clayton at Acton University this week. David Clayton is an artist and writer, and Acton University is a think-tank on free markets in relation to the good of the human person. Heady stuff for a gardener. His lecture gave a case for how competitive business can enhance beauty rather than stifle it.
The lecture began by setting down a definition of beauty. “Beauty is ‘each part in proportion, and the whole in relation to its purpose.’” That may take a second read. Or a twentieth. What a beautifully dull definition! An emotive or sensational definition would leave you with emotions and sensations, but wouldn’t open up mysteries, and to open up mysteries is the work of the artist.
I felt affirmed by the definition because it’s what we do in each garden design – relate each part to the other proportionally. There are principles and guidelines for this that have stood the test of time – golden ratios and mathematics that, when given physical form, naturally please the eye (my favorite definition for beauty - that which being seen, pleases). We use lines, heights, and variations of plants and textures that repeat or extend architecture and other elements of the garden so that it pleases intuitively.
But in garden design, it’s nearly impossible to control every variable. Duration in time and plant growth, soil health, seasons, gardening maintenance, the scale of the outdoors, borrowed views, and sense of space all need to come together magically. This welcomes the second part of Clayton’s definition – the whole in relation to its purpose.
Ultimately, all we can do is follow the principles as artfully as possible so that magic can happen in delightfully unexpected ways. The garden designer needs to leave room for the cosmos to enter in – the light of the sun illuminating the leaves of a red maple at the end of a sightline, the fading foliage of sedum mimicking the bronze of an oakleaf hydrangea in fall, bees giving kinetic energy to repetitions of nepeta along a boarder. This is the skill and discipline of the artist – to show, not tell beauty.
But can beauty be bottled and sold? Can this be marketed? Yes, I think that only businesses that last and thrive can do this - businesses that give customers what they truly value. A confession– I hope this blog markets and even teaches what it's good to value. I hope to get you to value gardening that is beautiful, not just efficient and clean. This is the whole in relation to the purpose of our business- that if you have us work for you, it will add value to your life, integrate you, give you peace, and connect you and your home to the cosmos.