Douglas Rosenberg

Architecture is like writing. You have to edit it over and over so it looks effortless.

— Zaha Hadid

Artists edit, writers edit, architects edit. Begin with an idea, then find its truth through hundreds of subtle changes, each one creating a new set of possibilities. It’s an endless project of try and try again.

I spent the Saturday afternoon re-reading some my own essays from the last five years or so. Beginning, with some distance now, to edit and curate them into some cogent, curated collection. It was a perfect Winter day in mid-February, fifteen degrees outside, the landscape covered in white and that low, late winter sun streaming in the kitchen windows on my right shoulder. In front of me, a small tenmoku vase filled with willowy stems, beyond that a vista of the land outside my home, the garden in repose with a row of tall pines behind. I know that somewhere in those pines lives a big, scraggly old owl that, while I can hear her call at night, I have only glimpsed up close one time while walking in the woods. I heard the whoosh of her wings before I saw the breadth of them as she arced up and away from me in a second or so, disappearing back into the tress and into silence.

A sliced apple on a cutting board and a hand thrown ceramic mug of chamomile tea to the right of the manuscript that I am proofing, sit on the table at which I am working like a picture waiting to be taken. It is dead quiet except for a hint of the wind outside; a perfectly composed immersive environment of nature, structure, esthetic choices and architectural space. Apropos of the quote above by the late Iraqi–British architect Zaha Hadid (the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize) we are always shaping our spaces through editing, curating our field of vision like still lives to be lived in.

As I write these missives over the last four-plus years, I feel my capacity for absorbing the breadth of the art world’s possibilities has expanded exponentially. I feel more open to the work of others whose disciplines or approaches to a personal practice are far different than my own and I can note a greater sense of empathy to the work of others, to other histories, and to the way that art functions in communities that are vastly different from my own. Having made myself accountable to a regular writing practice has had the effect of making me more sentient generally, it has enlivened my own creative work in the studio and I am sure made me a better teacher. Artists don’t always find writing to be a good fit with a studio practice. However, for me it is much like what I imagine the work of a translator to be; the process of remaining in a continual state of awareness coupled with the responsibility of reframing one method of communication into another. Or the way that architects create drawings for imaginary buildings that only come into being through the skill set and labor of carpenters and tradespeople.

Editing gets us to the essence of things, to a way of knowing something’s true nature. Handling material, words, paint, or the ingredients for any creative idea on its way to becoming allows us to know with intimacy, to embody the process so deeply as to hide the loss that editing creates, leaving behind only what is essential.

Douglas Rosenberg
Chair, UW-Madison Art Department