Visibility is a word I hear a lot in in the realms of art and business. It’s usually positioned as something to strive for—we all want to be seen. I’m fortunate that my work in public art has given me a fair amount of visibility over the years, and I had gotten used to it being part of (and sometimes central to) my creative practice. This past year, though, I have spent more time in the studio behind closed doors, and what has come out of that time—both the physical products and the creative insights—has been a revelation. As I move forward into a new year, it has me asking the question, “What is the value of invisibility?”
You can do deep work when you're invisible: you can observe, you can dream, you can experiment. You can let things surface—slowly, easily, miraculously.
Just under the surface, there is always invisible work being done. We don't see crystals form, or roots grow, or the movements of tectonic plates under our feet. We don't see the munchings of earthworms, the growing of carrots, the networking of mycelia –and yet it is there, happening, all the time. A world below us, a world unseen.
Once when I was in college, I went crystal digging with my mom. I'd just broken up with a boyfriend and wanted to get away, so we hopped in the car and headed west to Arkansas. It is an area known for hidden things: gem mines, underground hot springs, it was even a hideout for Al Capone. We found a u-dig crystal site, paid $25 for a bucket and a shovel, and walked out to spend the day kneeling and scrounging in the mud.
We threw ourselves into the search, turning over inch after inch of Earth looking for a glint of something, a tiny glitter. At the end of the day, I hadn't found much—a few small points—and I was cold, tired, and ready to go home. I stood up from the place where I'd been squatting, and when I looked down, I saw something lying on top of the dirt at my feet. I picked it up, pushed away the mud—and was holding in my hand an honest-to-goodness treasure unlike any I'd ever seen: a perfect, clear quartz crystal the size and shape of my heart.
We think of the Earth as a solid thing: there is the ground, there is us, there is the sky—the three layers, mirrored in so many cosmologies throughout time. And yes, the ground below us may be a world unto itself, with its own set of rules and sense of time, but it is not a solid thing. It is not a hard crust that we walk on, separate and above: it is a permeable threshold. We dig into it, sometimes to bury and sometimes to excavate. This threshold is part of us: it is the place where our bodies first touch the Earth when we walk; the place where gravity pulls us; the place where the visible and invisible realms meet.
I went digging that day in the soft mud not knowing what I would find, and what I uncovered was better than I ever could have imagined. What kind of reciprocity can you offer when the Earth gives you a gift like this? Over the years I've thought about it many times, and this is what I've come to: my gift, my offering, was to lift that crystal quite literally out of the mud and into the light. After thousands and thousands of years in cold darkness, it was my warm hands that got to welcome it into this bright world, to dance with the sun.
These days, I can feel new ideas starting to form in the deep dark underland of my imagination. As I begin work on my next collection, I think about that afternoon out in Arkansas and tell myself to be patient in these moments before things become visible. This part of the creative process is a lot like digging for crystals. It is a courtship between effort and surrender—a practice of turning over Earth and waiting for things to surface. When I step into that cycle, little things start to appear: symbols, colors, sounds, words. And eventually, if I don't rush them—if I remain there, open and alert—they come up out of the invisible dark and show themselves fully, miraculously. And then, we can dance.
Cheers to all the beauty just waiting to surface,