The easy answer is everything.
Some artists who work in this medium choose to not identify as mosaic artists, probably for a few reasons. Firstly, choosing a label in this global world can be limiting. Secondly, some avoid the very word mosaic because of its reputation as a copying or derivative medium.
Bad mosaic (yes, it’s everywhere) is clunky, unwieldy, and awkward. For those who work within the miracle of the line, experiencing the mosaic that does not respect andamento leaves us cold. We work in pieces, not paint. Tesserae, not clay. The inherent heaviness in these pieces of things provides us with the challenge of creating the illusion of lightness. There is no one solution to this challenge. The beauty of the problem lies in the unending ways an artist can create that lightness and elegance of line. I will spend the rest of my life chasing the idea of perfection in the line. I will achieve whispers of it at odd moments and feel the artist high from them. They will fade but I will keep working, with the knowledge that the next one will sneak up on me when I least expect it. It is a tightly held secret of the artist that these snippets of brilliance are why we choose a life of uncertainty and unbalanced risk. I choose these moments of illumination over a lifetime of safety. Or should I say, I don’t choose this path.
The path chooses me.
I have committed to my medium without apology for its perceived imperfections. I have no shame calling myself a mosaicist. A respected colleague once compared our medium to the Rodney Dangerfield of the art world. “We don’t get no respect”. I understand the analogy but I choose to never appear sheepish as I explain to the uneducated what mosaic can be. References to TJmaxx tabletops and stepping stones included.
Some days I feel my job is simply to make the best art I can today. Then there are days like this, when I feel it’s important to dig deeper; to put into words what happens in those moments of ephemeral perfection.
Others in our medium feel it’s an important role to reject the rules of andamento. Artists, by nature, are meant to redefine boundaries and push others into uncomfortably new places, right? I agree. For me, pushing into new places works best when I am working within the line. My hands, brain, my heart and soul do their best when building a line that starts with one piece and re-invents itself with every piece that follows. I experience an absolute individual liberty within the confines of the line. I don’t know what’s coming around the next bend and that’s the whole point. Sandstone square, smalti sliver, marble rectangle, limestone circle. Jumping into the rabbit hole of sdoppiomento, possibly never to come out again! As some may feel confined by following the rules of what makes andamento work, I experience complete liberation. When looking at the details of my work, you are seeing a human being tapping into a communication style that works better than speech or text for her. Its pure expression tempered through technique.
I have taken to calling it intuitive andamento. The word intuition is literally defined as the understanding of something through instinct or feeling rather than proof. A mother’s intuition is a powerful example. Let me propose that if more of us working within these pieces of things would dive deep into the mysteries of what is possible within the line itself, the world would sit up straighter and start to see what all of us already know; that mosaic is a medium deserving of respect.
What does one piece of tesserae represent? It’s one moment. It’s one choice. How do you, as the arbitrator, open yourself to that freedom of choice? This is an important question. If you can tap into the power of making that first choice with your own brand of very personal intuitive confidence, then you will have harnessed a power of which any artist would envy. For me, mosaic can do everything because through it I am expressing the very nature of my lot as a human being; the tragedy, the joy, the fear, the love. And the line is my marvellous conduit.