Yesterday we drove out to Drake’s Beach, on the Point Reyes Peninsula, and the sand sculpture contest that is an annual event there on Labor Day week-end. It was overcast and a little dreary, as things tend to be out here at this time of year. But the parking lot was full, and the beach was bustling in a way that combined the paraphernalia of family outings – coolers, blankets, folding chairs – with the milling chatter of a gallery opening.
I had expected kids making sand castles with plastic shovels and buckets. Instead there were adults with sculpture tools and brushes, hunched over their work with the passionate intensity of kids. (The first time I wrote that sentence I said ”real artists” instead of “adults,” but what are they?) Some of the work was amazing. Elephants, alligators and hippos peeked from the sand as from slow rivers. Mice from the Wind in the Willowsmunched on cheese, next to a baited trap. Two feet, exquisite in detail, guarded the entrance to a walled human head.
There were castles too, with winding steps and leaning towers that had a hint of a suggestion of Dr. Seuss. And of course the mermaids. To myself, who cannot draw a car for a four year old without the back looking like the front, it was near miraculous. And what made it even more so was that all these works – these gallery-quality works – would be gone in a day or so. Nobody was getting a penny. The judging was pretty much for fun.
From sand they came, to sand they would return. Somehow this ephemerality, the knowledge that all the creativity was for nothing besides the kick of doing and sharing it, was part of the high spirits, and maybe the central part. Had these works been for sale, it wouldn’t have been the same. Corporate sponsors would have killed the spirit entirely.
Freedom is in relation to what besets us. For some in this world, the ability to sell the product of their efforts came as a form of freedom. For those of us immersed in a culture in which everything is for sale, it is when we escape the attendant atmosphere of contrivance and self-seeking that the air feels free and clean. A weight falls from our shoulders. The invisible authority called “the market” has taken a day off.