"Responsibility" is the current dirty-word of art literature. One can write of an artist's responsibility to himself and to his art, even touch upon his overall responsibility to his culture and society -- as long as that is kept vague and general -- but any hint that an artist should modify his private creative impulses for the sake of a collective vision or purpose smacks too much of the persistent 20th century arguments for state, class, or ideological control of the arts to be tolerated lightly.
Art must be, the argument goes, as free as a bird. The artist must not concern himself for even a split-second with the wishes and tastes of his viewers or he risks contaminating the purity of his art.
Now, a great deal of the best art of this century results from his point of view, but a great deal else of what is good in it stems from the endeavors of those who find their deepest creative identities while engaged in a dialogue with the wishes, needs, and visions of others. Among these are the men and women who create within the public sector, especially those who conceive art to enhance civic, corporate, and religious structures. For these artists "responsibility" is not a demeaning or a constricting word, but one which implies dynamic and creative challenge.
Saunders Schultz and William Severson, working together as a team, are among the best of these publicly engaged artists. Concerned about the dehumanizing aspects of much of comtemporary life, and aware of the demoralizing effects of a mechanistic view of society, these sculptors have devoted their joint professional lives to the creation of public sculpture designed to encapsulate man's deepest cultural and spiritual aspirations and to serve as highly visible and attractive clues to the identity and function of the architectural environments for which they were designed.
Schultz and Severson are restless and dynamic creators who think nothing of the fact that some of their pieces are bigger than a two-car garage and weigh twenty tons. Or that their tools are more likely to be hhuge cranes and welding and grinding equipment than the traditional chisels and pots of clay utilized by less ambitious sculptors.
They think big. As Severson says, "What stimulates and drives us endlessly is the desire to create art that energizes an environment. Long ago I was thrilled to the challenge of the artist actively engaged in the throes of society."
They feel a profound responsibility to the community for which they create, to the environment, their client, the integrity of their art, and to the nature of their materials, but not to any particular school or "ism" of expression. They prefer to let the proposed work's site and purpose suggest ideas and images rather than arbitrarily dictating its design themselves.
A good case in point is their "Computer Connectors" for the Blue Cross, blue Shield Building in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. designed to enhance their client's new headquarters building and to give it a clear visual identity, this sculpture required a long period of preparation. After immersing themselves in their client's literature and touring the company's facilities, Schultz and Severson interviewed numerous staff members and the building's architect for background and ideas. Realizing the importance of computers in the company's operations, and being particularly struck by the simple shape of a computer connector chip, they hit upon the idea of basing their sculpture's image upon that example of industrial design.
Back at Scopia, their studio near St. Louis, Missouri, and with a model of the building before them, they set to work on sketches and models for the sculpture and for the reflecting pool in which it would stand. When they were finally satisfied with these preliminary studies, they returned to their client for feedback, further discussions, and, eventually, final approval. Forty-eight feet tall, and weighing 42,000 pounds, the finished sculpture commands and energizes the entrance to the building behind it.
Although this particular image was derived from a mechanical source, these sculptors also work with forms drawn fron nature. In fact, Schultz declares, "Nature has been my main source of inspiration. Capturing the images around me in the natural world and restructuring them as art is endlessly fascinating. There can be no substitute for the quality of mystery and magic found in nature."
Twenty years of designing sculpture for banks, libraries, religious institutions, parks, corporate headquarters have neither stifled nor stylized their creative efforts. Their search for precisely appropriate symbolic images continues unabated.
If anything, they are searching harder and are digging deeper than ever for the symbols and forms common to our humanity. They search for subliminal images derived from the shared fantasies of human experience, explore the imagery activated by orthodox and eclectic analysis, and examine any and all natural and mechanical design principles utilized by our society. Their creativity is continually alert to any and all clues to our common visual and formal heritage, to anything which can help encapsulate human values and ideals within sculptural form.