Meaning is a mercurial thing, fluid its power to reveal universes of understanding within any moment. Rarely inert or concrete in its reality, what a work of art communicates to its audience is conditioned by the context of its encounter, changing in its perception for each individual who engages in the experience of it. With the best works of art meaning is something more densely woven. This sculpture we are gathered to witness today transcends any single declarative description or linear logic, but rather provokes questions of the viewer’s interior self, of what we know of our life’s purpose, of what we dream our most radiant selves to be.
There is, of course, the perspective of those for whom the young Max Rose is a beloved member of the family or dear and earnest friend. This strand of meaning carries with it the texture of memory, of shared experiences, conversations, joys and despairs, hopes, and aspirations. Deep feelings of loss and myriad questions without answers will most likely pervade every heart who knows him that comes to this place to reflect upon his passing. But, there is so much more to learn from the eternal Max!
Even the chance passerby without direct knowledge of the personhood of young Mr. Rose, come to Elmwood for their own reasons of remembrance, predisposed to contemplation of the transience of life, must surely be struck by the physical presence of the piece. At once vital and ethereal, it emanates an almost visceral aura. For these, it may serve as a reflection of the most ardent hope that we also might each be met by a guardian angel welcoming us homeward into the embrace of the everlasting beyond where the answers to all questions of our bewildering existence are revealed.
But the most primordial power of this work lies in what humans have known about the experience of art for ages, that those works that confront us with the tragedy of death have the capacity to transform those who engage its presence into beings more prepared to exult in the ecstasy of life!
Philosophers have wrestled with such matters for ages, perhaps best articulated by Aristotle in his volume examining the substance of dramatic art forms in the Poetics of 335 B.C. In his text, he describes the experience of what he calls a ‘catharsis’, a cleansing, or purification of the emotions provoked by art’s encounter leading to restoration and renewal of the spirit of those that embrace it.
Upon my first seeing the sculpture, I was rendered wordless, not speechless, but senseless, only capable of muttering gibberish, not for a lack of something to say, but for a flooding cascade of emotional responses, rendering two MA degrees, studies, theories, and vocabularies impotent. My comprehension in that moment was induced by pure feeling, in which words lost their power to reason my way around what was happening before my eyes, and academic references completely beside the point.
I am still astounded by the sheer attention to detail that was allowed to emerge over Time with the creation of this piece. Indeed, the element of Time itself, that precious phenomena that none of us can ever truly master or possess becomes perhaps the most incredible aspect of the work of art. No other works of art in this present era, in which audiences expect their artistic gratification to be mediated by an almost digital alacrity, are created by such an incredibly sensitive approach to its making. This sculpture was not stamped out by an anonymous machine press, its not one of an edition of 13 or 30. It was dreamed by human spirits and crafted by hands in clay and forged with fire, two of the most ancient materials of our cultural history. It is completely and astonishingly unique, just like each and every one of us. Just like Max.
This is why this work is amazing, the element of humanity and reflective time that was allowed to transpire in its making. This is why this work will become, in my view, something of cultural importance beyond the utility of marking the resting place of a remarkable man that once walked the earth and now inspires so many to make a difference in the world. This work of art matters not only in that it celebrates the life of one extraordinary man, but rather because it teaches us that we are all extraordinary, that we all matter.
~Text by John Weeden