I’ve always admired the obsessed: whether it’s an artist, a scientist, or a historian. These people that encircle the “periphery of the body of knowledge” as Irwin calls it. To me there’s something very noble in the complete dedication in pursuit of an answer and it is people like this, and the questions that they ask, that propel our world further.
It was interesting to read the chapters The Dots and The Discs as case-studies of Irwin’s different obsessions and see how his different questions and answers informed one another. Looking back on his work, like in the Whitney Retrospective, you can see a line that ties everything together. How without knowing it, in the end he was going deeper and deeper into something. In the beginning of The Dots, Irwin stresses that Weschler be careful in how he ties together the narrative of Irwin’s work so as not to give the impression that he had a clear trajectory. Irwin wants other young artist’s to be aware that his path was formed by intuition and at the time he had no clear idea of where he was going. He was led by questions and some, like the post-disc experiments, weren’t resolved. It is this pursuit in darkness, that in my opinion, really defines a great researcher. It is very risky, and failure is probable, but it is where real progress is made. I have a new found respect and admiration for Robert Irwin after reading Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees and as someone that I think is just starting to find their own questions it was inspirational and affirming.
I found this quote particularly poignant:
“All these researchers in their own ways are engaged in the process of inquiry, and the most salient feature of inquiry is its open-endedness. It is pursued for no reason whatsoever; it is the project of the passionately curious. The wilderness is stalked by explorers without maps and without any particular goals: their principal compass is their reason.”