Artist Ólafur Elíasson, 49, On Art And Ideas

Photo by Alex de Brabant

Mr. Eliasson, what is more important for art, the idea or the execution?

I think the talent of an artist very often and surprisingly does not lay in, “What was the idea and what artwork came out of it?” But the success of translating an idea into action is very often where the talent is to be found. To have an idea is very often mistaken for having achieved something, but I think a studio like this is all about the space between the idea and the outcome. If you can give a body to the idea, not just an architectural body but a body with blood and air and space in it, then I think you are onto a very interesting process.

Where does the process begin for you?

When having an idea, I very often ask, “Where did I get this idea from? From what emotional landscape or intuitive path did this idea take its origin?” Sometimes an idea comes out of a great experience, but it could also be from a trauma, something that you don’t necessarily want to deal with. But dealing with it might amplify the idea and indicate the direction that ideas should take in order to get shaped and take a body.

So you let the idea take whatever form it wants?

Exactly. And as with anything else, there are good ideas and there are bad ideas. And the bad ideas, they are often so narcissistic and so egoistic that they kind of rule themselves out or they kind of grow into teenage-hood and they’re abandoned. Whereas the better ideas, they seem to grow! Taking an idea into action is taking it through maybe a thousand steps.

-The Talks