On first sight many might feel that the work of On Kawara was a kind of a conceptual art gimmick. It could also be argued that his art was pessimistic - it seemed to reduce everything to a type of very Schopenhauer-like scheme. If we see a date, we assume we ate, worked, did whatever we had to do to survive. What is the common denominator of each date, after all? The common factors are that we ate, drank, slept etc. each day.
I think, however, that Kawara’s work was more than a gimmick and was, in fact, highly optimistic and positive. The significance of his work could be in the fact that just by representing dates we have to focus on what the mere sequence of dates cannot convey about our lives. His work becomes a type of 'via negativa.' The 'via negativa' is a theological term - we don't know what God is, but we know what God isn't. These individual dates do not measure or record inner growth or development or meaningful experience, but they point to these experiences.
It is, however, such an unusual experience to look at a date we lived through and just stare at the date not having any idea what we did or what happened to us on that day. We’re left, however, with a type of confidence that we did not ‘waste’ that day – that we did as well as we could have to engage ourselves and others in a good process, despite everything. For each date that we stare at, we may just have a vague idea of what we were doing those days or a vague idea of the sort of people we were back then, but the feeling of our sense of self-worth and engagement with others is readily apparent.