Re: direct modeling without an armature: can i do it with wax?
Well that was annoying, I typed a good amount about the problem of the city not being one of architecture or sculpture but of 4 billion people willing bad ends, and how no work of art can turn a will 'round, but I might as well leave it off, because I just said it in one sentence!
This is my point of view, at least...
I really appreciate you doing this tour, and it shows all the passion and sincerity I would hope for instantly through perception and through your description of your experiences.
Rather than trying to stress different universes than the one your speaking from, I'll switch into a structured view of yours as best I can. I would say, though, that what we're talking about is questionable as art. The argument could be made, that this is precisely what art is, or it coudl be made, that were confusing ethics with aesthetics, and that these things you're mentioning (some of them) are about good, not about beauty. And, of course, ethics is the real question of city planning, not aesthetics--and that hte love you feel for a medicore statue, used humanely, ist he same as the love you have for a law justly applied, and that we're talking then about a different thing than the love you have for a river stone or a hip under loose fabric. Not to say the loves aren't constantly admixed in actual experience, and we love the river stone also becuase of the justness of time, perhaps; or that woman's hip because of the sincerity of actions we have seen her perform.
But I'll take it to be perceptual and imaginative pleasure objectified in the scenes you've shown; that is, art.
The tour: Sculpture works along Commonwealth Ave.
I couldn't agree with you more on most of these. I think the concrete we've stumped across here is beautifully used, actually. The one that's being used under that statue. Which is a good response to the poster who thought perhaps that I was just repelled by concrete used in simple cubic forms instead of curves. I think this is one of the most beautiful uses of concrete, and it works well in the shade, matted against trees and, my guess, directly pressed against dirt [bright green grass up to the very edge of it would look bad, in my opinion--dirt, leaves and so forth would look better--I could come up with a logic to do this but I wont labor it right now]. How a work solves it all! It hink this statue would look quite bad if it were taken out of this spot, but right here it is perfectly in harmony with it's surroundings, and so right here I see it being part of a beauty that's bound to a single-place--just waht you were arguing for, and I grant you some rightness here.
I think this work here is almost under the category of 'folk art.' It does have beauty, but half of it is bound up with things external to it. It relies on a good set of shared experience on the part of those who hear or look at it (one set of external things) and it relies on what surrounds it and the nature of that place (another set). The greeks here are definitely whom we should look to, not the romans. The romans imposed independent of landscape, the greeks considered the sanctuary to be nature, and their temple was a god's house that was within that sanctuary. some of their sanctuary's were as simple as just a natural clearing in the woods.
The civic sense here makes me feel good too. I feel a part of something when I walk through a place like this, and I feel a certain sense of duty or endebtedness to the past efforts of otherse. But, at the same time, I feel this is half illusion, it's half self-love that makes these statues appeal to us. The idea that we are a great people persevering towards the good, and our admiration is almost a reciprocation for the self-congratulatory state these put us in. That "he was a great man" feeling when you look at the statue of Ghandi in Union Square [manhattan] I think makes it a /bad/ statue in some ways. Because it communicates nothing but these symbols of civic honorific memorial that often can be quite foreign to the knife jab of an effect they should have on us. If we look at the statue I know of Ghandi (which is very similar to these, so I think you can just translate it over--I have to relate it to a statue I've seen, you to one you've seen), and we feel this pat on the back admiration, we're missing the whole of Ghandi's greatness, we're missing what makes him great. So I'm torn, in one sense this is percisely waht we need--these sort of civic intimacies and admiration of Great Civilians, and in another this only makes us all the more self-satisfied and keeps us from understanding any of what true greatness stems from. It edges on romanticism, a generic feel-good sensation when we see the past rendered as something it was not. I'm not a fan of the grotesque, and I don't mean that we should see nothing but starving homeless people as sculptures--mainly because people would just show a gross manner of stylizing this, it could be a great sculpture if done well rather than grotesque shock value).
But, maybe let me go to Laocoon here and say that what makes that sculpture great (one of Lessing's many points), is that it depicts a pregnant moment. The most pregnant moment. And maybe that is the fault and the lack of anyhting more than a 'feel good' type thing that these statues give us. The pregnant moment of a defining experience, the moment just before or just after the great act that made this person a great man (not the moment of, which would be grotesque usually--which is lessing's point on Laocoon, that the scream would be ugly, but the moment just before the scream is both more powerful and more beautiful, and the moment just after a woman kills her children, when she gets the moment of reflection that is the real recognition of the deed, is also quite powerful]. These men are simply milling about. They are heros without seeing their causes.
This doesn't mean we need nothing but the dramatic heights of Dante's story of Ugolino [which is the Carpeaux sculpture I mentioned in a few posts back], it could be as simple as, if this man was a judge, the moment just before or just after he has made that profoundly important judgement.
Of course, the good portrait artist will tell me that he can do that all in a single expression. And I don't doubt it--and have experienced it. None the less, if it's about hte portrait perhaps the lounge chair and the body should be removed.
Now, from the formalist-ic perspective, this is moot. The pieces work well with their surroundings, and they become parts within a bigger whole. They are failures by themselves, but instead we perceive teh /park/ the /street/ or the /city/ as the object, as the whole. Ann we admire it. And to that degree they channel into a greater beauty. So they are not beautiful sculpture, but this is a beautiful city. [I'm just going on what you said, in that some are rather mediocre but that you still like them there, I ahven't seen them in the full enough to just say they're not beautiful--or how they are or are not in themselves beautiful].
Pulling this all back to the original questions of the place of public sculpture, and of ornament in so far as we may consider it ssculpture [which is what I know take the quesiton to be, really], I still think my argument holds: in so much as we are, in many of these, not admiring the sculpture but the beautific landscape that they are contributing to. And thus, I think these thoughts help us little as sculptors, unless we are given the opportunity to contribute to the planning of a park or public courtyard. In almost all of htese cases, any figure in any pose, in materials harmonious with the surroundings, would do. It doesn't matter waht the gargoyles look like, similarly, just that there are gargoyles. I think this shows that the sculpture is being used as a part no more significant than it's plint or placement. And I think this view of things, held by a sculptor, versus a planner of city parks, is dangerous. And, though sculptures would then proliferate, in a world like the one you describe, sculpture as an art, would decline. I don't mean that both can't be achieved, but they can't so long as the sculptor asks himself so many questions about where his sculpture might be placed exactly [in terms of surroundings of social circumstances or the culture of his 'audience']. It's a nice perk when the statues are conversant with eachother, but I'd rather have statues that may not have considered EACHOTHER but have considered THEMSELVES. I feel the two are poles, and I hesitate to put both demands on the sculptor. I think these days we consider the 'context', the things outside the thing we're making, far more than we consider the thing itself. And by 'context' i mean the social one as well. And I think this is why, when they dig it all up, that they will find no masterpieces in our time, though some excellent museums and nice parks. And this is why I find so many sculptors turning to installation art so repulsive, sometimes. Or especially repulsive when they think that the two are the same art, which shows they had never really sculpted.
I think the Japanese scholar's rocks would be instructive here. They are not art, in so far as they are not human productsions, but they are beautiful. And they are used beautifully. I'd rather see this than so-called art. But I understand that the scholar's rocks may seem to you lacking in that they are not figures [though some of them are fairly anthropomorphic]. And I think it's not the place of a sculptor, either, to go out and sculpt a scholar's rock, what makes one beutiful is that it's a rock and that it's shapes are made by nature. The same thing made by a person will not, necessarily, have that beauty.
As Etien Gilson said about the many futurist paintings of machines "only a machine can have the beauty of a machine [and a painting the beauty of a painting." Not to say don't paint machines here, but don't expect the thing painted to have the beauty. This is what the bits of beauty in these mediocre figures come from: the human form is beautiful, in whatever arrangement. They have the beauty of humans, not the beauty of sculptures. The hip of The Bronze Age does not suffer this, and it's not because it's accurately [though this is important for other reasons] modelled, it's because it's modelled with it in mind as a sculpture, and with passion and a a clay-like handling of the surface, and the other things that fill it's substance up with more than a representation of something beautiful.
The tour: Architecture
I'm going to back off the Architecture argument and try to keep to sculpture. I think my point about it not mattering what the gargoyles look like, just that they are sufficiently gargoyle-esque, shuold be well reflected upon.
I think most of these buildings fail as anything mroe than facades or massing models. And I think you're looking at them as facades and massing models. You're missing what would make them architecture, and making them into a sort of sculpture [and a weak form of recess sculpture at that]. I think, if we want to admire greece, we can see that they did both. They made them a strong form of sculpture, that related more to architecture, in that it had to do with the establishment of distinct three dimensionality that is penetrable, if only visually. They also left the non-sctructural elements, those stones that do not bear load, to be used for recess sculpture. The moderns would remove these stones all together, of course. And I can understand your complaint here in certain cases.
The problem is, we aren't making temples. The architect is making banks and office places and condos, primarily. It would be wrong of him to treat the bank in the language of a temple--quite wrong. And that's what the classicism that's spread in the united states at various times has done. So it's devalued the whole power of that past form, socially speaking, and associated it with ends not proper to it. Civic buildings are different--but how many civic buildings can we make? The major portion of our cities are buidlings for commerce and residence. How do we establish an appropriate architecture to those? Do we falsely glorify our cravings for crap by putting heroic figures in our malls? How does one built an appropriate architecture for an alltogether inappropriate human activity. And this is why architecture to me, in the city, is a fairly trivial practice. Residential architecture, I think, has more potential to be done both ethically and beautifully. The practice is so muddled, because, unlike sculpture, it cannot be done for it's own sake, it must be done to serve a purpose. And this has been the black heart of architecture. Either we embrace bad ends or we lie to ourselves, and make dishonest and insincere works with rationales about why this mall is different than other malls.
I think, overall, the biggest problem perhaps in the city, is that buildings are predominantly vertical, and that may be why you associate the figure, sometimes with them, and focus on facades. It's near impossibel to do something /architectural/ that is predominantly vertical. It tends to turn into straight floor slabs ascending up over and over with a thin wall on the outside. There are not many other options, adn it's hard for it to be perceived as anything other than a mass. Certainly it can't begin to interpenetrate it's surroundings (the bottom of hte Citigroup being perhaps an exmaple of how the only accomplishments can be made in the first 4 stories).
I have many thoughts on Architecture, and many on city planning, and many on society. The nice thing about Sculpture is that it needn't get into these menutia of these impossible endeavors. Sculpture is possible, fortunately, right in our living rooms. And a 2 foot or six inch figure can sit in my anonymous apartment and I can appreciate it, and be moved by it's beauty, and perhaps even meaning, for lifetimes, while the world outside changes one way or the next, and pushes the same dumb, tall, boxes, or dead, partitioned, egg-crates of people around and runs highways through hills, and lusts after itself, and all that the world is likely to do that we do not, as sculptors, have it in our ability, or in our nature, to try to change through our art. But I can look at a two foot figure, and ten people after me can, and it may only exist in one place [and this may be its very power!], and seem to humbly affect no one, but it may be the most humane thing one could imagine, and it may be the most profound manifestation of what it is to be human, and the most profound manifestation of our legacy as humans and the culmination of thousands of years of the pain or joy of being human. And it may change a life or two, if it is good enough, but it will only do so by being it's self and being it's self for it's self. In the same way as we can on small occasions, change other's lives, by living our own as best we can, with no consideration of being an example. We can teach by example by turning inward, as can a sculpture. Seeing a few beautiful things in my life, for example, has allowed me to see a whole world of beauty I had missed before, and has forever changed me. But I doubt, if Rembrandt had set out to change me, he would have accomplished anything other than making me the worse. After all, I'm quite sure that Rembrandt would say his ends were only his paintings, and to manifest the humanity in front of his eyes into them. Yet he has changed people for the better, while Andy Warhol, whose intention was very much to change people for the better, by sensitizing us to the innanities of our consumerism, has only done the EXACT OPPOSITE [and this is a pattern]--he desensitized us all the more and made us lust all the more after the wrong ends.
I think we need more Rembrandts and less Warhols. And I just worry that though these aren't Warhols your showing me, or talking about, they aren't sculpture either, and like Warhol's, your view looks outward too much, and inward too little. I forgot it was that said that the best art is "the soul revealing itself to itself, and us catching a glimpse."
[Side note: I know I mentioned those other books before, but reading what you say now, I think I know of a book that would might clarify some ideas your working with, or place them together in a relationship. It is nothing like the other one's I mentioned, and it is not formalistic in the slight. Dewey's "Art as Experience." It's argument is to re-integrate art as part of normal human experience. And I believe he'd approve of just the sort of things you're admiring here, and give some very, very good reasons for doing so. Dewey's one of those people whose against compartmentalization, and argues for integration, but under very, very well established values, not as an assumed good. If you want to think about interaction with the environment, and integration of compartmentalized art fields, take a look there. He's a pragmatist and a naturalist, and just about the only distinctly american philosopher worth his salt, and a good writer too--not all good philosophers are.]
(and the inset neoclassical columns are a great detail, but for formal reasons--I find these one of the most satisfying ways to treat a facade that you can't break through more fully, because it gives a great deal of space falling into the building, only when the inset behind them is sufficient. If it is not it flattens out like a cookie cutter... It's rarely done right, but when it is, it packs quite a punch and breaks out of being viewed as a mass).
Last edited by hpatenaude : 12-05-2004 at 02:44 PM.