Unreal Nature

August 27, 2012

Forever, If Possible

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:24 am

… the story of one figure’s progress through chance, error, discovery, damage, and salvage — this story, which tends to become the chief theme of Rodin’s art, is all confessional and more unashamedly private than any manifest erotic content.

Last post from the collection Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art by Leo Steinberg (2007; 1972). Continuing from the previous two weeks, the following is from the essay ‘Rodin’ first published in 1963:

Rodin’s human body may be a fissured whole, or an agglutination of disparate, even incongruous parts. An unpredictable alternation of organic joints and abrupt disjunctions lends his great original works a charge of desperate, jerky energy, or suggests tragic exposure to forces both outside and within to which the will has no access. And, as a corollary, those works which like the nude Balzac studies, express a triumphant will — for them to maintain their body’s cohesion is work all-absorbing, the kind of intrinsic work that goes on perpetually in a closed fist.

From an old humanist point of view, Rodin’s figures suggest loss of wholeness, of classic serenity or self-possession. From a political viewpoint they are plainly unfit to serve as public monuments. They are too troubled, too private, and too perilously exposed to uncertainty. They imply that all cohesion is hybrid; that the association of a hand with a wrist, of an ill-fitting thigh with a loin, of a figure with its supporting base, a body with a repeat of itself, a child with its mother, or a man with a maid — that all are equally provisional and episodic.

… He is the first whose sculpture deliberately harnessed the forces of accident. It began, he tells us, with the mask of the Man with Broken Nose, his early masterpiece of 1863, which became a mask only by accident. The jury of the 1864 Salon rejected it. But for Rodin it predicted an eventual pattern of partnership with disaster and chance, of watching the accidental and letting accident write the work’s story. “Chance,” he wrote in Les Cathedrales, “is a great artist.” And again: “More beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing.”


Man with Broken Nose, 1863

… Accident is one of Rodin’s resources for doubling the energy charge of his work. Breaks, cracks, and losses are violent. They imply the intractable and unforeseen, and that the artistic will drives its decisions against the brutal nonchalance of insensate matter.

The incorporation of accident is also a way of holding the sculpture down in a private world. The objective anatomy of the hale human body is a public thing, after all, like the constitution of a civil code. But the story of one figure’s progress through chance, error, discovery, damage, and salvage — this story, which tends to become the chief theme of Rodin’s art, is all confessional and more unashamedly private than any manifest erotic content. And perhaps Rodin’s ultimate significance for our time is simply that he turned the direction of sculpture around. Nineteenth-century sculpture was Baudelaire’s “tiresome art,” dedicated chiefly to conventional communal goals. Rodin restored to inward experience what had been for at least a century a branch of public relations.

His real theme then is the intimacy of gestation, every available means being used to maintain a given figure as a telescoped sculptural process. Whatever vicissitudes a work in progress can undergo are sealed into the form. The wet rags that are wrapped around clay to keep it moist leave their textures imprinted on the bare chest of the great Marcelin Berthelot bust.


Marcelin Berthelot, 1906 [image from Wikipedia]

… And since this practice of preserving portions of clinging mold combines with the habits of fragmentation and graft, it follows that Rodin never really knows beforehand how many limbs a particular figure, when finished, will have or lack; how many rough chunks of redundant plaster that he refused or neglected to chip away will encumber it; how much the figure’s shape will reflect a preformed anatomy, and how much will be owed to automatism and accident. The anatomy of the schools is no longer the privileged determinant of human form since what is exhibited is not the likeness of human bodies but the process of their transformation in art.

What he avoids above all is the finishing touch, his secret dream being to keep every work going like a stoked fire — forever, if possible.

My most recent post from Steinberg’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: