Unreal Nature

April 11, 2016

The Flower and the Root

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… It is at once the flower and the root, that of others is the flower only, and the plucked flower.

This is from the essay ‘Rodin’s Partial Figures’ by Daniel Rosenfeld found in Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession (2001):

… He complained to his first biographer, Truman Bartlett, in 1889 that his contemporaries from the Ecole “study nature to make it Greek, and copy the latter because they think it ideal,” whereas, he asserts, “Greek sculpture” (like his own work) ” … is warm, strong, firm, simple, true to nature and full of power. It is life itself.” Le style académique, on the other hand, presenting a noteworthy antithesis to Rodin’s ambitions and achievement, was defined by the Dictionnaire de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts, with characteristic rhetorical excess, as:

the protest of the regulated imagination against imagination without rules, an art inspired, but also [an art] of conviction and scrupulousness, [an art] which stands in opposition to carelessness and negligence; a return to antiquity, which finds moral beauty in physical beauty; a means of transporting [our] spirit through the aid of art into superior spheres of grandeur, purity and the ideal.

Rodin’s persistent refusal, with a few notable exceptions, to conform even remotely to these accepted standards was a fundamental cause for complaint among conservative critics, leveled against his oeuvre well into the twentieth century. Progressive-minded critics, on the other hand, identified Rodin’s departures from these standards — whether revealed in his exploitation of the fragment, the non-finito details of his execution, or the considerations of almost any version of his sculpture as the potential component of a new and separate work — as the basis for its unprecedented modernity and social relevance.

… In a contemporary article, Rodin made a comment on the nature of “finish” in his work that provides a fairly accurate description of his views and the implications of this exhibition. Interviewed for the prestigious English-language Art Journal, he explained:

There is no finish possible in a work of art, since it is Nature and Nature knows no finish, being infinite: therefore one stops at some stage or another, where one has put into one’s work all one sees, all one has sought for, all one cares to put or all one particularly wants, but one could really go on forever and see more to do.

… The superiority of Rodin’s method, Adrien Farge wrote, was that it “opens a vast landscape to the imagination,” and Camille Mauclair characterized the “indefinite continuation” of the work as its most singular characteristic. Among these myriad examples, we might cite the observations of Arthur Symons, the distinguished British art historian and critic. The art of Rodin, he wrote:

competes with nature rather than with the art of other sculptors. Other sculptors turn life into sculpture, he turns sculpture into life. His clay is part of the substance of the earth, and the earth still clings about it as it comes up and lives. It is at once the flower and the root, that of others is the flower only, and the plucked flower. The link with the earth, which we find in the unhewn masses of rock from which is finest creations of pure form can never quite free themselves, is the secret of his deepest force. It links his creations to nature’s, in a single fashion of growth.

Rodin’s exploration of the partial figure, his persistent acknowledgment of raw material in every medium and state of his oeuvre, his uses of fragmentation, and the suggestion of his work’s seemingly endless potential for transformation, seem not to have been so much an affirmation of sculpture’s abstraction per se, as they were counterpoints that be played against the organic rhythms of his modeling and his figures’ animation.

Rodin_Marsyas
Marsyas (Torso of Falling Man), c. 1882-89

-Julie

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