Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The lips of "realistic" sculpture

In response to the above photos , a sculptor/critic wrote:

1) My belief is that if we set ourselves up to be Realistic sculptors then we will come under a higher standard when we are viewed by our peers. There are technical issues with the three busts I see on your website. Curve of the eye, shape of the nostril and that sort of stuff. I won’t bother with that because by now you already see those things.

2) Sculpture is all about the play of light and shadow. See the picture of the female, look at the way the light plays on her lips and the intersection between the lips and cheek. On the lower lip do you see the fat pads next to the corners of the mouth…there is also a second roll of flesh between the line that forms the cheek and the line that forms the chin. These details probably didn\’t exist in the extreme way the sculptor expressed them but they brought life to the piece. The way this sculptor treated the eyes are the most important thing for you to observe. The eyes are set back into their sockets to create a shadow line then the eyelids are brought out to catch the light…it\’s amazing what this does. Look at the Burghers of Calais….the upper eyelids are like hubcaps.

But then .... here are some other examples across history:

Portrait of Queen Tiye, c. 1350 BC

Franceso Laurana, c. 1480

Jean-Antoine Houdon, c. 1780

Charles Despiau, c. 1910

Milton Horn, c. 1945

So it appears to me ... that sometimes portraits show fat pads near the corner of the mouth -- and sometimes they don't. And sometimes there's a second roll of flesh between the cheek and the chin .. and sometimes there's not..... at least, in the portrait sculpture that has found a place in the canon of world art (note: Milton Horn is a bit tangential to that canon --- but I like to look at him anyway)

I'm raising this issue -- because as non-contemporary figure sculpture is slowly returning to educational institutions, it's important to let the full history of great sculpture set the standards --- or --- if a teacher/school/critic is going to focus on the 19th C. Beaux Arts tradition -- then it should be identified as such.

More importantly, I don't think that, outside museums of natural history, anatomical accuracy has any place in the critique of sculpture. That beaux-arts head shown above is beautiful/memorable not just because it has fat pads at the corners of the mouth, but because it has composed those elements into an expressive, poignant unity.

I enjoy many examples of the Beaux-arts style -- and can't blame anyone for promoting the style that they love -- but everyone else should remember that specific philosophies/feelings/attitudes are presented by specific styles --- not all female faces need to express discreet sensuality -- and a discussion of anatomical accuracy is beside the point.

And the point I'd like to make about Amanda Sisk's portraits of the young, married couple, is that they're beautiful -- expressing, at least to me, a kind of clearsighted, determined optimism of young people on the threshold of life-- and while I haven't made a comparative study of similar subjects done around the world -- this couple does seem particularly midwestern -- and maybe they should be displayed lying side-by-side (as in the photograph at the very top ) -- like lovers on a beach at night -- looking up at the stars.


Anonymous Joy In Life said...

I believe photos from http://www.maohao.com/amanda were also, perhaps primarily, being viewed.

"More importantly, I don't think that, outside museums of natural history, anatomical accuracy has any place in the critique of sculpture."

Let's agree to disagree on this one. If the intent of an institution or mentor is that the student should have this as a goal, or if the artist him/herself is desirous of such, then it has a central place. I also feel students should master certain basics before making a departure, and these basics can and do include anatomical accuracy.

Thank you for making the statement regarding sensuality in the female face. Can you elaborate?

September 20, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

I think we all know the idealized role of bourgeois women in Victorian society -- and the kind of demure sensuality that its sculpture presented in the faces of young women - utilizing the features which your critic wants to see in your work.

I like that kind of woman ! sweet - heavy eyes - full lips - mistress of the parlor, kitchen, and bedroom. But I also like many other kinds of women, and the full variety of them expressed in sculpture.

September 20, 2006  
Anonymous Denis said...

ummm a critique of my critique, intersting. Chris would you like me to critique your critique of my critique ?

cc Amanda

September 20, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Welcome, Denis.

Yes -- definately -- please feel free to critique whatever you wish.

September 20, 2006  
Anonymous Denis said...

Hi Chris,

I am the sculptor you refer to. I have a few points and after which I am going to go back to work. I have had this discussion before and it usually ends unresolved.

1) The photos you have here are not the works I critiqued.

2) "More importantly, I don't think that, outside museums of natural history, anatomical accuracy has any place in the critique of sculpture."

That statement is so full of BS I am nearly speechless. Chris consider that anatomical awareness is simply another tool in the sculptors arsenal and I would argue an essential one if we are talking about "realistic" sculpture. This is about the building up of visual memory....Rodin talked a lot about this.....if you don't train yourself to know and understand anatomy you (as a sculptor) will be limited by your ignorance.

My Point: Amanda mentioned tossing out some of her earlier work. I've done this also as have hundreds of sculptors before us...they say the second year is the hardest for sculptors because it's then they realize how bad their first years work was. That's a direct result of the effort to build visual memory. By gently pointing out the inaccuracies to her I help her become stronger. So anatomy has an important place in the critique.

My point about "higher standards" was a polite way of saying that "the left eye is misshapen with respect to the right eye and looks amateurish".... but we argue words when I don't for a minute suggest sculptors attempt photographic anatomical accuracy . Which brings me to crux of my comments for Amanda
I wasn't saying she should add fat pads to the mouth. I was pointing how sculptors used light and shadow through exaggeration of facial features. Some of her work looked two dimensional to me (I could be wrong photos are often misleading) I am reminded of a eighteenth century plains indian entering a library for the first time....what does he see ? Not books but rather rectangles on ledges....This is how it is in life, If there is no reference frame then often a viewer won't truly see what's in front of them i.e. skillful exaggeration of light and shadow has been part of sculpture for centuries, but if your not aware of how it's done you might miss it entirely. For example, I spent weeks studying how Rodin sculpted eyes. I have admired Rodin all my life but I didn't "see" how it was done until I learned to "see" it. Sadly, there are those who as so biased against "realistic" sculpture they fail to "see" past that and see the work.

3) I did refer to the poetic impact of Amandas work, which I like a lot, however, she asked for a critique from one of her peers and I gave her my take on her work. I would like to leave you with this quote from Malvina Hoffman

"New ideas and methods may all be very well but the old idea of learning your job thoroughly has never been improved upon. Whatever may change, art remains as it was two thousand years ago and two thousand years hence it will be in all its principals and in all its great effects upon the mind of man just the same."

Denis Grace

September 20, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

I guess realism just doesn't interest me at all -- because once I felt "the poetic impact of Amandas work, which I like a lot" (as you wrote) -- then for me the critique would be finished.

That's all I want: poetic impact -- though not just on the first viewing -- but time after time -- and that's the tough part.

BTW -- what did you think about the other heads whose pictures I posted ? You may have even seen the originals -- most are in NYC.

And I'd really love to see jpg's of your sculpture if there's any on line (I found one -- but the picture was too small)

September 20, 2006  
Anonymous Joy In Life said...

Having read the commentary for the day, I have opted to play Benvolio and offer to you a Venn-Diagram:

For Mr. Miller:

"The sculptor does not work for the anatomist, but for the common observer of life and nature."
~Bayard Ruskin

For Mr. Grace:

"Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle."

For you both:

"Whether you listen to a piece of music, or a poem, or look at a picture or a jug, or a piece of sculpture, what matters about it is not what it has in common with others of its kind, but what is singularly its own."
~Basil Bunting

September 20, 2006  
Blogger New York Red said...

Love these...allure

Any news about Sir G?

I have been mute lately as well...

September 20, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Last week, Gawain told me he had the "blahs" -- and could not stand to look at his computer. I'm glad he's not ill -- but -- but -- when is he coming back ?

September 20, 2006  
Blogger shilgia said...

I don't know that Gawain isn't ill. As you say he didn't sound very happy last week and he has shown no sign of life since.

(Good post, as ever. Too bad the original critiquer's critique of the critique has to be so aggressive.)

September 20, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

Ah, the lips of Queen Tiye! I could recognize them anywhere in the world from the smallest shard. Perhaps it is really Queen Tiye and not Sei Shonagon who is the greatest love of my life.

October 11, 2006  
Blogger Marly Youmans said...

Well, I'm behind in everything, including you! If you think of it, please ask Amanda to invite me to her blog... Then I can be behind with her as well.

April 07, 2015  

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