Can Sculpture Be Taught?
In the elder days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part
For the Gods see everywhere.
Sculpture cannot be taught by books or the
spoken word; it must be experienced by the artist. Art is a command.
The hands must be trained by practice, the mind by constant acquisition
of knowledge, and the heart by its undefeated faith and desire
to overcome all obstacles. For sculpture is a thorny road beset
by barriers, defeats, and disappointments.
Art is, however, made of the stuff that dreams
are made of, and they say the dreamer is a favorite of the gods.
To him they whisper their secrets, to him the moon reveals her
innermost beauty, and the night will enfold him to her heart
and guard him with her strong dark wings.
The poet and the artist must be ready to
harness Pegasus to pull a heavy load. Labor and fatigue are the
inevitable price of accomplishment, for no great creation is
easily conceived or expressed. Art has been called the Holy Land
where the initiates seek to reveal the spirituality of matter.
For grownups as well as for children the
intelligent study of art can be of great benefit. Psychologists
and physicians agree that manual labor helps to readjust the
mind to a balanced rhythm. The training of the hands to respond
deftly to the mind is a distinct and joyful experience. When
the skill of an artist becomes that of an expert, the creator
may sense a sort of ecstasy in the actual accomplishment of a
Even though we generally fall far short of
our aim, we still are impelled by this ever-flowing stream of
hope and desire to try again to surpass ourselves. Failures are
many and often devastating to our morale, but one or two bull's-eye
successes will carry us over months of hard labor. No composer
would attempt to write a musical composition until he had studied
the theory and technique of his art, harmony, counterpoint, and
orchestration. No sculptor can hope to create a work of art without
the equipment of 2 thorough knowledge of his craft.
A real artist cannot be encouraged or discouraged.
He will overcome all obstacles to gain his objective. He will
be his own severest critic and come up from any beating with
renewed faith and determination. He will not wait for inspiration:
he will search passionately and work ceaselessly, finding his
inspiration reborn in every problem that he tackles.
When someone asks me cheerfully if I think
they could "take it up" as a pastime, I generally suggest
social service as a less severe occupation or travel. The idea
of what sculpture really entails comes as a complete blow to
most people. Their curiosity has led them to ask, "How do
you make a bronze?" and as the answer is a long and complicated
one, they generally change the subject before they are obliged
to concentrate too painfully. Sometimes they ask if their talented
child should go to Paris to study, or if art could be learned
in America. A typical case would be the following:
"My girl is eighteen, just out of school,
doesn't like parties, has done a great deal of modeling and drawing,
has never studied with any teacher, intends to devote all her
time to art. We think she is very talented, what can you suggest?"
SCULPTOR: "Bring me what your child
has done and let me see everything, drawings, models, sketches,
and above all let me observe and question the student alone."
STUDENT: "Oh, I've only modeled one
head, and these drawings are from casts, these others are portraits
of my friends; of course they are just sketches."
SCULPTOR: "Is this all you have done?"
STUDENT: "Yes, and I've never taken
any lessons from anybody; I want to go to Paris. Please tell
my father I should be sent over there."
SCULPTOR: "Do you wish to amuse yourself
in art, or learn what it really means?"
STUDENT: "Oh, I want to draw and model
and keep my mind busy. I want to do something."
SCULPTOR: "I wonder if you can understand
what I mean if I quote you four lines of a poem which I think
sums up a work of art in sculpture, just as well as it describes
the essence of a poem.
A poem should be equal to Not true
poem should not mean But be."
If the student shows an intelligent reaction,
there is hope, if not . . . well, there are many other roads
that could be suggested, rather than encouraging her to attempt
In most cases the ideal plan to challenge
a young hopeful (and they are legion) would be to send him or
her to a practical school of technical training (if one exists)
where the pupils are taught how to drive a nail straight or saw
a plank, miter a few corners, and plane the surface of rough
wood until the hands become used to holding and directing tools.
After this introduction they should be taught how to bend and
twist wires. They should learn to cut pipes with metal saws,
fit them together, and attach lead pipe into sufficient armatures
to hold clay in place. Let the pupil build up an idea in clay
and learn how to cast it in plaster. The student will soon show
ability or lack of it, tenacity of purpose or lack of sincerity
and interest. All this may seem unnecessary to the beginner,
but it is not! These first low jumps are just tryouts.
A student often feels that after a certain
period of study he will suddenly become an artist, whereas if
he is really an artist both at heart and in his spirit, he knows
that he will never reach his ideal and that he will remain a
humble student to the end of his days. The mirage of beauty leads
him forward along lonely and exhausting roads, and at the end
of each journey he knows that the mirage is no nearer, only the
light has broken through more vividly and his faith is stronger
than ever, that the struggle is worth while, and that no passionate
effort is ever wasted.
The artist records the spiritual history
of his time His work lives on to tell the future the inner workings
of man's conscious and subconscious mind; be it realistic or
abstract, nonobjective or cubistic, it is still a record of evolution
or revolution, a soaring of wings or a slipping downward, and
this responsibility must be accepted and revered.
New ideas and new 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 what
it was two thousand years ago, and two thousand years hence it
will be in all its principles and in all its great effects upon
the mind of man, just the same" (RUSKIN).
Transitions of approach to an old subject
are always difficult and slow in process. But America is certainly
facing the fact that the twentieth century demands a new outlook
on the problems of training the young, housing them, and understanding
There have been many constructive experiments
tried out in the field of the arts, and every year these battlefields
of opinions and criticisms find the necessity to change and readjust
themselves to the demands of the day. The faculty endeavors to
find the best way for the students, while the students inevitably
decide that the methods are wrong and that they could all evolve
something better. The only slip is: Do they? A good deal of time
is spent in finding fault rather than actually suggesting constructive
Surely the amount of time and money spent
in art education is enormous. Think of the installation and work
involved at Cranbrook, near Detroit, where leaders in architecture,
sculpture, painting, weaving, and other arts and crafts spend
their lives directing and inspiring those who are lucky enough
to absorb and profit by their experience.
Bennington College is another teeming, active
center of art methods. The Tyler School of Fine Arts, connected
with Temple University, in Philadelphia, reveals what can be
done to train the art student, not only in the theory, but in
every practical working phase of the arts and crafts. There the
student must model, draw, and carve his way through the first
years of learning. The painter must grind his own colors and
prepare his own canvases. The sculptor must cast his own plaster,
and carve his wood and stone; then he learns the processes of
bronze casting, both by sand and by lost wax methods, the chasing
and patining of his finished work. As wisely stated by the Director,
Mr. Boris Blai: "Experience is knowledge. To accept the
opinion of others without personal awareness is ignorance, waste,
This practical demonstration method is certainly
the best and should be the one to be encouraged throughout the
land. The days of guilds and apprentices are over, but the need
is still here for expert craftsmen who take pride and pleasure
in doing their work superlatively well.
The public should realize that nothing would contribute more
to the beauty and culture of their country than to aid in the
development of a teaching center of this type. Art need no longer
be thought of as a specialized study, mysteriously disguised
by all the "isms" and "ists" as a means
of spending time harmlessly. It is time to awake and demand the
right sort of training. Whether it be a handmade tool or a public
monument, it should be given the best that any of us have, to
endow it with strength and beauty.
It is gratifying to read in the New York
Times of June 28, I 938, that art appreciation is at last considered
a basic need, and that art experience is indispensable to the
production of a decent society. The article states that college
professors have at last become convinced that education should
begin with art, for the sake of a balanced, orderly mind, and
that the culture received through art will develop the individual,
because a true artist is a leader in reconstruction of personal
outlooks and ways of living. Dr. Lester Dix, of Lincoln School,
Teachers College, went so far as to declare that "art is
a great expander and enricher of experience. It rounds out and
matures the meanings of experience, and he who has felt this
will not willingly go back to a thinner existence."
I have known frequent examples of people
who, having suffered a mental upheaval or long illness from nerves,
have turned to the serious study of art with extraordinary benefit.
Their minds are directed in new channels of thought, they become
aware of their hands and eyes as never before, the feeling of
actually modeling in clay or carving wood has filled them with
a new curiosity and enthusiasm.
Regardless of circumstance or age, we all
have need of some sort of creative occupation. It is this deep,
fundamental urge to make something tangible that lurks in the
background of many a sick mind. The individual may not be aware
of what is causing a certain hunger or dissatisfaction with life,
but more often than not it is the lack of an outlet for just
this creative instinct.
Back in the earliest days of art our primitive
ancestors worked out their excess energies and nervous dynamics
in hunting and fishing. We city dwellers are so bound up in our
canyons of brick and machinery that we ignore many of the normal
needs of our human mechanism.
The sincere, thinking artist is automatically
something of a psychologist. His materials are nature, man, and
the world of the spirit. He must continually try to penetrate
into the deeper consciousness of life and sensitize himself to
feel and understand the underlying principles of nature and man's
behavior. Sculpture can include the formation and direction of
personality as well as plastic expression of ideas.
It is certain that when students are young
and full of boundless energy, it is difficult to slow them down
to a continuous, concentrated study of any one subject. Their
minds spring ahead to new ideas, and their curiosity drives them
to explore everything superficially rather than profoundly; but
it is also true that the young mind assimilates more rapidly
when it does study than the adult mind, except in unusual cases.
For this reason a would-be artist should begin to draw and observe
everything about him at an early age, and if he has the real
fire he will do this without urging. In fact, it will generally
be such a constant activity that it will interfere with his other
school studies. A wise teacher will try to understand his pupil's
greatest interest and with sympathetic counsel will help him
to divide his time satisfactorily; the young artist will respond
to this guidance of understanding with gratitude.
Many well-known sculptors and painters are
utterly incapable of teaching others. They can create art, but
remain inarticulate about its methods and technique. Sometimes
a great sculptor, although unable to express his art coherently
in words, may exert such a powerful influence by his own achievements
and character that the pupils derive great benefit from visits
to his studio, and the feeling that perhaps some day they may
be able to create something that will bring them a word of approval
from the master whom they admire as a personality and respect
as an artist.
If they study their technical problems with
another teacher, and train their hands to obey their minds, they
may profit incalculably from an occasional visit and talk with
their inarticulate master; but alas, many pupils rely too much
on just the glamour of such association, and neglect the more
arduous task of studying anatomy, drawing, and the endless challenges
of modeling from life. Sooner or later the moment will come when
they will have to learn the rules of the game, and the sooner
they find this out the better for them and for their art.
There are many brilliant teachers who have
the rare gift of guiding and leading others to their distant
goal. But there are also, unfortunately, many less gifted who
pass on only what they have read in books rather than what they
have themselves experienced. It is discouraging to think of the
thousands of hours spent by pupils diligently trying to follow
mistaken methods of teaching art. After years of effort, they
realize they are not progressing or improving; they grow stale
and keep repeating their mistakes. If the light breaks through
by itself, or if some honest and able critic tells them they
are on the wrong track, they should throw off all their habits
of error, go to a different teacher and environment, and lose
no time in starting all over from the beginning.
This means learning to draw, not to sketch
cleverly or make pretty pictures that will be admired. It means
drawing from nude models and redrawing these models from memory,
not only copying what the eye sees, but expressing the line of
motion and masses of forms and direction of Study the main structure
of the body, and familiarize the eye with different sizes and
scales of drawings; shift the position from which the model is
seen so that the pose becomes an all around composition, not
only a one view design; squat on the floor and look up from below
the whole impression is new and a fresh set of problems present
themselves; climb up on a ladder and draw from above.
Imagine what we all look like to our dogs!
The effect of foreshortening must be alarming. By the way, how
many of us know that dogs color, only shades of black, gray,
and white ~ Think of making a drawing of a dinner party from
Fido's point of view. But why not?
I recall how frequently Rodin would suggest
lighting a candle and walking around some beautiful Greek or
Egyptian marble. The continuous, flowing forms could stand this
"acid test," but a piece of mediocre sculpture would
fall to pieces and show up all its sharp defects of construction
and the relative values of light by and shade, so beautifully
balanced and understood by the great old masters.
"Do not be afraid of realism,"
Rodin often said to me. "To understand nature is a lifelong
study. "You must add yourself to what you see and infuse
the object with the passionate essence of your own thought. Then
the result will be not merely realistic, but it will be the merging
of the spirit. The majesty of the mountain will be transmuted
by the inner vision, and its beauty distilled and vitalized.
To arrive at these heights, however the artist must go apart
and fight alone. He must needs create his own isolation and resist
all the innumerable interruptions and distractions of a life.
The artist must learn the difference between
the appearance of an and the interpretation of this object through
his medium Imitation is done by photography, but to infuse reality
with life and startle the observer into a new state of consciousness
is to create something of one's own. There must be a spark before
we can make a fire, and before art is born the artist must be
ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation. Early training
is of the utmost importance. The familiar slogan "(Catch
them when they're young, " is applicable to many human practices;
it has special significance when applied to art students religious
training and the taming of wild animals.
A great advantage is gained if the instincts of men and animals
can be studied and directed by understanding the individual,
rather than by Traditional methods, which often restrain the
natural impulses and cramp the imagination. For no two children
are any more alike than any two animals. Even twins born within
a few moments of each other and nursed under identical conditions
develop widely divergent personalities.
In recent years a great deal has been done,
in the educational field, to own habits and theories of group
teaching. The child is being considered an individual, rather
than as a mere number in a class. Great strides have been made
in encouraging the child to do original work, which develops
the imagination and forces the child to observe or invent mental
pictures rather than to commit to memory other people's ideas.
Their fancy and instinct to create respond to this system with
alacrity and enthusiasm.
The training of a young pupil's mind towards
a comprehensive understanding of art should include the exercise
of concentration, the development of accuracy of observation,
and the drawing from memory of visual impressions. The student
should be stimulated to do just a little more and better work
than is ever expected of him, to make his aim exceed his grasp,
to surprise his teacher and himself a little by occasionally
doing extra outside work. This constitutes a link of interest
and understanding between the pupil and the teacher, a sort of
after hour companionship that can develop into a very useful
influence. He should be made aware at an early stage of the actual
brotherhood of man; an open-minded conception of racial types,
with their varying qualities and characteristics, should be instilled
into his mind. So often students think that drawing continually
from a nude model is a sufficient experience. The whole world
of animals, plants, nature and all organic forms, as well as
different races of man, everything in an ever-enlarging world
holds a new challenge to the artist to understand its own particular
character, anatomy, and psychology.
The artist should have tolerance, patience,
and broad-mindedness, with an understanding of the eternal values
and quality of thought rather than of words and facts, which
so often belie the intention behind them. He should respond to
the spiritual source of inspiration and reverence the eternal
mysteries of life and death, constantly studying the correlation
between the principles, which form the basis of life and the
The artist should prepare himself consciously
and sub consciously for an emergency need. He can never know
what sudden demand may be made of him from any unexpected angle.
He must be ready in his study to construct and interpret a human
being, an animal, a tree, a fitting design for some architectural
facade or lunette or fountain for a garden, a tombstone or a
symbolic monument to commemorate a great deed of heroism.
The Artist's interest should be stimulated
in the study of great masters of the past, not only in their
achievement but essentially to understand why these masters were
great. Read the record of their lives, whereby it may be discovered
that their qualities of greatness were based upon respect for
truth, self-sacrifice to an ideal, and indefatigable courage
and patience to carry out an inner vision, a secret hope to reveal
a glimpse of eternity.
Sculpture Inside and Out