One of the hallmarks of Rodin's style is his leaving the marks of his hands and his tools on the surface of his bronzes, presumably to emphasize the nature of the material and the process.

Auguste Rodin - detail of Eve
  Image courtesy of Mark Harden's Artchive  

He was hardly the first to do this - Degas did it much earlier - but should Rodin have done it at all, and should he be so praised for it and imitated? Representational sculpture, like all representational art, already contains an ambiguity: Should we relate to a bronze as an object in metal, or as an image of the live model, or as an image of the declared subject? The name of the object, its social purpose, and its context usually suggest that it is mainly an image of the subject. Given these demands by society and the sculptor, we will usually do our best to see it as an image of the subject, but the illusion is fragile and hard to maintain. Should the sculptor make it more difficult by reminding us of the bronze and the wax and the hands behind it, or will he only succeed in making us feel unsure of ourselves?

It could be argued that sculptors have always played both sides of the ambiguity, by giving the surface of their work a high polish, or choosing a very white marble. But the contradiction between the woman and the metal or the stone is a conflict between our attempts to see the stature as two different, material beings simultaneously. To distort the surface in the direction of abstraction will minimize the problem,

Arisitide Maillol - detail of Pomone

since the contradiction is between the physical objects.

To make the surface as close as possible to the reality of the woman

detail of Venus de Milo

is also a solution, since society usually has its reasons for encouraging us to see the statue as the woman, while almost ignoring the stone or metal. But to emphasize the materiality of the sculptured surface itself can only make the problem worse.


Spaces, not commas, please!