Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy birthday Rodin!

Today, November 12, is the birthday of one of the greatest sculptors of all time, François-Auguste-René Rodin. 

Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past. He was schooled traditionally, took a craftsman-like approach to his work, and desired academic recognition, although he was never accepted into Paris's foremost school of art.

Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were roundly criticized during his lifetime. They clashed with the predominant figure sculpture tradition, in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic.

Rodin's most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, but refused to change his style. Successive works brought increasing favor from the government and the artistic community.

My favorite Rodin sculpture is is not one of his most famous works, such as the The Thinker, The Kiss or even The Burghers of Calais, all of which are wonderful.  My favorite is The Fallen Caryatid.

When I was quite young, I read Robert Heinlein's amazing book Stranger in Strange Land. Heinlein beautifully deciphers the meaning of Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid through the eyes of Jubal Harshaw, the wise-but-cynical, “father-figure” character of the book:

This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods…and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.
But she’s more than just good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage…and victory.
Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up…she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her…she’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.
This message gave me an early lesson about the power and depth of emotion that art could convey. My love affair with art began with that recognition.

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