Take Away.

Michelangelo said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” Probably not in those exact words since he spoke Italian, and I haven’t been able to find the exact source, but even though Michelangelo was known for being a gruff, difficult individual who could do hard manual labor, he also wrote poetry. And even though those who knew him described him sometimes attacking a piece of raw marble, taking hard and fast swings to break away that superfluous material, the features he carved are so detailed and so delicate they seem alive. And sculpture is probably the most unforgiving art there is. Chisel a little too much and you’ve ruined an entire work. It’s not like painting where a mistake can be wiped away or painted over–not that I’m saying painting is easy. What I am getting at is the fundamental contradiction at the heart of art: it’s supposed to be creative but the process of creation is also destructive. It’s an idea that various philosophers began to consider in the 19th century. Nietzsche, in Also Sprach Zarathustra, said the artist, the creator “must first be an annihilator and break values”. It’s an idea that influenced Cubism, which isn’t true abstraction but is always based on breaking down and re-envisioning something. To get back to sculpture, though, it may be the medium that best expresses this principle. To create something–to release the form in the stone–the sculptor must destroy the stone.
All this also suggests that creation and destruction aren’t opposites but rather parts of a single process.
We often talk about what artists put into their art, but what’s just as important is what we take away from it.

https://youtu.be/2z2bCQVGVEY

8 Comments

  1. Red

    Not necessarily “art” per se, but I often found I made a huge mess before finishing a big project. Christmas cards, baking, organizing a closet…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Until you’d mentioned that I’d forgotten the principle of gestalt, but, hey, it’s true. Messes are a source of creativity.

      Reply
  2. floweringink

    Christopher, I love this post! You make me think!!! Thank you!

    Also, I am have tech issues, so if it appears as if I am signing up for notifications every time I post a comment, it is because it is the only way my browser is allowing me to comment. Sorry if it looks totally nuts on your end…..

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Fortunately I haven’t noticed any tech issues–that may be because I’m not very tech savvy. I hope it’s not causing you too much trouble.
      And I’m glad I could make you think.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    I take a lot away from the art you create here, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Art is, I think, also very much about giving, and I appreciate that you give so much in your comments.

      Reply
  4. giac mcley

    ‘La scultura è una arte che levando il superfluo dalla materia suggetta, la riduce a quella forma di corpo che nella idea dello artefice è disegnata.’–Vasari, Le Vite (1568), Capitolo viii. The original quote is, perhaps, lurking within the ‘vita di michelagnolo buonarruoti.’

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Non c’è nulla di superfluo in Vasari, ma fornisce un ottimo spunto di riflessione.

      Reply

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