Am I angry enough to be an artist?

Some time ago I asked a teacher friend to recommend a book that would help me understand the aesthetics and art of creating sculpture. She immediately recommended Rosalind Krauss‘ book, Passages in Modern Sculpture. Rosalind Krauss is a veteran art critic and one of the leading lights when it comes to defining the critical nature of modern sculpture.

Balzac by Rodin
Balzac by Rodin, 1898

To date, I’m only halfway through the book, so this isn’t a review, but my reflection of of some the ideas in this book.

Krauss’ book begins with a review of sculpture from prehistory to the late 19th century explaining the criteria that identified the artistic status of sculpture. This narrow view of art  was so stylized that little was room left for creative freedom.

the new born 1920 Brancusi
The New Born, 1920, Constantin Brancusi

In the late 19th century starting with Rodin and continuing into the early 20th with Brancusi, artists became restless with these conventions and looked for ways to reconstitute life in their figures. Cubism was one idea that offered freedom, as was Freudian Psychology.

In the middle of the 20th century the sculptor David Smith‘s psychoanalytic approach to 3 dimensional art advanced the idea that sculpture need not be literal at all and used the psychoanalytical concept of totems, objects containing spirits that sustain life, using scrap metal such as the hatch of a tank in his series of sculptures:

Tanktotem 1
Tanktotem 1

Of course there’s a lot more to the idea behind these objects, but my point is that the field of sculpture was making radical changes to the identity of 3 dimensional art in a confrontational and anti-establishment way.

I’ve gained a lot of insight regarding the development of sculpture throughout the 20th Century through from this book.  I’m very interested in how the artists develop their philosophy as a framework for their practice. First they discover their purpose, then find the means to express it creatively. It seems that a lot this purpose is generated by dissatisfaction, even anger with a desire to redirect cultural trends or ways of thinking…or, as in the case of  Marshall McLuhan, present the world as it is, not as it appears based on cultural preconceptions.

For myself, expressing my anger through my art is a frightening idea. I want to create visions of peace, unity and beauty. I don’t want to be angry. I can certainly visualize my anger, but to realize that vision and share it with others? Scarey!

These thoughts cause me to wonder what my inhibitions are keeping me from discovering about myself and my work. Is it that I’m afraid of losing control of myself and my identity to people’s perceptions? Am I a victim of self imposed illusions of control over my future identity? Maybe that’s a platform for making art, smashing that illusion.


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