It is true that, like Rodin, one can see the beauty of the whole that lies in but a part of the sculpture – that is to employ our imagination in the way a true artist intends. Like Tom Thomson’s paintings that on first view appear only half finished; but that is their art, they are there for you to finish in your mind. And in finishing it, you add something more than the imagery, you add the birdsong and the scent of wild flowers or the lapping of the waves on the lakeside.
Rodin took this a little further in that he would find himself inspired to sculpt an arm or a leg with a particular gesture – and whilst this is clearly the stuff of genius, it is still in the realms of being a practice piece. Art is an expression of one’s own relationship to nature – be it through colour, sound or form. We do not have relationships with arms or legs, we have relationships with the humans they are part of.
The Greeks of ancient times knew this, and in their innocence could only ever sculpt the entire human. The Romans fell away from this ideal, but sought their own ideal in the individuality of the human. They did so by depicting that which is in all of us most individual: our head. The problem is that we cannot live as a head; nor can we ever do much! We are truly human when we can both think and act on those thoughts. The Romans took the first steps away from this essential knowledge.
Rodin’s imagination allowed him to sculpt a hand, arm or foot and see it in the context of the entire human. This may not have been fully conscious, our consciousness is a fickle and paradoxical beast that demands a rigorousness in our thinking that few find pleasant. Thus Rodin would have been happy to have a scattering of arms and legs in his collection of expressions. On no few times he would take these clay forms and join them together to make people – or as in this case, a female centaur.
Rodin took the body of a horse, a female torso and some arms and gaily stuck ’em all together. To Rodin, it was a conjoining of beauty – and the individual elements are certainly beautiful. I must say that my own artistic skills usually wind up with depictions of relaxed people who would need a walking stick to keep them upright. Even when seated. But that isn’t the point: what I am interested in here is the fact that art is a striving for beauty, a striving for the truth. Art is not the slapping together of disparate parts in the hope that it might turn out well.
Rodin created those arms and legs in a moment of inspiration – and as such, are testament to that moment when Rodin was at one with his muse. I know this myself, for if I have a moment of inspiration for my book, I write it down. My all too modern mind is apt to forget too easily; but that is as much its strength as its weakness. Even so, that inspiration is part of the entirety of my book, and if used, will be feathered into the appropriate chapter so that nobody can see the join. For me, my book is a ‘whole’ that should be seamless. Well, that is the ideal, the reality is only an approach to that.
What kind of muse was it that tempted him to take one limb – albeit an inspired limb – and join it to a torso that was the result of an entirely different inspiration? Because this is the point of this piece: the innocent Greeks could do nothing else but create the entire human form out of that moment of inspiration.
Rodin could, and he could because we moderns are able to dissociate the arm from its true place in the world. We wouldn’t have robots without that kind of thinking, would we? Robots are the dissociation of a businessman’s thinking from the realities of doing business. A robot is only there to do one specific job, a job specified by the boss in his attempt to cut costs – that is a misunderstanding of the first order. Nobody in business should think this way, yet few today can think in any other!
Rodin ‘sliced up’ his inspiration in a way that the Greeks could never do, and thus created his morbid gallery of limbs. Nor did he see any wrong in joining them together like a winter coat that has been made with the arms from a summer jacket. Here the female centaur has arms that would be better fitted to the form of a gorilla: they are ten inches too long for her. The modern mind can adjust these things and bring it a balance that is not there in the sculpture – but the danger here is that what the viewer sees may not be what the sculptor intended. My post on Malevich deals with that, along with a few others.
I’ll put it the other way around: Rodin couldn’t see the abortions he was creating. He was as oblivious to the distortions he was creating as the people who would admire his work.
Okay, so go and do it, it’s like the English putting milk in their tea: just don’t do it in public.
If you are going to make a sculpture of a female centaur, you have to wait for the right moment to be inspired to make the entire thing. Inspiration is like the seed of a plant, it grows and you get the entire plant. You don’t get oak trees bearing apples, and you don’t get apple trees from acorns. But this is in essence what Rodin did with his inspirations: he took some acorns and some apples and put them all together.
If it was to inspire him to make a sculpture of a centaur, then fine, because that moment of inspiration would have been for the image of a centaur. To leave it as the cobbling together of disparate concepts is a very modern thing to do. It is a very modern tragedy. Rodin shows us what we have lost in our modern times. If you have read any of my posts on the subconscious, you will know how hard it is to retrieve those losses.
The exhibition ‘Rodin, Genius At Work’ is being held at the Groninger Museum in Groningen until the 30th of April. That’s Sunday, by the way. There are direct trains from Schiphol airport, and the museum is across the road from the station.