Published: February 26, 2020

Sculpture: plot and image in art


 In sculpture, it is necessary to distinguish between such concepts as theme, plot, and image. The theme is a circle of life phenomena that the artist refers to in the work, and the main role in its formation is played by the spiritual relationship of these phenomena. The theme is necessarily connected with the idea that determines its interpretation depending on the life of the community and on the social and philosophical views of the artist himself. The theme and its interpretation form the ideological and thematic basis of the work.

There are so-called eternal themes-motherhood, love, and death. Artists of all eras turn to them, each epoch brings new shades to their interpretation.

A plot is a specific expression of a theme, an artistic embodiment of a certain event or phenomenon! Each theme allows for many different plot solutions. The historical-revolutionary theme, for example, includes dozens of works that recreate various stages of the socialist revolution in Russia: the actions of the revolutionary underground, episodes of the October uprising, the civil war, and the first post-revolutionary years. These works are United by common thoughts and interests of artists, but each of them has its own story and its characters.

Through the plot, the plot action depicts the actions, States, characters of people, historical events, everyday genre scenes. Many sculptures have a very simple plot, they are based on some simple action. This action, as we have seen in the example of Golubkina's "walking", usually expands due to its internal saturation. But there are also sculptures, often multi-figure, with complex compositional construction; such sculptures are also familiar to us — these are "Citizens of Calais", high reliefs of the Pergamon altar, "Hercules the Archer".

No matter how complex the content of the sculpture may be, the action captured in it does not last more than a moment. In another second, the citizens of Calais will take the next step toward death, and the position of their figures will change. Another second — the arrow will break from the string stretched by Hercules, the Archer will stop straining, change his position. Therefore, it is extremely important for the sculptor to find the most expressive moment in the chosen plot, allowing the viewer to penetrate the depth of the idea. A well-made choice can not only activate the viewer's perception, but also give a special content to the work itself. A striking example of this is Shadr's famous sculpture "Cobblestone-the weapon of the proletariat" (1927). The half-bent figure of a worker breaking a stone from the pavement was depicted by the sculptor as full of impetuous force, unfolding like a tight spring. Abruptly, almost like a screw, he turned the torso of the rebel, gave a complex circular motion to his arms and legs — 'the unusual turn emphasizes the effort that is required to turn the cobblestone. The worker's eyes burn with hatred, his hair is matted with sweat and falls over his forehead, his mouth is tightly compressed — he breathes anger and implacable rage.

In this sculpture, Shadr wanted to reflect one of the episodes of the 1905 revolution, but the image he created was much broader than the original idea. He does not just talk about what happened, he convinces the rebels of the rightness, of the historical justice of their cause. Moreover, it instills confidence in their victory. How did the master do it? Carefully consider the position of the figure and the head of the worker. His back does not lean down, it is set straight, his head is raised, and his eyes are fixed on an invisible enemy; the stone he is about to lift is only a pretext for action; he is not thinking of the stone, but of the coming fight. Another moment and he would straighten up, swing, and fly forward a boulder, and others would fall after him, and nothing would be able to stop this all-destroying stream. Choosing the climactic moment for the growth of the feeling, Shadr unfolded the composition not only in space, but also in time. The character he created promises victory. Finding the worker straightening up, looking at his movements and facial expressions, the viewer remembers not only the defeated revolution of 1905, but also the victorious October revolution.

Science generalizes its observations in the form of abstract concepts. Art appeals to the mind and heart of a person, not to abstract formulations, but to the reproduction of specific objects and phenomena. The emotional form of reflection of reality inherent in art, in which the General is revealed through the individual, is called an image. The image reveals the character of a person or event, the image — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly using metaphors, associations and allegories — reflects real life.

We know that the existing reality is objective, but since a person always sees and feels interested, artists — biased or involuntarily-highlight certain aspects of it that concern them: certain features of the event that occurred, certain features of human character. Originality and brightness of perception determine the creative individuality of the artist, the ability to feel-the leading laws of the development of the era, its progressiveness. Every artist feels, thinks and feels the world in their own way, which is why we can talk about the infinite possibilities of art, about the uniqueness of each truly artistic work.

Creating a sculpture, the master focuses primarily on the real nature. But to strive for closeness to nature does not mean to follow it completely. The illusory repetition of nature is the production of wax dummies, but although there are museums of wax figures, no one thinks of treating them as art collections. Wax figures give the impression of the frozen dead, while sculpture embodies the idea, meaning, breath of life, the originality of the artist's perception of the world and aesthetic views. Looking at a person with the eye of a naturalist, the sculptor at the same time rises above the requirements of literal accuracy. It is no accident that statues perform more or less than human height — they should not appear to be casts from living bodies. Rodin considered himself insulted when one of his works was compared with a cast. "There is less truth in the cast than in my sculpture —" he objected. "The impression conveys only the external, but I also convey the spiritual essence, which is, no doubt, also a part of nature." "Without copying nature, I work like it," another famous French sculptor, Aristide Mayol, confirmed his idea.

The widespread belief that "everything in art should be like in life" contradicts the laws of life itself. If a person sews a button to his suit, it is just a small fact of his everyday life, which he does not attach much importance to. But if the sculptor sculpts it as selflessly as the person's face, if it acts with this person "on equal terms", then the main thing in the work may not be the person himself, but his clothes. Slavishly following all the little things that fall into the field of human vision, the sculptor falls into the captivity of naturalism, ie. deprives itself of the possibility of a deep, holistic understanding of life.

Sculptors of Ancient Egypt, working on the portrait, removed the mask from the person being portrayed, but this was only a kind of technical technique, a beginning. After removing the mask, they carefully removed from it the private, naturalistic details, trying to reveal in each image the collective universal traits. Later, artists began to do without full-scale casts. And the best masters from century to century continued to strive for the Breadth of coverage of the recreated. Not limited to portrait likenesses, they found typical features in the individual faces and characters of their models.

The deeper and more extensive the thought concentrated in the image, the more clearly and convincingly the main, essential thing is revealed in it, the fewer random, secondary details in it, the more generalized we consider this image. The artist generalizes the phenomena, selecting from the thousands of events that occur, those that are worthy of attention, that somehow determine the development of human life. Generalizes characters, emphasizing in them the features peculiar not to one, but to many people. Generalizes the shape and silhouette of the sculpture, focusing on their main, leading patterns, neglecting small details and minor gradations.

Nature becomes a starting point for a generalized image. The path to it goes through the artist's life, worldview and emotional experience. As a rule, generalization is one of the most difficult moments in creating a sculpture. Bourdel, already at the height of world fame, said that while working on one of the figures for the monument of General Alvear, first sculpted the head of a French peasant woman from nature, then made a cast of it and reworked it, again made a cast and reworked it several times, achieving more and more generalization. But for all its difficulty, this work is very grateful: the more typical the image, the wider its meaning. If a full-scale portrait tells the truth about one person, then a generalized image is about the whole class, class, and epoch.

For a generalized image, emotional and spiritual content is very important. All its external forms must be saturated with feeling, with the inner truth of life. "Generalization is not only reducing the number of forms to a small number —" Mukhina stated. "Generalization is the enrichment of the plastic of a given volume in the sense of the intensity of the internal content of the form."

By Nikki,  




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