To See, Feel, Touch – Uncommon Art for the Common Man
The Creative Soul
Sculpture is a unique form of art – related to but separate from painting, music, poetry, and writing. Unlike the others, a sculpture is a three dimensional work of art. From its very beginnings, a sculpture was meant to last. Sculpture pieces were created using materials that themselves had passed the test of time – stone and marble, hard metals such as gold and silver, and wood. Sculptures are usually found in parks, in museums, in open spaces – all places where the average person goes.
Sculpture, like most forms of art, is created with the idea of expressing a view. A view can be personal, political, religious, historical, or something else. Ultimately, the sculpture is also intended to evoke a feeling. Determining the quality of a sculpture is very difficult and is subjective at best. Artists as well as artist styles go in and out of vogue and sculpture is no different.
The very nature of art is to make something never seen before, even if the subject is well-known. Heads of states and countries are always done in portraiture as well as having thousands of pictures taken. Some have sculptures done as well, each trying to represent a different side of the individual, presenting the subject in an interesting, usually favorable light. Some also represent the ethnicity and culture of the artist or reflect a particular style well-liked by the subject.
Art has value, both in economic and social terms. A 2002 study demonstrated the economic impact, finding that nonprofit arts organizations generated $134 billion nationwide, including $24.4 billion in tax revenue. The arts not only inform us about the world we live in, but also provide creative and challenging environments. After all, the concept of museums as a gathering together of civilization’s best and most beautiful things is only a few hundred years old. For most of our history, art was never intended to be displayed in museums, but in more public places.
Art is a form of communication, and the arts express the ideas of society in which they are produced. Exposure to the arts helps expand our thinking and encourages dialogue and creativity. Public art is an essential component of creating a vibrant community and nothing adds to the public panorama like sculpture.
One of my favorite sculptures is “Rising Cairn” by the artist Celeste Roberge. “Rising Cairn” is a 4,000 lb. stone sculpture that many interpret to reflect the process of healing from grief. Roberge says that she didn’t necessarily intend to depict anguish in the piece but doesn’t mind the alternative reading of her work. “I imagine her in the process of rising up from her crouching position…when she is ready,” she explains. “I am not disturbed by individual interpretations of the sculpture because I think it is really wonderful for people to connect with works of art in whatever way is meaningful to them.”
Roberge became intrigued with cairns (piles of stones hikers used to mark trails) after learning about human-shaped inuksuit sculptures created by the Inuit people in the Arctic region. For each site-specific sculpture, Roberge finds each stone herself and places them within the steel cage that holds its shape. “I was hoping the feeling of weight, would [symbolically] be carried in the sculpture itself,” said Roberge in a video by the Portland Museum of Art.
A professor at the University of Florida, Roberge suggests that art lovers ought to consider the artist’s original intent too. “If the image has helped some people to find a way of expressing their unspoken feelings, then I think that is beneficial. At the same time, I think viewers should give some thought to the artist’s intentions because the meaning of a work of art can be very complex and multi-layered.” She says her cairn sculptures are tribute to the rugged North Atlantic landscape. Roberge created the first Rising Cairn in the late 1980s when she was a fellow at Harvard University and creates them on commission today. “Each time, I am surprised that the process is still interesting to me,” she says. “I was just installing a cairn in San Francisco last month and I noted that they are never the same: different place, different light, different stones, different siting in the landscape, different energy.”
I think her last sentence is an important thing to remember whenever we critique any art form or piece of creative effort. Where we are, physically and personally, the light with which we view or hear, the light within our souls or the lack thereof at that particular moment, the energy we feel or do not feel – all of these things affect our response. It is in sculpture that we are able to see, touch, and even stub our toe on the art form. Sculpture as an art form helps us rise above our past like cairns, creating markers along the history of humankind in our sculptures as we move forward.