Modern Sculpture: Origins and Evolution

Modern Sculpture: Origins and Evolution

Modern Sculpture: Origins and Evolution

Modern Sculpture: Origins and Evolution

Excerpt

If we observe the unfolding of art history through the centuries, we see that it is subject to two contradictory impulses: desire for the future and nostalgia for the past. In this, it does not differ from social history, which expresses on the collective level the pattern that students of the behavioral sciences observe in individuals: the conflict between attraction toward the unknown or new and nostalgia for childhood.

Although we cannot speak of a literal regression in art, we can say that at certain periods this nostalgia, which is easily identified with the hope of returning to a happier era, has acted to check artistic expression. Viewed as an evolutionary movement, art history assumes an irregular rhythm, rather like the movement of a man who sometimes stops, sometimes rushes ahead, now looking backward, now forward. This tendency is particularly striking in the second half of the nineteenth century. Seen in the general context of artistic evolution, the pattern of movement in painting does not coincide with that of sculpture, tending to confirm the theory that motives underlying sculpture are different from those of painting.

The sculptor's art seemed, for a long time, unlikely to emerge from the paths laid out by the traditionalists. Wilhelm Lübke, the German historian, unhesitatingly stated, in 1880, that "sculpture can never abandon the classical mode." This "classical mode" had, nevertheless, already been abandoned for years by some painters. The appearance of each new tendency, however, caused painting to be considered a somewhat frivolous art, subject to the whims of fashion, inclined to be led astray by eccentrics who stood no chance of posthumous fame. Sculpture, on the other hand, was always an object of reverence. It was considered noble and austere, requiring hard labor and a rigorous discipline dictated by the masters of the past. For a long time, sculptors themselves maintained their belief in the necessity of a formal orthodoxy. In his History of the Second Empire, Taxile Delord wrote: "If sculpture played no part in the decadence of painting, this is because the sculptor was protected, by the very nature of his art, from the danger of debasing it. Sculpture is less likely to become an object of commerce . . .

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