What makes fine art sculpture?

So, what makes it fine art sculpture?

How do you define art? Is it really “in the eye of the beholder?” In a world too busy to breath sometimes, every once in while we encounter something that takes our breath away; a beauty that transcends language, a presence that imprints on our hearts and minds. It’s an experience that changes us and uplifts us to a higher plain of existence.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Fine art

1 a : art (as painting, sculpture, or music) concerned primarily with the creation of beautiful objects — usually used in plural b : objects of fine art

2 : an activity requiring a fine skill

Several years ago, a beginning sculptor approached me at an event, and asked if she could bring a new piece she had been working on for critique. In my early years I learned from fellow sculptor and good friend George Lundeen that the more you give, the more you receive. So, I invited her to bring the sculpture to the studio for review. I have also learned over the years that not everyone who asks for criticism is actually looking for it. Sometimes they are just looking for affirmation and encouragement. A couple of well-phrased questions usually help determine the appropriate response.

The sculpture was a figurative work that showed promise but had several glaring weaknesses. After being assured that the sculptor was interested in honest criticism, I chose two areas to focus on, and pointed out the collarbone area. I had barely concluded my comment when the sculptor shot back with, “Oh! No one will notice.”

Needless to say, the rest of the piece was “perfect.”

What makes it art? Almost every sculpture I have completed over the years looked finished long before I stopped working on it. Very few people, including family and employees are likely to notice the difference.

But I do.

My college sculpture instructor trained me to be my own best critic. He accomplished that by rarely answering my inquiries directly but always answering my question with a question. The exchange usually went something like this. After working for a couple of hours, with a sense of pride and accomplishment I would approach my professor, and say, “Well, what do you think?” Invariably, he would look at me, not at the sculpture and say, “Well, what do YOU think?”

Initially, I would be utterly devastated. I wanted to hear things like: It looks great! You’re doing wonderfully, magnificent, etc. What do you think? Just didn’t give that pat on the shoulder I thought I needed.

By mid semester I was wondering just exactly what it was I paid for in the class. By the end of the semester I had learned the most valuable lesson any artist could learn. It was not a technique of sculpting, but developing an honest eye, and a courageous heart.

One of the true tests of a sculptor is his or her willingness to modify an already “finished” area. Sometimes that means taking a carving tool and removing a significant amount of “completed” clay from an area. In other words, we’re talking about literally erasing dozens of hours of serious sculpting away with a couple of tool strokes. This takes courage, especially when the area was not that far off, and the temptation to use the earlier phrase “no one will notice” can actually be true. The truth though is that the sculptor has already noticed, and it would be a compromise of truth/integrity to stop short of correcting a weakness or an error.

What makes it a fine art sculpture? To me, it’s an uncompromising and unrelenting pursuit of truth and beauty.