So what is it about Rodin that makes him so important? Much like today’s audiences of classical music who have no background in music and can’t tell one Movement from another (but sit through concerts with some odd idea of bettering themselves), I think the contemporary viewer of the figure- even contemporary artists- would struggle with what it is that sets Rodin apart.
Although there is an Eve that accompanies the Adam figure of yesterday’s blog, I find this figure matches him better. I wish I still had the picts of the plus-life size version of her from Paris, but this little figure from Philadelphia will do well enough.
An important aspect of this figurative work is that there is no story being portrayed (ie Michelangelo or Bernini’s David). These works are explorations of the human condition without narrative. Stripping the narrative cycle from the work allows the figure to emerge from the role of historical reference library illustration- without the buffer of narrative, even naming the figures as Iconicaly as Adam leaves a great amount of room for the work to exist in first, and associations to be brought to it if the viewer needs such inroads.
This leaves us with the figure itself, and how the artist approaches art altogether. Rodin was accused by his critics of pulling body molds, as his work was so amazingly lifelike. That was a rather absurd accusation that annoyed Rodin greatly, if one has any knowledge of the figure in art it is obvious that Rodin is on an entirely different level than simply representing the human figure. To illustrate this just look at the passe “figure artists” of the last few decades who rely entirely on body casting (mostly lumped into Pop Art), or for technical skill alone look at a wax museums or the works of Ron Muek (who has gobs of talent and who’s work stays painfully within the intellect alone): what is wrong with that? simply everything.
What is the artist’s intent? Consider that realistic portrayal of the figure was the norm of the French Academy, and nearly all artists of the Modernist Era had that grounding and moved away from it. Rodin managed to move farther away than any artist without abandoning the figure, or investing himself in trite stylistic variations (ie cubism- although that comes with the next generation of artists). Instead he went further than all but a handful of artists have ever gone, or will ever be able to go- partly I think, because the windows within a culture to produce individuals that have the capacity to delve into the arts with such brave ability are difficult to open- and of late, painted shut.
In looking at Rodin’s work- or any artwork for that matter- let go of thinking of technical ability. Work at this level is not self-consciously showing off, it does not want a “gee whiz” from its audience; it is created at a level of full mastery as an assumed power allowing that mastery to slip into the background and create a synergy of physical response within the viewer’s body, this emerges naturally as the primary impetus of the work- it is an incredible psychologically emotive power of the arts to resonate and live within the viewer.
This work demands a lot from the viewer, much more than most people are able to muster; it is why art is often aligned with religion- art allows a direct experience of a profound level of being. A wonderfully secular experience.