JERRY GOROSKI is the consultant appraisar to whom I refer inquiries about Scriver bronzes. He is formally trained and certified to do assessments and knew Bob Scriver as well as working for the CM Russell Museum in Great Falls. His gallery is called "Open Range Art."


Thursday, May 18, 2006

SCULPTURE REVIEW, Spring 06, "Education of a Sculptor"

When I was in seminary (1978-1982), there were two lively currents of dissent and argument in the student body about the seminary itself. The first one was whether a seminary ought to be only for dedicated persons who wished to become denominational ministers (which was the original definition and founding goal) or ought to be a place to explore oneself, expand, and hopefully become a better person but not necessarily a leader of congregations. (The seminary itself -- always in need of tuition-paying students -- was happy to broaden the goal. The denomination was kicking in money for the program specifically to make sure there were high-quality ministers.)

The other argument was about whether the seminary should be giving us the actual skills we needed for success in the ministry or whether they ought to be giving us broad principles from which we could develop our own understandings, principles and tools. A subset of this argument argued we should sue the seminary for failing in its duty, since some felt a major shortfall when they got into their job placements, a suit that might have had some teeth if anyone had any idea exactly what it was that the place was promising to do.

I say this is as introduction to a discussion of the latest “Sculpture Review,” Spring, 2006, which focuses on “Education of a Sculptor” and puts on its cover aspiring sculptors rather than the usual fine sculpture. (Earnest young men in smocks at Greenwich workshop in NYC, 1935-39, gathered around a serious older man in a three-piece suit.) Though the magazine is sponsored by the National Scupture Society, which seeks to support figurative sculpture, the problems of sculpture are widely shared among all the humanities now that everything, even education, is commodified.

Some argue that if a person goes to an art school and emerges unable to earn a living, that person has been tricked. In music they say that since symphonies are more penniless than ever, more musicians (granted that they are fine) are being produced than there are jobs. (In fact, this was the situation for Bob Scriver right after WWII when his skills would seem to qualify him for a fine orchestra, if those entities hadn’t already been packed.) Others would say that a humanities or fine arts degree and/or any education (since they don’t always coincide!) is such a valuable thing in itself, that no one should complain at having their life enriched.

With characteristic humor, Giancarlo Biagi illustrates his editorial on entering art school with Rodin’s “Gates of Hell!” “Make me into another Michelangelo, Rodin, Saint-Gaudens,” the student begs. But do they know what path they are entering upon? Biagi concludes: “To the layperson’s eyes, the life of an artist appears to be filled with glamour, passion, and success. In truth, however, the path is forged in dedication and humility, enlightened by an intellectual zest and virtuosity, and a unique style that belongs to each artist, in my point of view.”

The first article is a review of The Art Student’s League and the National Academy of Fine Arts, illustrated with two sharply contrasting photos: a cluster of young men in vested suits without jackets, earnestly drawing a naked lady, versus a class of mixed ages and genders sculpting a naked man. Student and faculty works used as illustration mix fusty old Zorach with such modernities as a humorous mixed media polychrome bust of a woman with real hair.

The second article gives us Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, a sculptor and teacher as well as founder of Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme , Connecticut. She is 92 and still working. A review of the program fills a page.

Another sculptor/teacher is Evangelos Frudakis who describes both his learning and his teaching, especially at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest art museum and art school in America. (Founded in 1885.) Frudakis and his work look the way most of us (and Hollywood) think a sculptor should look.

The two articles I liked best have long titles: “Teaching the Basics to Foster Mastery: a Survey of Figurative Sculpture Programs” and “Sculptors Educating Sculptors: A Panel Discussion of the New York Academy.” They are about what their titles say they are about. Following the same compare-and-contrast principle, the New York Academy of Art and the Florence Academy in Italy both stick to figurative work. The tricky question of academic credit and degrees is mentioned -- some offer them and some don’t, though one can always petition for equivalence.

The University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oklahoma programs do not stick to figurative sculpture. The latter program was reinstated after a lapse of thirty years by sculptor Paul Moore. Moore’s classroom is pictured, but not his work. Attention is paid to how to run a studio and capture public commissions for monuments, how to relate to a foundry, how to design contracts, how to relate to clients. It is unclear what relationship the program has to the C.M. Russell Center for the Study of Western Art which is funded by the Nancy Russell Foundation and housed at the U of Oklahoma.

The panel discussion had the most striking illustrations. Judy Fox’s super-realistic portraits of children in terra cotta are almost disturbing, as is Laura Frazure’s “Self Portrait as a Japanese Bride.” I was very grateful that the captions for these works were where I expected them to be, so that my eye could find them quickly! I urgently needed to know what I was looking at! (Really, my thanks for this change!) Harvey Citron’s “Charon,” a clay near-diorama of Charon perilously ferrying a couple over a tossing sea (I know -- it’s supposed to be a river, but these huge curling waves are like surf!) kept me looking for a long time.

Taplin, whose work was not illustrated, had an interesting idea about the difference between “hand/eye sculptors” and “conceptual skills.” He wishes for a close relationship between having an idea and having the hand/eye skills to bring it to reality. My guess is that none of these sculptors was particularly enamored of giant clothespins, no matter how realistic.

Fox thought that it was important for an artist to define to his or her self just what they were doing. “It should not be done in a naive way.” (Corrals of home-taught cowboy sculptors bite the dust. Maybe they ought to!)

Visco wanted people to consider their materials and their audience -- why is it important for works to be in a certain medium? I was interested that he said, “Some students can get too involved in process -- they sculpt because they like to touch stuff.” (Very much the way Bob Scriver was. He loved the substances in his hands. Charley Russell was famous for the dirty ball of beeswax he kept in his pocket and constantly modeled.)

Taplin and Eardley contrasted the freedom of Bernini to design the architecture around his figures with the hostility of modern sculptors to being defined by any one place. Citron offered Rodin’s "Balzac" as an example of a monument that could hold its own in many contexts and pointed out that it took over forty maquettes to get to that level.

This whole issue of Sculpture Review, whether approached through the photos of sculpture or through the content of the articles was deeply engaging for both professional and fan.

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