Rodin, The Age of Bronze, 1875-77. Naturalistic, Abstract or Symbolic?
The sculpture is 6 feet tall including the base; therefore it is life-sized.
What elements of the sculpture of this man’s body could be considered disegno
esterno? The shape and size of the head, the arms and their muscles, the
location of the hips and shifting of weight from one foot onto the other all
seem quite true to an actual man. In reality, Rodin had a Belgian sailor pose
in the studio so that the sculpture could be “correct.” Is there anything
abstract? Anything simplified? Are there any areas where Rodin, rather than
detailing the surface elected for something simpler or more geometric? The
face does not seem very detailed, especially around the eyes. While there are
many bumps over the torso meant to suggest muscles, they seem lumpy and not
hard-edged or cut enough to be true muscular forms. Is the sculpture
symbolic? Of what? Do you think this represents more than a man posed for the
artist? Obviously, from this paragraph, it is clear that there are no true
answers. Art appreciation is not a science; it is not objective - right or
wrong, black or white. It is subjective; as long as the viewer can
intelligently apply the vocabulary and concepts to the work of art, the
interpretation is valid.
INSERT IN THIS BOX THE NEW IMAGE TITLED “SHE-BA”
Romare Bearden’s She-Ba, 1970, evidences the
painter’s preference for abstract shapes over naturalistic details. The head
has been reduced into a flat oval. The arms are rectangles; the feet are
triangles. There is no attempt to represent the roundness of the limbs or the
details of muscles or flesh within those body parts. Where are the
cheekbones, details of eyes, or patterns for the hair? Her dress is an odd
shape, again not providing information as to her body shape. Clearly, Bearden
did not use disegno esterno or naturalism in this image. It is simply
composed of shapes. The question becomes, why? Bearden felt that the most
important aspect of this woman did not lie in her physical details, but in
her character or personality. As a “priestess” she may embody a magical power
that is supernatural. Therefore, a naturalistic representation would not have
captured the multiplicity or complexity of who and what she is. He needed to
find a visual vocabulary that would infer a symbolic or metaphysical tone.
Abstraction was his choice.