Recently I was pressured by an art dealer to make a horse sculpture. “it will sell” “people like horses” they said.
Being a young sculptor money is hard to come by so I put some thought into this proposition. I was very resistant to the idea because I don’t really care much for horses, I didn't feel I had a connection with them. It seemed like an impersonal subject matter and devoid of content. It seemed disingenuous, especially considering I have 3 or 4 entire shows planned out that I haven’t had time to finish.
The art dealer asked me ‘would you do a horse if someone commissioned you to?’ to which my answer was ‘Yes, of course’ ‘Then what’s the difference?’ This is a good question. I felt at the time there is a difference but I wasn’t sure what it was.
More contemplation had me thinking ‘why not?’ Horses are stunning muscly beasts with such powerful and graceful form that it is almost begging to be sculpted on a formal basis alone. A compelling form can definitely be enough to inspire a work but typically I like to have something else to explore.
Lots of sculptors in the past have done horses. It would be interesting to test my own take on such a common subject.
Something still felt icky about it.
‘What is the difference if I make something because it is a popular subject matter or if I make the same thing because someone commissioned it? Does it just come down to money?
Let’s re-frame the question this way. If I was making all sculptures I wanted to and I was making plenty of money doing it would I say no to a request for a commission that was a subject matter I wasn’t interested in?
Yes. Okay so the money is definitely a factor but it isn’t the only one.
Back to the real world where I need to make sales in order to make sculptures. If someone asks me to make a horse sculpture they are saying ‘I like your style, treatment of materials etc but horses are personal to me so can you make one for me?’ This is not only flattering which I don’t mind but it is still personal. A collaboration of sorts. Opposed to making sculptures because of market pressures which seems more commercial and less personal.
There is also the fact that money keeps this whole thing going. If you told me I had to make two or three horses a year and that would allow me to make whatever else I wanted, I would do it for sure. It is only selling out if you abandon your own work. Artists use other jobs to fuel their art careers all the time.
Ultimately this particular dilemma led me to the question: What is a sculpture?
Sculpture is an exploration in a three or four dimensional medium. It is the result of transferring energy, emotion, and concepts into an image. It is a reflection of the world through the twisted fractured complex mirrors that are individuals.
Aha! The individual.
Arts foundation is the individual, the ‘non-conformist’ as Ben Shaun puts it in his book ‘The Shape of Content’ (which I highly recommend). So Art by committee or art made with the intention to please a certain audience goes against the nature of art. It is impersonal and so it has failed in a major way before it is begun. Art needs to be personal.
Funny thing is while I was writing this blog entry I was thinking about the history of the horse. I was reminded of something I just read about the Incan’s first meeting with the Spanish. It was the first time they had seen horses. I find this historical meeting fascinating and I think there is definitely a sculpture there or a whole series exploring historical first encounters. They are such volatile and transformative moments in history. What would that have been like?
Strange looking men atop giant majestic looking creatures. Maybe the Incans thought the horses were gods.
So I guess I want to make a horse sculpture after all. I just had to find something about the horse that really interested me personally. An idea I felt was worth exploring.