Rodin on Art and Artists
Conversations with Paul Gsell. Translated by Romilly Fedden.
Paul Gsell asked Auguste Rodin questions about his creative process and about art in general. This book is, for the most part, a transcript of those conversations.
Rodin’s favorite subject was the human figure. “Beauty is character and expression. Well, there is nothing in nature which has more character than the human body… The human body is, above all, the mirror of the soul, and from the soul comes its greatest beauty.”
Rodin did not dream up poses. Instead he tried to capture a natural state of the figure. “In his atelier several nude models walk about or rest. Rodin pays them to furnish him constantly with the sight of the nude moving with all the freedom of life… He follows his models with his earnest gaze… and when this one or that makes a movement that pleases him, he instantly asks that the pose be kept. Quick, he seizes the clay, and a little figure is under way; then with equal haste he passes to another.”
Gsell asked if Rodin’s models therefore directed his art. “I’m not at their orders, but those of Nature… I will reproduce only what reality spontaneously offers me… But, after all, the only principle in Art is to copy what you see… There is no recipe for improving nature. The only thing is to see.”
“It would be impossible for any model to keep an animated pose during all the time that it would take to make a cast from it. But I keep in my mind the ensemble of the pose and I insist that the model shall conform to my memory of it.”
The most interesting chapter is about movement. “Now, the illusion of life is obtained in our art by good modeling and by movement. These two qualities are like the blood and breath of all good work… Note, first, that movement is the transition from one attitude to another.” In order to create the impression of motion, Rodin’s sculpture is a representation of two phases of a movement. Gsell asked Rodin, if by doing so, was he copying nature sincerely. Rodin replied, “It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop… Have you ever attentively examined instantaneous photographs of walking figures? … That they never seem to advance… Now it is exactly for that reason that this model photographed would present the odd appearance of a man suddenly stricken with paralysis and petrified in his pose.”
Rodin is one of my favorite artists. This book offers some interesting insights into his thinking.
Rodin, Auguste, and Paul Gsell. Rodin on Art and Artists: Conversations with Paul Gsell. New York: Dover Publications, 1983. Buy from Amazon.com