Nov 12, 1840 – Nov 17, 1917
SCULPTOR’S TESTAMENT TO THE YOUNG ARTISTS
(As translated by Paul Schnell)
You young people about to make yourselves beauty’s servants, perhaps it will please you to find here, a résumé of much experience.
Love with devotion the master that preceded you. Bow to Phidias and Michelangelo. Admire the divine gaiety in the one and the savage melancholy in the other. Admiration is the wine of the noble spirit. But guard against imitating your predecessors.While paying attention to the delivery, you must understand the essence of what is eternally fruitful, namely the love of nature and truthfulness. These are the two great passions of all geniuses. All have loved nature without compromise. Acquiring this knowledge will help you avoid affectations. Tradition recommends that you consult with reality and forbids all blind following of any master. Nature is your only goddess, believe in her without reservation and be convinced that she is never ugly, nor will she ever inhibit your ambition to serve her. All is beautiful to the artist, his penetrating gaze discovers the true character of all things and all beings, that is to say, the inner truth that shines through the form and this truth is beauty—and you will meet up with this truth—-work persistently.
, strengthen your sense of spacial depth. The intellect finds it difficult to deal with this concept and stays preoccupied with that which represents the surface. To think of the form in terms of material density is hard, but it is your task. Establish clearly, above all, in the figures you are shaping, the total layout. Emphasize strongly the postures. Every part of the body, head, shoulders, hips and bones declares itself to you. Art demands certainty, only withcertainty of stated lines are you diving into space and taking possession of it. When your composition of the large and whole is firmly in place, you are home free, as your figures are already living. All the rest seems to comply with the whole and details appear to materialize as if by themselves. (‘Quand vos plans sont arrêtés, tout est trouvé. Votre statue vit déjà. Les détails naissent et ils se disposent ensuite d’eux-mêmes’). So when you sculpt, do not think in terms of surface, but rather in terms of space. Let your intellect perceive of every plane as if a mass, where its final appearance is struggling to escape its background. Imagine having it grow upon you by itself. All life emanates from a center, wherefrom it sprouts and spreads from the inside out. It is in this manner that one feels in all good sculpture, a powerful inner strength, that is the secret in ancient art.
observe in reality, depth extensions (perspective), the third dimension and look at a painting by Rafael and see how this master, when showing a frontal view of awoman, he lets the breast recede at a slant and thereby creates the illusion of the third dimension. All great painters work spatially. In their knowledge of the spatial lies their strength. Think about the fact that mass, rather than line, tells the story. When you sketch, do not worry about the outlines, but only that which is bodily, the bodily determines the outline. Practice without let up, devote yourself completely to the work. Art is nothing but feeling, but if you don’t know about mass, proportions, color and lack dexterity of hand, all living feeling is for naught. What indeed would become of even the greatest poet in a foreign land, whose language he did not know. Unfortunately, in thenew generation of artists, one finds poets not wanting to learn to speak, which is the reason they can only stutter. Be patient, do not believe in the value of impulse, it does not exist. An artist’s most noble virtues are reflection, care, honesty and willpower. Create your work with straightforward workers. Be truthful, you young people, I don’t mean for you to be exact in a boring way, such as that found in photography and castings. Art begins first and foremost from the inner truth. All your shapes, all your colors, must express feeling. The artist who is content with a superficial likeness and who slavishly reproduces worthless details, will never become a master. When visiting an Italian Campo Santo, you have no doubt seen the childish manner with which the artists entrusted with decorating the graves, busy themselves reproducing literally all garment embroidery, lace and braids worn by the statues. I suppose you can call them exact, but they are not the truth, because they do not point to the soul. Almost all sculpture remind us of Italian cemeteries or the memorials in our public places, where one sees only capes, tables, chairs, machines, balloons and telegraphs. No inner truth, therefore no art. Abhor this kind of rubbish, be truth-loving to the extreme. Do not ever hesitate to express what you feel, despite stepping in opposition to commonly accepted concepts, you may not be understood at first, but fear not being lonely, soon friends will follow you. That which is the deepest truth for one human being, is the same for all. Make no grimaces, no fancy twisting to attract the public. Simplicity and naturalness, the fairest is right before your eyes. Those people you know the best, my very dear and great friend Eugene Carriere, who departed us so early in life, knew in his painterly rendition of his wife and child, that he only had to glorify the maternal love to be exalted.
Masters are those who observe with their own eyes, what the world has seen and by perceiving the beauty in all things—too simple for others to catch sight of. Accept the criticism, you will understand it easily—it is what will make you sure of yourself when torn by doubt. Be not confused by criticism that does not affect your conscience. Fear not unjust criticism—it will upset your friends and force them to reflect on the love they bear you and realize the foundation on which it rests, making them, as a result, more determined to stand by your side. When your talent is at an early stage of development, you will begin to acquire just a few followers, and on the other hand, quite a few enemies. Do not lose courage, the first group will be victorious, because they know why they love you—the others do not know why they hate you. The first is passionately involved with the truth and constantly supplying you with new followers. The others show no durable eagerness for their false opinions—the first is tough, the other go as the wind blows, the truth wins inevitably. Do not waste your time with social or political connections. You will come to see many of your contemporaries, with the help of intrigue, gain fortune and fame, they are not truthful artists. Some of them, in the meantime, are quite worldly clever and if you allow yourself to tangle with them on their territory, you will waste all your life’s energies on this and not have a minute left over for your art. Love with devotion and passion your artistic calling, there is nothing more beautiful. It is more sublime than the common man suspects.
The artist provides a grand example, he loves his work, his pay is the joy he receives from work well done. The world will become a worthwhile place, when all the people in it, have the souls of artists, that is to say, when all enjoy their life’s work. Art is also a wonderful guide to sincerity. The true artist always expresses what he thinks, at the risk of offending all existing prejudices.