Artist’s Date: Rodin

Yesterday my wife and I drove down to Williamstown, MA to The Clark, arguably the best kept secret of fine art in New England. They have an exhibit of the sculptures of Rodin, often referred to as the “Father of Modern Sculpture.”

It’s something of a must see if you love sculpture. They have gathered work from his entire life, from all over the world. There are some of his famous ones of course: The Thinker. The Kiss. John the Baptist. As well as dozens of works I was unfamiliar with. The work is breathtaking good, and you see the emotion he manages in bronze and marble that most modern artists never come close to embuing in their art.

Every time I go to a museum, even a familiar one with familiar art, something different captures my eye. I was overwhelmed, (no that’s not hyperbole, it really was overwhelming) by the statues and his body of work, which also includes drawings and paintings (Who knew?)

But there were also huge photographs of his studio, And a narrative that ran through the entire exhibit that taught me so much about an artist I thought I knew just because I knew his work.

Bah! I knew nothing. Not about his early life in the back room of sweathouses creating architectural ornaments. Not of his being self-taught. Not of his rejection, again and again by the artistic establishment. Not of his process, a remarkable process that allowed him to recast and recreate his work in many sizes. Not of his volatile love life. Not of his determination to combine classical and the new. Not how radical he was considered when he finally began to break through. Not of his life-changing relationship with Rainer Maria Rilke. Or his campaign to capture the American art world late in life. Not of the tragedies in his life (and there were so many). Not of his determination, despite what often seems like realism in his work, to capture emotion first. Or his fascination with Orientals or dancers. Not……

You get the picture. A once three dimensional artist (3-D because it is sculpture after all) I thought I new, suddenly had far more depth than I ever imagined, than you were ever taught in school. A paradigm shift that was both amazing to know, and inspiring. I came back and immediately ordered a biography of this man who changed art, and in a flash, in an exhibit in a nearby town, changed me.

I can’t tell you exactly how yet. But I am old enough and have had enough change in my life to know when something fundamental has shifted. I will be excited to see how it plays out as I learn more.

That’s what we hope art will do, in whatever form it takes, but it is not just the art, it is the lives behind the art, the exhilarations and despairs, the success and failures, the emotions of the artist and their lives that really touches us.

We just don’t know it. We see the work, seeing the person in that art, but rarely do we understand what we really are seeing. Maybe in our heads we know it, if we bother to think of it. But rarely do we FEEL it.

Yesterday, I felt it. A fine artist’s date indeed.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: If you are not familiar with the concept of an Artist’s Date, they come from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s worth knowing about if you are a creator, or a stuck creator.

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