H. de Roos - Rodin´s Approach to Art

1. The primacy of Nature

Rodin´s concept of sculpture was a revolt against the prevailing academic practice of his time. At the end of his life, after having reached international recognition, the Master explained his understanding of Art to his friend Paul Gsell, who edited and published these conversations in 1911.

In these dialogues, Rodin condemns any Art that is sterile or artificial, and stresses the primary importance of Nature.

One evening when the night had begun to darken the atelier with heavy shadows, I had a talk with the master on his method.
"What astonishes me in you," said I, "is that you work quite differently from your confrères. I know many of them and have seen them at work. They make the model mount upon a pedestal called the throne, and they tell him to take such or such a pose. Generally they bend and stretch his arms and legs to suit them, they bow his head or stretch his body exactly as though he were a clay figure. Then they set to work. You, on the contrary, wait till your models take an interesting attitude, and then you reproduce it. So much so that it is you who seem to be at their orders rather than they at yours."
Rodin, who was engaged in wrapping his figurines in damp clothes, answered quietly:
"I am not at their orders, but at those of Nature! My confrères doubtless have their reason for working as you have said. But in thus doing violence to nature and treating human beings like puppets, they run the risk of producing lifeless and artificial work.
"As for me, seeker after truth and student of life as I am, I shall take care not to follow their example. I take from life the movements I observe, but it is not I who impose them.
"Even when a subject which I am working on compels me to ask a model for a certain fixed pose, I indicate it to him, but carewfully avoid touching him to place him in the position, for I will reproduce only what reality spontaneously offers to me.
"I obey Nature in everything, and I never pretend to command her. My only ambition is to be servilely faithful to her."

  Paul Gsell, Rodin on Art and Artistst, Dover Publications, New York, p. 10-11

Nature, in Rodin´s eyes, not only is the sum of all dead and animated matter, a realm not 
ruled by human will. For the artist, it is a source of inspiration, of beauty and grace, but 
also of hidden forces, that do not cease to shape man’s fate, even in the age of 
industrialism. Nature not only means landscape, the uncultivated rest beyond the city’s 
borders. Nature makes up the core of all living beings, it is the root of human existence 
and emotions. It is the pulsing energy that drives us and manifests itself despite all 
social rules and constraints. 



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