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How to Look at Sculpture

Found at the library used-book sale, David Finn's 1989 How to Look at Sculpture is a coffee-table tome scaled down to fit a tea-tray. The text is rhapsodic but rather repetitive in its accompaniment to the pictures, which take center stage. Finn is an outstanding photographer who gets carried away recounting anecdotes of his visits to diverse galleries and repositories of fine art. The vast majority of his focus is on Western European statuary, with only a few tiny illustrations of works from India and Southeast Asia. Finn also breathes quite heavily at times, particularly in the chapter "Naked Beauty", an enthusiastic exploration of fleshy figures. For instance, a single sentence that barely (pun intended!) is quotable here, rated for immature audiences only:

... I couldn't believe the delicacy of the way the breasts were carved, with such gentleness in the curves flowing out to the nipples, the soft flesh below the breasts swelling slightly around the belly and then curving back into the pubic area, the lovely thighs and the perfection of the legs, the beautiful backs and luscious buttocks: they were sculptures that were absolutely spellbinding. ...

"Luscious buttocks"? Hmmm ... perhaps some thoughts are best left unsaid.

But on the positive side, Finn's enjoyment of his subject is delightful and contagious. After reading How to Look at Sculpture one would be hard-pressed not to pause and take a long, long look the next time a statue sways into view. And Finn frequently makes a striking point, as in the introductory chapter "What Makes a Sculpture Great?":

... I believe that a great work of sculpture contains forms that make a powerful impact on the mind, an impact that is sustained, even grows stronger, the longer and more often you look at it. There is a tremendous tension in a great sculpture, a tension that makes every part of the work quiver, from the top to the bottom, the back to the front. The forms may or may not strike you as beautiful, at least beautiful in the traditional sense of lovely or graceful, but their inner strength produces a monumentality that can be overpowering and unforgettable. Like a philosophical idea that gives you a new insight into a fundamental question of life and death, once you have been exposed to a great work of sculpture you feel as if the images in your head will forever bear its imprint. ...

... reminiscent of Franz Kafka's remark, "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." Likewise sculpture.

(cf. ArtAndIdeas (2001-09-01), FlyingEagle (2002-04-16), ReallyGreat (2003-11-22), PumpingIron (2004-07-16), EnDehanchement (2006-04-02), UncommonCarriers (2007-04-23), ...) - ^z - 2011-12-10