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Sculpture [re-creates reality] by means of a three-dimensional form made of a solid material . . . . Sculpture [deals] with the combined fields of sight and touch . . . .
The so-called visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture) produce concrete, perceptually available entities and make them convey an abstract, conceptual meaning.
Compared to painting, sculpture is more limited a form of art. It expresses an artist’s view of existence through his treatment of the human figure, but it is confined to the human figure. (For a discussion of sculpture’s means, I will refer you to “Metaphysics in Marble” by Mary Ann Sures, The Objectivist, February–March 1969.)
Dealing with two senses, sight and touch, sculpture is restricted by the necessity to present a three-dimensional shape as man does not perceive it: without color. Visually, sculpture offers shape as an abstraction; but touch is a somewhat concrete-bound sense and confines sculpture to concrete entities. Of these, only the figure of man can project a metaphysical meaning. There is little that one can express in the statue of an animal or of an inanimate object.
Psycho-epistemologically, it is the requirements of the sense of touch that make the texture of a human body a crucial element in sculpture, and virtually a hallmark of great sculptors. Observe the manner in which the softness, the smoothness, the pliant resiliency of the skin is conveyed by rigid marble in such statues as the Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s Pietà.
It is worth noting that sculpture is almost a dead art. Its great day was in ancient Greece which, philosophically, was a man-centered civilization. A Renaissance is always possible, but the future of sculpture depends to a large extent on the future of architecture. The two arts are closely allied; one of the problems of sculpture lies in the fact that one of its most effective functions is to serve as architectural ornament.
The history of sculpture is a history of man’s view of man — of his body and spirit, i.e., of his metaphysical nature. Every culture, from the most primitive to the most civilized, has held an estimate of man and has wanted to see the objectified reality of that estimate. Man has been the predominant subject of sculpture, whether he was judged to be an object of pride or of shame, a hero or a sinner.
A metaphysical view of man is projected by the manner in which the sculptor presents the human figure. In the process of shaping clay or wood or stone into the form of a body, the sculptor reveals his answer to three questions: Is man a being of free will or is he a helpless puppet of fate? — Is he good or evil? — Can he achieve happiness or is he doomed to misery? — and then mounts his answer on a pedestal and puts it in a tomb or in a temple or over the portal of a church or in a living room in New York City.