Sunday, June 26, 2011

Advanced Top Ten

After the beginner list and the intermediate list, we now come to the advanced list. It may seem this compilation would be an easy task, simply making additions to fill remaining gaps, but the truth is it was the most difficult to assemble.

The advanced sculptor is presented with unique challenges. Their knowledge base already is well-developed and, most of all, they've achieved a state of mind conducive to being open-minded and judicious. The trick then is offering ideas that remind them to keep questioning - but this is harder than it seems.

At this level the greatest foe is habit, in all its forms. Habit of perception, habit of method, habit of interpretation, and habit of aesthetic all define our work, yes - but they corral it, too. The very qualities that lend confidence and ease in the studio are the very qualities that can create obstacles for continued growth.

But the problem is that habits aren't just what we customarily do when we sculpt. More significantly, they're what we don't do when we sculpt. Even still, what we don't know is more influential. The sticky part here is that "don't know" may not involve more technical information. This is why progress at the advanced level can be so darned tricky: it may not be our methodology that needs changing - it may be ourselves. It's not our head or our hands anymore - it's our heart. This is how advancement in realistic equine sculpture asks us to evolve along with our work.

What's more, all art is a work of additive and subtractive creation. With every piece, we make philosophical, technical and aesthetic decisions about those attributes to infuse and which to omit, and before we even touch armature wire. The eraser is more important than the pencil, but the blank paper is more important than both.

For this reason it's our edits - both conscious and unconscious - that speak volumes about our values. So learning how to make more of our philosophical, technical and aesthetic decisions in true cognitive awareness usually is what's needed for continued growth at the advanced level.

Nonetheless, unconscious decisions always linger - we are human, after all. These manifest as our habits in the form of blind spots, unidentified knowledge gaps, obsolete technique, or perception skews. This is how our foibles persist right under our noses, always invisible to us until we take active measures to reveal them. Once exposed, we then can evaluate them objectively, for potential correction, possible amplification, or even nothing at all. The point is to sculpt in awareness so our choices have merit.

But this exactly is how the advanced sculptor can get stuck. If we don't attend actively to our habits with each new piece, the trap compounds. Habit has a funny way of intensifying over the years, particularly with success, and this combination tends to make our thinking ever more rigid and complacent. But evolution is defined by change and adaptation, and so we must stay malleable even if our sensibilities and success suggest we've got things right.

The irony here is that more workshops, critique, field study, or anatomical references aren't necessarily the route of progress, as they cannot address the unique unconscious habits of an advanced sculptor. Advanced sculptors thus are faced with a Catch-22: how can they leap over unseen obstacles of their own making? Fortunately we can fall back to the lessons learned in the intermediate stage to regroup: we must amplify our propensity to question and approach our work - and especially ourselves - with a new humility. 

Many artistic exercises exist for the advanced sculptor to purge unwanted habits, but I'll leave them for future blog posts. In the meantime, the suggestions on this list point advanced sculptors into directions meant to arouse "The Three Requirements":
  • Reevaluation
  • Reflection
  • Reorientation
These recommendations also are more in-depth and technical, and may provide answers to the esoteric questions unique to the advanced level, or clarification on specialized topics not typically found elsewhere. But the point with this list is to beat new paths to get us reexamining again.


1. THE EQUINE STUDIES INSTITUTE. Everything. Seriously. Download the free educational PDFs (they're fascinating reads), join ESI to get the terrific annual goodies, make use of the provided free and for-sale resources, and join the forum for some intriguing insights on anatomy, horsemanship, behavior, dentistry, and related subjects.

2. HOOF REHAB, Pete Ramey's web site about hoof care. Read the free articles for lots of valuable insights on what constitutes a truly healthy foot. It may surprise you!

3. CONFORMATION INSIGHTS. Dr. Deb Bennett's regular column in Equus magazine. Get a subscription just for this column, and order back issues. (Or you may want to check out your local library). You won't regret it! While conformation is the subject, the real gist is biomechanics, and how they can be influenced by different variables - for better or worse. 

4. ANATOMY OF THE DOMESTIC ANIMALS. 4th Edition 1953. A must-have for the advanced library. Out of print. I got mine on eBay.

5. 5-DAY DISSECTION. Instructed by Dr. Deb Bennett. Visit the ESI web site page for dates and locations.

6. PRACTICAL GUIDE TO LAMENESS IN HORSES. 1996. ISBN: 0-683-07985-9. It's helpful to research equine lameness in order to avoid unintentionally inputting errors into a sculpture. We need to know what should be there, but we also need to know what shouldn't! This book is a good start, with lots of useful photos and drawings.

 7. ATLAS OF EQUINE ANATOMY: REGIONAL APPROACH. 3rd Edition 1991. An invaluable reference. Out of print. Again, I got mine on eBay. [NOTE: Another Pasquini-related anatomy reference is ANATOMY OF DOMESTIC ANIMALS: SYSTEMIC AND REGIONAL APPROACH (right). 7th Edition 1989. ISBN: 0-9623114-2-1. This one includes domestic animals other than the horse (like the llama!) and fun whimsical cartoons.

8a. CLINICAL ANATOMY OF THE HORSE. 2005. ISBN: 07234-3302-X. While not for the squeamish, this book is full of valuable and unique insights of the real deal. No illustration can come close to the real thing.
 8b. COLOR ATLAS OF VETERINARY ANATOMY: THE HORSE. 1987. ISBN: 0-397-58304-4. Again, not for the squeamish, but immensely insightful. It's important for the artist to understand that nature is messy, organic and disorderly - it's alive and not some tidy, static chart on a wall.
 And these two books were included as a pair because each offers unique views or dissections that really are best taken together.

9. ABC OF THE HORSE; ANATOMY, BIOMECHANICS, CONDITIONING. 2002. ISBN 951-98744-1-0. I can't speak to the body working information, but the anatomical sections are both beautiful and very useful (it even has a lovely illustration of the hyoid apparatus with its musclature). Unfortunately, however, its anatomical analysis otherwise completely ignores the head.

10. HORSE ANATOMY: A PICTORAL APPROACH TO EQUINE STRUCTURE. 2nd Edition 2000. ISBN: 0-85131-769-3. A series of clear, detailed and extensive line drawings.

Realistic equine sculpture is an outrageously demanding art form. We have strict parameters, and learning to work within them with any measure of accuracy takes years of hard work and extensive research. Indeed, the measure of our success is life itself, and that's a tough act to follow! So realistic equine sculpture isn't something we just do, and isn't something we simply pick up. It's a discipline. It's a path. This is why the art form attracts a rather peculiar mind and why only the most dedicated will achieve their goals, and also continue to grow.

Perhaps the most common attitude I encounter in this field is the want for easy answers. Thinking realism is achieved simply through "sculpting by numbers," some artists are more interested in being told rather than discovering for themselves. Yet the advanced sculptor understands that the more one is told, the less one knows. The easy answer always leads to a dead end. To put another way, if we're given the answers, we really aren't learning because we cannot truly understand what they mean since we never earned them. 

So in a sense, the trick at the advanced level is to get ourselves to realize that we're working off our own easy answers, and perhaps it's time to start earning new ones.

Along those lines then, the next post will offer the Top Twenty Tidbits, or "extras," that may be of interest to you.

"One of his students asked Buddha, 'Are you the messiah?' 'No,' answered Buddha. 'Then are you a healer?' 'No,' Buddha replied. 'Then are you a teacher?' the student persisted. 'No, I am not a teacher.' 'Then what are you?' asked the student, exasperated. 'I am awake,' Buddha replied." ~ Buddha

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