Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Steppin' Out: Hooves From An Artistic Perspective Part XI: The Good Foot Part 5

Howdy do! We're back with the final installment of this twelve part series on hooves and how they relate to our sculptures. It's been quite a ride so far, hasn't it? Now let's take a step back and see a big picture, a perspective, to help keep us on target. So let's get to it!

Keeping a Perspective

We learned about some of the dominant concepts about how the equine foot works to dissipate shock, circulate blood, and transform impact energies into forward motion. However, an extra mention should be made about motion from an artistic perspective.

As artists, we should remember that movement is the basis of the genus itself. It’s the full kinetic expression not only of the animal’s anatomy and conformation, but also of his evolutionary history. Domestication has factored into his biological history only recently, which means his body may still “think” it’s wild, and so remains poorly suited to the kind of sedentary and artificial lifestyle so many domestic animals enjoy. 

It also means we should understand how anatomy and conformation influence motion differently. Anatomical motion is automatic, dictated by the “blueprint” of the genus, whereas conformation-based motion is dictated by value judgements, being based on human aesthetics. [Note: For more discussion about anatomy vs conformation, read my blog post Anatomy and Conformation]. This is a very important distinction that can help artists untangle biological authenticity from fallacious ideals, especially when it comes to the feet.

In general, it’s true that good structure will produce efficient movement and poor structure will produce damaging movement. On the other hand, it’s also true that the identification of “good” vs. “bad” structure often is subjective and often arbitrary when it involves human ideals. We must remember that almost all conformation ideals are rooted in human aesthetic, not biological reality. In contrast, the only “bad” structure in nature is that which selects the animal out of the gene pool. Moreover, concepts of “bad” motion or structure aren’t universally applicable. For example, some gaited breeds (such as the Peruvian Paso) will “wing out” as a function of their unique anatomy, while “rope walking” is a bonus in certain draft breeds by allowing them to walk within the furrows.  

Perhaps in no other aspect does the conflict between biological reality and human aesthetic come into play more than with the horse’s foot. In this we clearly find a clash between what people believe to be right and what nature proves to be right. We also find the human desire for clearly defined, rigid rules at odds with the range of messy adaptability nature presents. 

It does seem strange that after thousands of years of domestication, only now are we starting to gain some insight into this complex and essential mechanism, thanks to new technologies and a renewed open mind to consider possibilities outside convention. Artists are in a unique position to express this upsurge of new thinking through their work. By doing so, we not only validate those things that could improve the lives of horses, but also deepen our understanding of this animal’s biology and enhance the authenticity of our sculptures.


Being a realistic equine sculptor means we must first be a responsible sculptor. How we dress the feet on our sculptures communicates much about our knowledge, values and convictions. Research and objectivity are key, and artists are able to exercise these things with a bit more latitude since it’s only our sculptures that “suffer” from our oversights. Yet, we must remember that our work is a visual validation of what we value, and we cannot treat this authority lightly.

Now there are probably many ideas in this series that challenge one's sensibilities, and that’s good! Any conflicts one is experiencing are the same conflicts that are occurring now in the field of equine podiatry. No one has all the answers yet, and discoveries are being made every day. This is an open invitation to start down your own path of discovery, and to that end, you're encouraged to explore the References and Recommended Resources  in the next installment to deepen and challenge your understanding.

In this series we learned about foot biology, and now we’ve gained some comparative insights as well. Think about them and consider implementing them in your body of work. It's good for the horse and it's good for your art. The foot isn't an afterthought, it cannot be slapped on how ever we like. It has some specific parameters and qualities we should be attending to just as eagerly as any other part of our sculpture. The equine foot is a marvel of biological engineering. It's absolutely unique in the animal kingdom and should be appreciated for the miracle that it is. So next time you do field study or peer at your references, take a close look at the hooves and try to see all these factors at play. Like a fine wine, they speak to their cultivation. Indeed, the feet are the foundation of the horse, and so it's also the foundation of our sculptures. 

Being able to identify and recreate sound, quality hooves not only demonstrates our attention to detail and authenticity, but also our advocacy for this animal, and that's definitely a plus for our body of work! So get out there and give your sculptures a leg up with quality feet!

"The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education." ~Rudolf Steiner

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