Monday, December 5, 2016

Equine Anatomy and Biomechanics: A Primer of Equine Engineering for Advanced Students Part XVII - Wrap Up


Phew! We've reached the end of this series! Finally! We sure learned a lot, haven't we? It's been a long, wild ride, but hopefully well worth the effort. Thank you for sticking around! If you'd like to restart the series as a refresher, return to Part I. A blog series on this subject for the advanced student won't be posted however, leaving it for book form. There's just too much for the blog format to be effective. Everything has its limits. Anyway, if you'd like to return to the beginner series, Anatomy 101, you can return to it here. Between these two series, we're set up pretty well for further advanced pro-active study. 

But that's the point: all this requires study. We have to apply ourselves to gain the necessary insights we need to advance our skills. These things don't come by osmosis or prolonged exposure: it takes work. So simply being around horses isn't enough. We can be exposed to them our entire lives and still be blind to the components and details, or ineffective when infusing them into our clay. We need keen observational skills paired with a solid understanding of structure and function, and that means learning about such things isn't a passive undertaking. It calls for action. And in this spirit, hopefully this series pointed us in the right direction. 

The Big Picture
Overall, we can say we've gained a better perspective on the "biologic" behind equine structure. What we know and what we don't know are invariably infused into our work, and that reveals our base of knowledge with every tool stroke. But even more, what we don't know has more power to influence our sculptures than what we do know. Knowledge gaps manifest as blindspots, and we all know how influential a blindspot can be! So we need to attend to our knowledge gaps with great attentiveness, but how can we when, by definition, they exist under our radar? For further discussion on this phenomenon, please check out my blog series "What's Reality Between A Couple Of Friends...And A Bunny."

But ultimately it all comes to this: our gumption. It's our grit to learn more and, more still, to learn how to effectively apply that knowledge to clay that will determine how we improve our work. And that's important since as we can see from this series, knowing and doing are two entirely different things when it comes to our perceptive abilities. There's a chasm between knowing and doing that needs to be bridged by study, experience, practice, careful observation, our techniques, and artistic exercises. In essence, the bridge is our perception, our ability to discern the necessary information from life to authentically infuse into our clay. These two pathways with the perception bridge between them can be thought of as a creative dog bone when it comes to equine realism. It's our reward for a job well done.

But that's the crux: both need equal attention if we hope to take our work to the next level. Yet there's good news to this: there are so many intriguing things to learn about this animal! Our own discoveries and what new science is revealing promise to keep us on that learning curve for years to come, and that keeps our work evolving and our experience interesting.

Through these pathways, we also gain a better perspective of our intentions. Because perspective is important. It gives us a bigger view of this animal we so love, beyond our own limited ideas and life experience, and into deeper territory. Indeed, the horse is far more complicated than he appears to be, and there's far more to this animal than what many know. The horse is probably the most taken for granted animal on the planet. But this is how being a dedicated equine artist helps to deepen our knowledge perhaps more so than just about any other equine discipline. Not only do we simply have to know more and have a far more interdisciplinary knowledge base than many other equine professionals, but we have to engage this animal on more emotional and philosophical terms in order to capture his soul in clay. We have to be a jack of all trades...and be good at each one.

But even more, we have to know how to translate this perspective into clay in order to produce not only an accurate equine sculpture, but a responsible one. It's not enough to simply parrot what we see...we have to know how to duplicate this animal with accountably. We do this through proactive education to generate an independent knowledge base that frees us from conventional thinking and worn out beliefs. We also have to stay on top of new scientific findings so we can integrate new data into our work.

The equine has flummoxed countless artists. Even Degas never thought he got the animal quite right. Da Vinci, Stubbs, Gericault, and Delacroix, and Michelango certainly created beautiful images of horses, but they weren't very realistic, were they? Modern realism is quite different from the art of the past. We demand more technical accuracy, perhaps largely in part to the influence of photography. And it's a challenge, to be sure. Being able to technically reproduce such a complex animal isn't for the faint of heart, but for the dedicated and diligent...and the bit mad, too.

In this spirit, this series was written to help artists understand the biological underpinnings of this necessary technical accuracy while also tapping into other ideas that open new doors. The truth is we need to know his biology in order to reproduce him authentically and honesty. We need to know how the animal is built and why so that we may better form our clay and make our creative decisions with authority. But it's also true that we need to constantly reevaluate our perception of him, both factually and philosophically. If our view of him remains static, so does our work. We'll never start to peel back the layers into the deeper meanings and implications of this splendid beast. So hopefully this series inspired some thoughtful introspection.

This series was also written to highlight just how much we take for granted about this animal, in particular, his graciousness and generosity. From his point of view, we thrust all manner of strangeness onto him such as going around in so many circles or affixing ribbons to his bridle or buzzing his coat with clippers. This creature does a lot of "filling in" for us because we too often "speak" incompletely or not clearly enough (if at all), and he's left having to figure out what we want, and in a language unfamiliar to him. Too many people think this animal to be dim-witted and stupid when in actually he's quite clever, resourceful, and intelligent! We should always be grateful to and respectful of this creature, and that sentiment should show in our chosen visuals.

The Implications

For these reasons, each piece is an opportunity to not only be creative, but to speak for this animal. We are the interface, of sorts, the translator that helps people come to appreciate this beast beyond perhaps what they're accustomed to thinking and feeling. We can capture the essence of this animal and convey him not just on a literal sense, but in an emotional sense, too. We can advocate for him through our art. Indeed, when we marry technical accuracy with emotional content, with a bit of narrative thrown in for good measure, we create a visual that asks people to regard this animal with new eyes and new hearts. And that's a welcome ingredient in the vast mix of equine experience.

The point is this: it's a curious thing to ponder taking our work beyond simple representation, like a technical illustration, or 3D anatomy chart. When we infuse life, meaning, and soul, we're taking our work beyond these simple terms and asking the viewer to engage in our work more deeply. In this way, we can present this animal in a new light, one that provokes a connection beyond simply "wow, that's realistic!" or "wow, that's beautiful!" Let's try to take it further.

Above all, don't be daunted. We shouldn't let the first intimidating impression of equine anatomy scare us off. It's learnable, absorbable, and applicable if we just have the gumption. Anyone can grasp it given they have solid guidance. For this reason, it's a great idea to look into equine anatomy workshops to get a hands-on approach to the topic. There are a few out there, and some are provided in the Resources (below). Being able to learn anatomy "through the hands" really helps to program it into our brains much better and faster. It becomes real, not some abstraction in a book.

It's also a fascinating topic. Learning about the horse beyond our casual understanding is exciting and curious. We also begin to perceive the world from his point of view and from his evolutionary perspective, and that comes around to inform our work in really interesting ways. Quite literally, learning about equine anatomy is to learn his story, what the world is like from his perspective as opposed to ours. Having this new view adds dimension to our work, an understanding of the animal from the inside out in the full breadth of what that means, from personality to psychology to physiology. As such, we can't help but evolve ourselves and our work beyond practical improvement since it takes us down new roads of discovery and creativity. What a great way to pay homage to our beloved subject!

Final Thoughts

Thank you for sticking through this series. It was a delight to write, to share this knowledge with those who had the moxy to gut it out. That's the first step on a new path, one that will take us on a grand adventure which will deepen our appreciation of this magnificent beast in ways we may not expect. He's a unique marvel of biological engineering and psychological sophistication, and to be able to perceive that in each animal and each piece of art is a true gift. No other animal is built like the equine. No other animal moves on one hoof or has the specific anatomy to serve his singular biological needs. He's is positively unique in all evolution. And there will never be another like him. He is among the last of his kind. To see this totality adds a new dimension to our work and our sense of meaning when mushing around our clay. He is his distinct lifestyle, purely expressed in his physique and character, and let that breath fresh air into our studio experience. He is so much more than what we think he is.

So take the second step! Take up the proactive rein and continue the journey of advanced education! It's a worthwhile road to walk, and a necessary one if we wish to improve our work and enhance our understanding. You're invited to take the next!

Until next time then...keep steppin' along with confidence!

"It is better to have knowledge, even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction, than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder."

~ Isaac Asimov

Equine Studies Institute (and look for her dissection courses)

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