What is Sculpture?

I just got an email that contained a beautiful letter from one of my Sculpture professors. He wrote it to two grade school kids to answer the question, What is Sculpture? With brilliance and humor Mr. Lester Van Winkle did what few humans can, explain the unexplainable…

VCU Department of
Sculpture and Extended Media
January 16, 2007

To: Mr. Chris and Mr. Henry:

I enjoyed reading your letter. I applaud the thoroughness of your research efforts. Trying to explain sculpture is sort of like trying to explain the taste of an apple. Sculpture is a discipline in art that has to do (most of the time) with the three-dimensional expression of ideas. Unlike all other art disciplines (like painting, design and crafts), sculpture has no material or format limitations. In other words, if you are a sculptor, you have at your disposal any existing material, from stainless steel to peanut butter. At the turn of the last century sculptors decided that space was also a material. Unlike painting which has rather fixed two-dimensional formats, either square/rectangular or shaped, sculpture has no prescribed format, genre, or profile. The silhouette of a sculpture can look like anything imaginable: automobiles in a line buried nose down in the earth, an orange curtain across a canyon, a room full of one meter long bronze bars, trees bent and grown in geometric configurations, a spiral jetty in the Salt Lake, an electric machine that tears itself apart, a person doing bench presses with a barbell made of two televisions sets which show him bench pressing the TV barbell. Of course there are traditional subjects that were most popular prior to l900. They are the figure, still life, and landscape. Sculptors are still mystified by these traditional modes of expression and continue to examine them.

The invention of the camera made it unnecessary for artists to concentrate on duplicating nature. They were free to examine the more abstract aspects of image invention. In the mid to late parts of the last century there was much debate concerning the merits of abstract art. Some artists think that all art is abstract, even photographs. They say the camera cannot see as the human eye sees. This notion of abstraction gives the artist great latitude in concocting images. Cartoons are great examples of abstracted figures. Muffler-men you see in front of auto repair shops are other examples of abstracted images. There are many more.

The industrial revolution changed the world for artists because it created surplus items, scrap materials, and throw-aways. Artists naturally began to use “found objects” as parts of their sculptures. The world wars and space program have provided sculptors with new processes like welding and explosion forming, and materials like aluminum, titanium and composites like resin impregnated wood. So you see that sculptors respond to social/technological change almost automatically.

Now sculptors are greatly intrigued with the technological revolution. The interfacing of electronic technology with mechanical systems has made robotics a new and exciting area that sculptors are investigating. Image scanners and instant prototyping machines are sculptors’ tools as well as the personal computer and video camera.

No one can predict what tomorrow’s sculpture will look like. All we know is that it will not look like what we see today, it will be mysterious, and we will have a difficult time understanding it. Most folks want art to be easy to read and have great entertainment value. This is not the intention of most sculptors. Most sculptors want to make you think about what you see, to figure things out, to fill in the blank, to solve the riddle, to examine your feelings, etc. So you must pay attention to the sculptures that maybe you don’t like, the ones that challenge your ability to accept them. The world of sculpture is a wonderful and very complex universe.

You fellows may want to share this letter with your teacher who may be of some help with decoding the technical terms. I hope I have been of some assistance and have helped extend your understanding of the field of sculpture. I do admire intellectual curiosity more than almost anything. You two young men are top of the line.

Good Luck,

Lester Van Winkle, Professor Emeritus
Department of Sculpture and Extended Media
School of the Arts
Virginia Commonwealth University

Lester helped me belive in myself. I was in such awe of him and his ability.

One day he reminded me that I had gotten an A from another professor not because it was given to me but because it earned it. The world needs more people in the world like this man.

Green Business in Orange County

I’ve just added a few posts to this blog about Green Business. I’m espcially interested in seeing it grow in Orange County, North Carolina. (That includes Chapel Hill and Carrboro.) So you’ll see on the top right of this blog a link to all the posts in the Green Business category. I hope this becomes a resource for others.

I define Green Business as socially and environmentally sustainable economic activity. Wikipedia defines Sustainable Business as:

A business is sustainable if it has adapted its practices for the use of renewable resources and holds itself accountable for the environmental and human rights impacts of its activities. This includes businesses that operate in a socially responsible manner and protect the environment.

I’m really just learning about this and trying to fit my business into this mold as much as I can.

RIP Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg, American Artist, Dies at 82 source: NY Times

This man is an important influence on my creative work. Such an amazing innovator. (Thanks for the link to that one @10ch)

Fearless Experimentation

It’s no secret that experimentation (and the failure that goes along with it) is at the core of innovation. While we’ve all probably absorbed the maxims—”fail faster to succeed sooner” or “let 1000 flowers bloom”—few of us have cultivated the insatiable appetite for experimentation that Rauschenberg considered his true work (the art itself, he said, was more like “souvenirs of creation”). Dig a little bit into his story and it’s hard not to be infected and inspired by his adventurous avidity for trying new things—from kinetic sculptures to composing (he was both artistic director of Merce Cunningham’s dance company for years and a collaborator with John Cage).

But it seems Rauschenberg wasn’t just fueled by some inner light—he was propelled by diverse and deep collaborations with everyone from stage performers to engineers. At one point, he founded a collective called E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) to match up artists, scientists and engineers. Most of all, he had the ability to look upon mistakes and failures as a gift: “Screwing up is a virtue,” he said. “Being correct is never the point. . . Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.” And that’s a lesson for all of us: productivity and genuine good-humor toward our inevitable stumbles, rather than a particular talent, puts us on the path toward success (and may in fact be the definition of success itself).

One of my favorite Art professors said to me in college, “Spectacularly failures are better than to mediocre successes.”

Graffiti IS Art

Mark Schultz over at the N&O’s Orange Chat blog writes:

Graffiti or Art?
So we sent staff photog Leslie Barbour to shoot a town worker painting over some gang symbols at the Chapel Hill Community Center this morning.

I was talking to Leslie about the story later this afternoon, and she said we shouldn’t call the gang symbols “graffiti.” Graffiti is art, she said, and added that we should call it what it is: “tagging.”

I got where she was coming from. But I don’t think the average person on the street makes the distinction or is up on the word “tagging.” Was I wrong? Is it inaccurate or worse to label the “LBU” tags showing up on more than a dozen locations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro this past week “graffiti”?

Leslie is right. That bit of paint is tagging. It has a very different purpose than graffiti. Graffiti is “mainstream” art now. Some people put graffiti in the category of Street Art. Check out all the wonderful photos of street art on Flickr.

From today’s Chapel Hill News article Gang signs on the rise:

Graffiti — how gangs mark territory and send messages to rival gangs — is a growing problem. McKinney called it a newspaper of the streets.

This is incorrect. I would use Tagging instead of Graffiti. I hope the Chapel Hill News writes a correction. This could seriously misinform people. Ignorance of the details isn’t going to help a community come to terms with its growing pains. Informing people about the seriousness of gang violence is important. But using graffiti as a visual shorthand for gangs isn’t going to help. It will only narrow people’s fear and cause them to “know it when they see it”. The whole issue is much much more complicated.

The article did later include,

Not all graffiti is gang-related, Cousins said. Three young men were charged with defacing the bridge on Umstead Drive with graffiti. Someone also defaced the new Army recruiting station. Neither incident had anything to do with gangs, she said.

I’d like to see the Chapel Hill News do a story on the artfulness of graffiti. Its culture is diverse and does have its dark parts. Many forms of art have similar issues. But this doesn’t diminish the importance of this form of expression.

I’m really concerned that the newspapers misrepresentation of Graffiti as solely a criminal act will cause locals to become prejudice against this art form. Many large cities with wonderful artists working in the streets have very aggressive scrubbing campaigns that destroy public beauty. A balanced story must be told.

(Comments are broken on Orange Chat: I tried to leave a comment on the N&O site but had no luck. Even attempted to register. Once I was supposedly logged in I still got an error. So I gave up and posted my comment on my blog.)

Edwards and Permanent Military bases in Iraq

A few months ago I was invited by Sen. John Edwards to attend a dinner with several local bloggers. It was a exciting and wonderful evening of good food and excellent conversation. I was nervous and wondered how I ended up there. I suppose its because of my blog post Mr. Edwards, help teach others to blog. Knowing Ruby Sinreich, my wife, hasn’t hurt either.

It has become one of my serious goals to reintroduce the American political Left back to the Democratic Party. I have been inspired by many wonderful local politicians in Orange County, North Carolina. Orange County is the home of Chapel Hill and Carrboro – long standing homes to very Liberal Democrats. They have not forgotten the real citizen activist base of their party. Many of them actively work to create a supportive community for a diverse group of people. Despite the moderate corporate influences of Bill Clinton and other NC Dem conservatives.

I want to recount one part of this evening that has been replaying in my head over and over. At one point during dinner we were asked what we would do about Iraq. The obvious answer was for the US military to leave, but what more?

I offered, “No permanent US military bases in Iraq.

Before I said this the room was full of conversation. Immediately after my statement the room went completely silent. Not one word. Before that I had spoken with several people, including Sen. and Mrs. Edwards, with lots of back and forth. It was like I hadn’t said anything at all. I promptly forgot and chalked it up to our differences in opinion.

Fast forward to the Edwards appearance on the TV show Hardball with Chris Matthews. It was filmed on the campus of UNC at Memorial Hall. Ruby and I watched it on TV anxious to see what John Edwards would say. Would he announce his candidacy for President on this show here in Chapel Hill?

About halfway through the show Chris Matthews asked Sen. Edwards, “Are you in favor of permanent US military bases in Iraq?”

“Absolutely not.” said Sen. Edwards

I was shocked. Is that really his answer? I had assumed up until that point that Sen. Edwards was in favor of permanent military bases in Iraq. I had based this assumption on the LACK of response from my statement during dinner. Why didn’t Senator or Mrs. Edwards respond? Were they for permanent military bases and unwilling to admit it to us bloggers? Had the Edwards not made up their mind and reserved their pseudo-public opinion until later? Had John Edwards been pressured into stating an opinion against permanent military bases because of the recent mid-term election results? (The mid-term elections had given the Dems control of the House and Senate, sending a strong anti-war message. Many believe the Dems will not win the Presidency without a serious anti-war plank.) Ultimately was this a smart political move or the real opinion of a political leader?

Later I read in an article in The Nation magazine about John Edwards. It said,

[Edwards] wants to begin bringing the troops home quickly and he is steadfastly opposed to the construction of permanent bases.

Again this was a shock. Sen. Edwards voted for the war in Iraq and the money to pay for it while in the US Senate. He has since admitted his mistake. I have amazing respect for a leader who can admit his or her mistakes. I think its one of the most important qualities of a leader. Especially the President of the United States.

My question for Sen. Edwards is, “How did you come to the believe that permanent military bases in Iraq are unnecessary?”