Thursday, March 10, 2005

This Week's Homework: How 'bout that art?

For this week's homework, Scalzi poses the following challenge:

>>Tell us about an artwork -- painting, sculpture or other visual work -- which had a significant impact on you. Note this doesn't have to be your "favorite" piece of art, or the one you like the most (although it can be, if you want): I'm looking for the work that made you think, or affected you in an unexpected way.<<

And it is a challenge.  Although, for me, the challenging part was less about identifying the art and more about finding good photos of it suitable for posting and/or linking.  As you can see, I was only partially successful.

The sculpture in question is this one:

(Image snagged from The British Museum -- I hope they don't mind.)

That there face (according to my college Art History professor) was from one of many 2/3 lifesize figures done in relief around the columns of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. 

The image, however, is a particularly lousy one, as all it shows you is the face.  If you happen to find yourself face to face with it in the British Museum, you can see the rough edges of it and the smooth back -- because it was only done in relief, so there's no back to that head. 

ANYWAY, here's what I dig about this face:  When I saw it, I finally got what my Art History professor had been talking about.  I'd always been able to parrot back the differences among the three periods of Greek sculpture -- Archaic (trying to get the human form right); Classical (the ideal of perfection); and Hellenistic (overly emotional) -- but I never really understood it until I saw this piece.  In describing where Classical scupture parted company with Archaic, he'd said the Classical sculptures had life.  "If you cut one," he said, "it bleeds."

Some years later, I was lucky enough to visit the British Museum, and I found this sculpture.  (It's in a corner right next to a display case.  You have to wedge yourself beside the case to get a good look.)  And I looked at it.  And I looked at it.  And, finally, even though it was a disembodied head, and a broken one at that, I could swear she was about to breathe.  And that scratch under her eye seemed so incongruous -- because you could see the rough marble sparkling beneath her smooth cheek, where there should have been layers of tissue.  And that scratch was just so wrong because it was revealing her true nature to just be a piece of scupture, when, on the surface, she looked like she should have life.

And I started to cry, because I was just so overwhelmed by it.  I'd always thought of representational sculpture as simply trying to capture the image of the human form -- with the "better" sculptures being those that were closest to realism.  I'd never imagined what it feels like to be next to one that actually captured it.


shedtheshellnow said...

Cool!  It's nice to see a sculpture in the mix!  Thanks! :-)

pandorasbazaar said...

Phenomenal. It's amazing how art can move us. I hope to see that piece myself some day.