Nov 022010

Form is a somewhat hidden ingredient of art. Brancusi made it his life’s work to expose form to public view. He dared to call an egg a head, thus demonstrating the classical Greek form of the head. He made these abstract simplifications the final aim of his art. It is also generally agreed that Brancusi was in strong reaction to the work of Rodin and others of his generation, whose work by contrast seemed to be formless but it is not.

Rodin very seldom subscribed to the simple Greek idea of the head. He followed a different tradition of form that we might designate as Roman, as it made its way into Europe following ancient Roman conquests. Very many great artists followed the Roman tradition subconsciously. Rodin would have received its influence not only from the Roman work that abounds in Europe but from many French devotees from Gothic times onwards – Clouet and Houdon were masters of it, and in his own time – Degas, Lautrec stand out. Today’s art critics and historians need to become more aware of this second tradition of form , which is, if anything, more prevalent than the Greek tradition because it is much more useful for analyzing the complexities of nature.

I think it would be true to say that no artist can be considered even of the second rank without subscribing to a tradition of form. Form is a vital ingredient of art. Form is nature simplified so that the human mind can comprehend it. More important than form is the development of a sense of structure.

Structure is the logic with which multiple forms are held together. In sculpture structure is usually to do with the way the building blocks defy gravity. In archaic figures, for instance, the structure is the same post and lintel architecture as the temples they adorned. Classical form is based on the simplified cylinders and cubes which underlie Greek classical sculpture. Their structure is defined by what we all know of the human body – what it can do – and what it cannot do. This is the form that art historians more or less understand. But Rembrandt found that the classical Greek tradition had descended into a stale academicism, moreover, it was too crude spatially to deal with the subtle psychological relationships that interested him.

Rembrandt’s greatness as a draughtsman rests on his extension of the Roman tradition. Rembrandt studied the solid that was so exquisitely defined by the geometry of Holbein and the Romans and extended that geometry to include the intimate space that is so essential in reading psychological situations in the physical world. Rembrandt not only owned 30 Roman portrait busts, he filled two books with studies of them! Alas, these books have been lost.

If Rembrandt scholars could understand that this structuring of space, is where Rembrandt’s greatness lies; we could return to the complete, great master we once knew. Rembrandt’s style of “handwriting”, which so dominates Rembrandt studies today, is quite irrelevant to his greatness. Added to which my Burlington Magazine article of Feb. 1977 demonstrated that their understanding of Rembrandt’s style of handwriting was absurdly wide of the mark. 33 years later, instead of those grave mistakes, we have the atrocities of the Getty show (as outlined in Getty 1- 4 below) which have deprived more than a generation of artists of their greatest master of gestural expressiveness: body-language, and much else. They must be stopped!

I am working on a DVD which I hope will help the experts on their way to a better understanding.

Leave a Reply