By Andrew Benyei, SCA

Is the Medium the Message?

Somewhere in the deep, dark, depths of their studios, sculptors are right now working their magic. What secret ingredients do they use in their creations?

Some start with nothing at all and add to it. This is an additive process whereby the artists either model or construct their creations. For modeling, the artist would use materials such as water based clays, oil based clays (e.g. plasticene), wax, sand, snow, earth, or any material that is malleable and sticks to itself. Apart from fired water based clay, sculptures built this way are temporary. If the sculpture is to have a long life, then a further process is needed to give the piece permanence. Generally molds of the sculpture are taken and a more permanent material is used to replace the modeling medium. Permanent materials can be bronze, fiberglass, plaster, ciment fondu, silver, gold, or cement to name a few. This was the approach Rodin used. In the construction approach, materials are cut and joined. They can be rigid materials such as steel, wood, glass or plastics or pliable such as cloth or paper. Alexander, Calder, for example, used this approach.

The subtractive process is the other method of creation. It starts with a larger piece of material which is then cut, carved, ground, blasted or sanded into the shape the artist envisions. These materials include stone, wood, styrofoam, ice, even bars of soap. The advantage of this approach is that if a permanent material is used, the formed piece will be permanent and no more effort is needed to transform it. The disadvantage is that the artist may not have too many second chances. If the artist keeps making mistakes or changes, that block of wood can end up as a toothpick. Michelangelo used this approach (no toothpicks!).

For some sculptors, the medium is an inherent part of the sculpture. Wood and stone carvers may search for that perfect block with the right colour, swirls or shape to start, as they want to use the character of the material as part of their creation. For those who use the additive process, the tendency is to use whatever it takes to translate their vision into a 'concrete' piece.

Whatever the approach, as with all visual art, the technical skills needed to manipulate the media can be learned; creativity can't be.

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