Thinking about Sculpture 4: Or why sculpture is more like photography than painting

This is a rumination on perspective.

A few years ago I visited a gallery in Prague which showcased medieval paintings and I was struck by the poverty of the form due to its lack of perspective. It was like only having access to monophonic muxic. What was the point?

The laws of perspective were still to be developed and I suppose that if the aim of art is allegory or instruction rather than representation then there is not much of an impulse to mirror reality. Though there had been an attempt for ages to represent reality (another way of describing science) the need came late to painting.

Developing the techniques of creating perspective must have come from the growing influence of objectivism and realism. My suspicions are that though the laws had not been codified that there would have been some individuals who would have figured it out before it became accepted. No doubt their attempts would have been rejected as departing from tradition – rejected by their patrons or the public as being “not painting”. (I welcome input on this point).

Sculpture on the other hand started with perspective built in.

From the beginning sculpture mimicked reality. Being three dimensional and bound by gravity, the artist recreated what they saw.

By contrast, painting is an abstraction. Painting has to imply reality. In a sense, all painting is abstract. It has to take two dimensions and suggest the third. (Of course painters have introduced greater dimensionality by various means just as sculptors such as Giacometti have played with the idea of introducing perspective into sculture – forcing a sense of distance into a present limited form).

But to elaborate on the title of the piece on why sculture is close to photography than painting even though it is generally classified as closer to painting is that photography like sculpture more closely represents reality.

Like sculpture, photography has a built in three dimensionality. Though it is flat like painting, it captures so much information that it implies reality much better than painting. It copies the world (I of course am generalizing about photography here just as I am generalizing about the other art forms.)

Though all arts share the idea of expressing a point of view, sculpture and photography seem more accepting of the beauty of the world as it is focusing on the inherent majesty of nature rather on editorializing about it.

Previous posts:
Odes to weight
Size matters
Modern sculpture can give the wrong impression

2 comments on “Thinking about Sculpture 4: Or why sculpture is more like photography than painting

  1. I really like, “painting had to imply reality”. Yes. What happened after the so-called ‘dark ages’ or middle ages is fascinating. I was talking about this with a friend of mine in the grocery store the other day. He pointed out that there was a gap philosophically around the reformation period — won’t go into it — but something happened. A sea change. Reality became more what was ‘out there’ than what was ‘in here’. Painting before, like those religious sculptures you showcased earlier — was more to serve a spiritual, even mystical purpose, It wasn’t really mimetic, or rather, intended to represent a reality that gradually in the modern age, people decided wasn’t ‘real’. Only that which is empirically verifiable is ‘real’ — and yeah — great for sculpture. But some photographers are also fooling with reality too right? messing with perspective, so that what is ‘out there’ begins to feel like something that corresponds with ‘in here’. Interesting post!

  2. […] posts: Why sculpture is more like photography than painting Odes to weight Size matters Modern sculpture can give the wrong impression Share […]

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