#60. Tim Scott writes on Recognition and Abstract Sculpture

Julio Gonzalez, “Dancer Posing as a Daisy”, 1937

Happily, there has been a marked increase in Abcrit commentary on sculpture, largely due to Alan’s review of Gili’s exhibition and the responses to it; thank you Alan. Quite a few of the comments are of a general nature, as well as those on Gili’s individual works which, mostly, engendered the general ones. Amongst these, I noticed a recurring theme, that of what exactly creates the differences (of intention and perception) between work which is deemed ‘abstract’, and that which is ‘figurative’, but with abstract ‘qualities’, or abstract with ‘figurative’ qualities? In other words, at what point does a sculpture, which departs from the norms of the representation of appearances, become abstract? Does the recognition of the ‘likeness’ of forms in a sculpture to forms in the known visual world disqualify it from ‘abstraction’?

If we take, for example, a sculpture (an early one) by Caro and we see various elements which we ‘recognise’ as being industrially manufactured elements; imitating industrial usage; but not being ‘used functionally’; but even that functionality can be said to exist in its holding up, joining etc.; does that recognition mean that the result is not truly abstract, i.e. not describing visually anything associated with the real world? Similarly, if we take, for example, a Gonzalez, the source of which clearly testifies to a beginning in figuration, but which manifests qualities of pure plastic invention in the handling and forming of the material, does that change the result to ‘abstraction’? In other words, there is a conundrum visually and as a consequence, perceptually, between the one sculpture, ‘figurative’ (recognisable elements), but reading as ‘abstraction’; and the other ‘abstract’, but reading as based on real recognisable elements.

Anthony Caro, “Sculpture Two”, 1962

Obviously, it is a truism that the vast majority of the world’s sculptures have been ‘figurative’, depending entirely on recognition for their effect; indeed, it would have been impossible for the sculptor to think otherwise (it would be devoid of ‘meaning’); his ‘job’ was the representation of recognisable elements of life and the world. However, it is equally clear from the history of sculpture that the interpretations of subject matter vary hugely in perception, style, method, raison d’être, and indeed purpose to such an extent, that to the modern mind, conditioned by the art of the last century or so, they may appear very often to have very little relationship to visual reality, to the point where they are actually ‘unrecognisable’. The modern taste for ‘primitive’ art forms in sculpture initiated by early twentieth century masters (Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi), gave an authentication to this sort of thinking, and African artefacts in particular became seen as an ‘alternative’ to the western view of sculpture, along with Asian, South American and other cultures. The realisation of this factor in historical sculpture has given huge intellectual support to the idea that recognition of any tangible relationship to appearances can be dispensed with, and the notion of ‘abstraction’ replace it. Indeed, critics and writers on art now frequently use the word to describe characteristics which, in origin, stem from recognisable sources but are seen as quasi independent factors of the work(s) in question, requiring an alternative definition. Thus, an alphabet of sculptural form emerged in the early twentieth century which, broadly speaking divides itself into ‘organic’ form (nature derived) and ‘technological ‘ form (man-made, industrial etc. derived).

Eduardo Chillida, “Dream Anvil X”, 1962

‘Organic’ form (ex: Laurens, Lipchitz, Arp, Moore et al) generally has its origins in Nature: hills, clouds, female form, waves etc., all suitably modified to defy any particular reference or origin, but importing into sculpture a continuing attachment to ‘life’. ‘Technological’ form is more to do with the actual material(s) from which the sculpture is being fabricated, and includes ‘new’ materials adding to or superseding the traditional stone, wood, clay and plaster. The importance of this approach in the hands of Picasso, the Russian Constructivists, and on to Picasso/Gonzalez and the use of iron / steel, gave the word ‘abstraction’ i.e. no nature reference, no recognition, a newly vital existence in that it did not always derive initially, from ‘natural’ sources, but mostly from ‘object’ ones or the ‘given’ forms of a material. The term ‘constructed’ came eventually to be used to describe this drive towards abstraction. In the late twenties and thirties, painters forged ahead on this front and produced much which was as radically abstract as anything that had yet been seen. It must be noted however, that sculptors lagged behind, staying content with the organic look or the initial efforts at construction, (deriving from Cubist ‘collage’); notably Picasso, who nonetheless often referred directly to recognisable sources, guitars, still lives etc. It must also be noted that none of the pioneering sculptors of the early to mid XXth C. referred to themselves as ‘abstract’ sculptors. Immediate ‘recognition’ of a sculptural subject was nonetheless not being seen anymore as essential, more incidental, and mostly fairly timid. Nevertheless, with the concept of ‘abstraction’ becoming more accepted and commonplace, it was the constructed work in steel that was to lead, eventually, to abstraction being seen as vital to the renewal of a sculptural ‘language’, though it too depended initially on ‘sources ‘(of course, every piece of sculpture must have some sort of source even if only imaginary); the work of Gonzalez on to David Smith and Chillida producing a ‘derived’ abstraction from recognisable subject matter, albeit heavily disguised. Constructed work claimed to have abandoned ‘Nature’ as a source and much emphasis was now laid at the door of materials and their characteristics, the material itself, especially of the manufactured kind, being considered as having a sculptural ‘message’ of its own in the shape of its ‘neutral’ form. ‘Concepts’ such as architectural form and detail, musical analogies, tools and practical forms were all now subject matter.

Henri Matisse, “Head of Jeanette”, 1911

Matisse, not included in the canon of ‘sculptors’, had as early as the first years of the XXth C. taken the reconstruction of sculptural form from nature several steps up the ladder towards ‘abstraction’. He, for example in the ‘Tetes de Jeannette’ series of five portrait heads, showed how, even within the limited range of traditional modelled clay, he could take the forms of his observation: eyes, nose, cheeks, ears, jaw etc., deconstruct them and re-form and re-invent them outside appearances, and arrive at a more radical sculptural assembly than had been seen before. It is noteworthy that Matisse, though not a sculptor as such, took his cue from Rodin, the most radical inventor of sculptural form in the previous generation,  and in my view surpassed the similar efforts of, say, a Laurens or a Lipchitz working later. Again, there is no evidence that Matisse thought of himself as being ‘abstract’, merely using sculpture to further his observational visual experiences. He certainly would not have acknowledged the concept of ‘lack of recognition’.

The years up to and around the mid XXth C. saw the most advanced sculptors (in ambition), increasingly experiment with ‘abstract’ form, i.e. form that had no immediate recognisable source, but nevertheless still clinging to its derivation from one sort or another of chosen subject matter. It is noteworthy that painters in this period had taken much more radical steps in this direction (abstraction). An exception must be the Spanish sculptor Chillida, who had pioneered a series of forged steel (and other material) sculptures, paralleled by Smith in America, that could be cited as an early essay in truly abstract sculpture (though both artists used drawings from ‘nature’ as source material); and Smith in particular often remained wedded to the ‘totemic’ monolith format of the figurative ‘statue’. As with Arp, for instance, with his ‘organic’ abstraction, it is difficult to completely empty the mind of referential recognition in their work (and indeed that was mostly not the intention).

Another aspect of this period in modern sculpture was the advent, probably stimulated initially by Cubist collage, of the Duchamp/Dada advocacy of the ‘objet trouve’, incorporated into a sculpture’s formulation, as a substitute for artist invented form. This idea got such a hold on sculptor’s imaginations that it resulted in a whole school of work. Unfortunately for abstraction, it encouraged even more recognition by the beholder than even the ‘abstracting from natural sources as subject’ had done. Even at a later date, into the latter half of the XXth C., the use of ‘found’ material for incorporation into a sculptural composition, melded into a recognisable, but out of context, format, held sway amongst many sculptors.

The attempts to achieve ‘abstraction’ in sculpture had always run into one of the basic and unalterable facts of the art form, that sculpture is a ‘thing’, formed from ‘things’, and that means that it associates directly with the ‘real’ world (of things), and, as a consequence, is instantly recognisable as a part of that world, and by definition, descriptive, realistic, not abstract.

Architecture, at least, has the advantage of domination, of being able to hold the observer in awe, and affect his vision and perceptions accordingly. Sculpture has no such advantage, but has to hold on tightly to its own little world created around it, and achieve domination through self conviction alone. So, if sculpture attempts to abolish reference, abolish its dependence on subject matter that induces recognition, but is made from the very stuff of recognition, material, that we ‘know’ in advance, what hope is there to achieve a totally abstract norm?

That hope began to become a crisis issue around the middle of the (XXth) century. It began to be realised that the old norms of sculpture’s raison d’être, figurative, semi-figurative, or a non-figurative (melange), would no longer suffice to make sculpture an imperative art form with its own unique area of expression. The word ‘sculpture’ began to be used more and more frequently to describe ‘art’ activities which, in fact, had little or nothing to do with true plastic expression; sculpture no longer had to be sculpture in any tradition or norm of sculptural or historical sense; ‘sculpture’ could be anything – and, of course, that anything would be instantly recognisable since there would be no attempt to disguise its references (in the thrall of plastic invention) or any other aspect of its making; its ‘meaning’ would be freely advertised by any means other than what it simply was. It seemed that the entire thrust of sculpture’s efforts at a renewal of its power as an art form since the beginning of the century was to be jettisoned in favour of a populist agenda. To counter this tide of miscomprehension of what sculpture was ‘for’, the stream of ‘development’ of XXth C. ‘abstraction’ began to look like the real alternative that sculpture needed if it was to become once more vital, distinct and separate from attempts to amalgamate it into a ‘populist’ culture.

The line of sculptural experiment from Rodin down to mid century still had only come up with partial solutions to the will to ‘abstract’; to eliminate recognition. There had been, as mentioned above, experiments in organic form; experiments in the use of ‘alternative’ materials (construction); experiments in a geometrical basis for compositional organisation (Constructivism); experiments with the distortion and realignment of forms in nature (Picasso, Matisse and many others); in other words a drive towards a goal (unclear) of non-recognition, non-reference in sculpture. All of these ‘experiments’ of forging a path onwards from referential norms were considered (to quote Gideon Welcker) ‘an evolution in time and space’; seen as constituting a new era in sculpture – modern sculpture’.

Unfortunately, bound as all sculpture is by the restraints of craft, manufacture, and position in space as an ‘object’, it was not able to manage the panache of modern painting; the great French school and eventually the Americans. Moreover sculpture did not have a recent radical tradition to look to; with the exception of Rodin; no Cezanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, no van Gogh, no Mondrian; in short no self confidence. By the fifties and sixties, sculptors who were seeking a way out for sculpture to assume a far more radical and inspired route to producing a ‘new’ sculpture free of the restraints of past assumptions, had realised that pictorial art had left them with much to be desired and to emulate. It was left to Caro to make use of this realisation to the full. He produced the series of steel sculptures (1960 +) which straightforwardly attempted to emulate the ‘abstractness’ of (American) painting, and by doing so set a course for new (British) sculpture which soon became international. Its essential characteristics are by now common knowledge, but as far as ‘recognition’ of its elements is concerned it posed questions about what sculpture ‘did’ in a more forceful manner than ever before. Its ‘pictorialism’ set out a broad format for a new sculpture – imaginary planes across which elements were free to connect and disconnect, controlled only by technical fixation – acceptance of ‘found’ material parts only conditioned by ‘graphic’ i.e. two dimensional cutting and shaping with minimum interference to rely entirely upon their (given) ‘relationships’ for effect in space – all of these things were had existed in various forms previously, but it was Caro who took them onto a higher plane.

Recognition, direct association with the real world, was minimised and consisted entirely of any direct experience the spectator may have had with the materials and elements used. The composition of these elements into a whole could produce metaphors for real things in the real world (often architectural), but this was seen as incidental and unintentional; they were not ‘subject matter’. The artist had produced an ‘object’ which appeared to relate to nothing of any specific nature except itself and the mind and originality of the artist. It relied entirely on its own reality to carry emotion. So here, after all the struggles, was a truly abstract sculptural format. But, like all solutions it started to pose as many sculptural questions as answers.

Tim Scott, “Song for Adele XI”, 1998

As Caro’s own work progressed and that of many other sculptors besides, it became apparent that the dependency on the fluid qualities of working in steel (mostly, the chosen material to pursue new goals) led frequently to a too rapid and ill considered acceptance of the ‘given’ nature of the manufactured forms of the material; indeed, these forms in themselves, prior to integration into the sculpture, often introduced, unwittingly, direct recognition and associative reference into the work. From the primitive experience of straight-forward steel parts from the mill, the ransacking of the steel yard for ‘form’ became commonplace, lowering the level of abstract attainment. Another bi-product, laying open to question the authenticity of sculptural feeling, was the tendency of the sculpture produced to wallow in a quasi two-dimensional space which ignored or overrode the physical feeling for three-dimensions, sculpture’s basic premise and raison d’être. Again, a tendency to emulate an architectural or engineering organisation of parts created a danger of sculptures starting to look as if they were part of some industrial landscape, rather than creating and occupying a world of their own making; a different sort of recognition, but recognition nonetheless. There is, and remains, the unfortunate impression from many abstract steel sculptures that they are practically indistinguishable from some designed industrial object, totally belying the idea and intention that their abstractness (which makes the impression possible) will overcome any sort of association.

We are now at the outset of the XXIst C., and sculpture has to move on from what it had achieved at the end on the nineties. It has become clear that though during the entire last century sculpture underwent huge and radical changes, aimed at shedding old norms and inventing new ones, its character as an art form totally dependent on the reality of its immutable ‘thereness’, has not changed and is indeed unchangeable if it is to remain something called ‘sculpture’, a totally distinct and, dare I say it, recognisable category of objects in the world of many categories.

Recognition for today’s ambitious new sculpture can no longer be ambiguous. It cannot be or remain neither this nor that or something in between. What is sculpture and what is not must be demonstrated in its entire fabrication; a total conviction in what it IS; not confusable with physical things of any other sort or type. What sculpture does must be distinguishable from what painting, or architecture or engineering or design do, if it is to retain any distinct identity or power in the translation of physical sensation and emotion to the human eye and mind. In order to do this fully and successfully, we are now at a point in developing means that cannot simply retrace old ground. NOT being able to recognise anything, no reference, no metaphor, no copying, no reading into, has become the imperative of creating new, original and relevant sculpture for today.
Does this imply that any sculpture made from now on that has any referential subject matter, any recognisable elements that refer to other things, any association with non sculptural contexts, anything that would bring back the past, is to be dismissed ? Of course not, it would indeed be foolhardy to assume the future as predictable, as a given. We can only deal intelligently with the present.

Clement Greenberg said that all other things being equal he would prefer that great art remained figurative. At the outset of today’s era, it would seem that, of historical necessity, we have totally reversed this perception, and that great art will be abstract, and that nothing within itself but its own uniqueness as a mover of the human spirit, be recognisable.


  1. I so appreciated reading this that I find myself responding.

    “…sculpture has to move on from what it had achieved at the end on the nineties…”

    Having myself been alerted (converted, kinda) in 1999 to the possibility that a welding shop could be an art studio, I feel implicated in this statement. I was trained by concurrent apprenticeship and academic courses in this very tradition of Gonzalez, Smith, Caro and am no less amazed by their sculptural efforts and foresight today than at Y2K. I suppose at that time I believed sculpture was under an imperative to move forwards, and that were I to become a sculptor (which I did), I would be tasked with continuing this march of progress. Although I am still today amaking abstract-ish steel things the likes of which have never been seen before, I no longer believe it to be my responsibility, not even peripherally, to maintain a course of continuity with my predecessors for the purpose of taking their project to some new place. My relationship to them is instead contiguous–they are, with deep respect, my peers.

    I suspect that the sculpture emerging from this, my time period, no matter what terms of appreciation we might today agree then dictate as the most appropriate, will be looked back upon in the XXIInd C. as having gone somewhere we didn’t in the least mean for it to. Perhaps future sculptors will even say that the discipline had regressed in our time! So who am I, who are we to say what trajectory ours must be? And why take on that impossible accountability? Is the laying of a course for the future necessarily beneficial to sculpting a good thing in the here and now, for dealing one by one with “things made from things”.The historic examples of Rodin and Gonzalez, etc. would seem rather to support a studio effort that remains imminently responsive: simply curious about and singularly inventive with whatever materials and methods we have at hand.

    If it is truly art, we know so by feeling so. Relative to that, the pursuit of total abstraction as a value is the proverbial red herring (if not entirely fallacious). Those practitioners of the arts who have had such designs upon the course of their discipline can’t realistically be said in retrospect to have achieved what they intended, and if any one of their works stands up to our felt-as-art scrutiny today, it is exactly because it still appears to hold “…tightly to its own little world created around it, and achieve domination through self conviction alone.”

    This is the only project of modern/contemporary sculpture worth pursuing. As I see it.


  2. “Does the recognition of the ‘likeness’ of forms in a sculpture to forms in the known visual world disqualify it from ‘abstraction’?”

    Not at all. As I’ve said many times now, ‘abstraction’ is a different thing entirely from ‘abstract art’. And as many have said before me, all art is an abstraction. Except, that is, proper abstract art, which is not abstracted from anything.

    “…of course, every piece of sculpture must have some sort of source even if only imaginary…”

    I don’t think so, not a source, no. But if it is to be of value, it must have content. But that is discovered, not uncovered. I don’t feel that I start from a ‘source’.

    “…[Matisse] in the ‘Tetes de Jeannette’ series of five portrait heads, showed how, even within the limited range of traditional modelled clay, he could take the forms of his observation: eyes, nose, cheeks, ears, jaw etc., deconstruct them and re-form and re-invent them outside appearances, and arrive at a more radical sculptural assembly than had been seen before.”

    I don’t think a head on a neck, no matter how abstracted, is a radical sculptural assembly. It’s a weird and abstracted head, but it retains the architecture of the literal head on a neck.

    “The attempts to achieve ‘abstraction’ in sculpture had always run into one of the basic and unalterable facts of the art form, that sculpture is a ‘thing’, formed from ‘things’, and that means that it associates directly with the ‘real’ world (of things), and, as a consequence, is instantly recognisable as a part of that world, and by definition, descriptive, realistic, not abstract.”

    Yes, but the thing is to embrace all that and still get to somewhere where the overwhelming illusion and intentionality to be at all costs abstract means it is no longer an object, a structure, a ‘thing’…


  3. Very Good to have a sculptor of Tim Scotts undoubted quality making a plea for Abstraction.Ive just held a major exhibition of my own work ,all of which I deem to be thoroughly Abstract.I ve been surprised by the response,which I have witnessed ,as I was present for discussion throughout.It made me realise that I was attempting very specific communication with each picture.I should probably admit to a poetic or even operatic expression ,at least akin to music in effect if not in time.By and large visits ranged to about half an hour to look at 12 or so pictures,with the attention on each one,less than 5 minutes each.And yet the audience mostly espoused love of Abstraction,regular visits to London,all had seen David Anfams Abstract Expressionist show.My question is how specific is the communication I wished to make ,and did I only recognise it when the picture was finished?


  4. Hello Tim … or Dear Prof. As you probably remember, I am one of your former Nuremberg students. I wanted to write a few words on this forum a long time ago, also greet You, but my poor English is still intimidating me. I would like You to know that reading your texts and discussions is exciting and probably my other colleagues are also looking at this page. I am very glad to see your new sculptures and texts. Of course I could argue with you and especially with Robin Greenwood about what sculpture is, what abstract art is, or art at all … to the end of the world 🙂 … but would that change the direction everyone wants to follow? No.
    Although I have decided to enter the experiences that you probably would not accept or call “populist”, part of my heart is still with “abstraction.” From this position, I wish you, Robin and the rest of the Brancasterians of all the best and continuous “progression” in the pursuit of your passion. I admire you all for your inner strength, and faith in art. I would like my students to have even a spark of such engagement in art as you have.

    P.S. It’s a shame that no one here knows the results of work of your students from Nuremberg period, especially great works of Sebastian Kuhn and Christian Ruckdeschel (it was so astonishing for me to compare Christian’s wooden sculpture „Couple” (http://www.christian-ruckdeschel.de/menue_frame_e.htm) with the Mark Skilton steel sculpture (for example: „Leguaan Legacy”).
    This is so intriguing to see, how ideas of sculpture, which ones spred from St. Martin`s evolve in different places and time.

    2. P.S. I like your new sculptures 🙂

    Best wishes


    1. Thank you for the comment, Janusz, and the link to Ruckdeschel’s work which is well worth a look, especially the early work and “Couple”, as you suggest. Tim’s got computer problems at the moment, but I’ll make sure he gets your comment.


  5. Patrick:
    Thanks for your comments. I think that one of the crucial points I was trying to get across is that I find ‘painting’ abstraction is not the same as ‘sculpture’ abstraction, and though they obviously share
    fundamental criteria (or attempts at defining such) as visual art forms, the ‘thingness’ of sculpture in the physical world is of a different perceptual world to that of painting.
    You ask “how specific was the communication I wished to make, and did I only realise it when it is finished ?”
    I can only answer that that is your problem; and in my experience, ‘finishing’ is the same as exhaustion (with the idea(s) that is).

    Hello Janusz !
    Please do continue to write to Abcrit, it will broaden the scope. I am glad that the students at Nurnberg felt that they were getting something positive. I think that the passion for abstraction (as I tried to explain in my post) amongst so many sculptors (and painters) here, is to do with our history. Of course, it is totally conceivable that others have other ‘histories’. Francisco Gazitua, for one, thinks very differently even though he was one of ‘us’ in England.
    The point, as always, is what constitutes great sculpture; how do we recognise it; how did it get there; and indeed how do WE get there ? I always said (if you remember) that the point of being a student was to go out there in order to find your own voice (but hopefully to have learned a bit about what it isn’t on the way). I’m sure Robin will be very pleased to debate with you, that is what Abcrit is for.

    1. “…all art is an abstraction…” One could reply, well in that case why try and make it abstract ? I would prefer to be clearer and say that the ’emotional effect’ created by (great) art is ‘abstract’ (or indescribable verbally), and that that ‘effect’ is what one is using the word abstract to define.
    2….The ‘source’ is your mind, your imagination, your experience of the physical world, your being; so even if you are emphatically denying having one, it is there nonetheless. You are YOU.
    3….Matisse; yes the ‘architecture’ is traditional, known; but it’s not what Rodin did with it; not what Picasso did with it (at the time he, Matisse, did it), and has that merit, in my view, of originality which’ i assume, is what we are all striving for through ‘abstraction’.
    4….I totally agree, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were to be achieved ? but unfortunately REALITY sets in and spoils the party; because you cannot make sculpture out of nothingness.


  6. It is a mistake to assume (or insist) that abstraction in art requires dispensing with “recognition.” We use the words “recognize” and “recognition” in ways that are related to “discover” and “discovery”; art that does not provide an experience of discovery is not art at all. So I would say that a work of abstract art, to the extent it is successful as art, must involve recognition. But recognizing does not imply representation or figuration.

    When I see an ordinary common chair, I recognize the chair, but I do not see it “as” a chair. I don’t need to because it is obviously just a chair. On the other hand, while walking in the woods, I encounter a stump. If I am tired, and the stump is around 2 feet tall and sufficiently large in diameter to accommodate my rear end, I might see it as a chair. My recognition of a chair (in the middle of the forest where I did not expect to find a chair) involves discovery, seeing something as something. (Wittgenstein called this the “dawning of an aspect.”) My recognition of the stump as a chair involves imagination – I can imagine sitting on it, resting, taking a break, while having a drink of water, and so on.

    The experience of recognition seems essential to or part of taking an interest in something. Without recognition there is no discovery and without discovery there is no interest or value. When I encounter something I don’t recognize, I am unable to imagine possibilities surrounding it; it merely exists, inertly, as a literal object.

    In “Sculpture Two”, I recognize individual elements of the sculpture – structural components used in the construction industry like I-beams and rods. But in this particular configuration, those elements are seen apart from their ordinary deployments. (In their ordinary deployments, when they are doing their job, they aren’t seen at all, except by engineers and architects.) Our sense of discovery depends on our recognition of familiar elements, and no less in the fact that these elements are being used in ways that disrupt our ordinary expectations surrounding structural elements in industrial applications.

    We recognize something else as well. In “Sculpture Two”, the recognizable elements are deployed in ways that articulate what we might think of as the lines or forces that allow us to orient our perception in general – horizonality, verticality, reach and weight for example. Recognition is discovery; we recognize these lines or forces in the placement of industrial elements so as to deviate however slightly from the norm. Two of the vertical elements rise at a 90 degree angle from the floor but the others deviate from that norm in varying degrees. Similarly, we are brought to recognition of horizonality in the deviation of elements from the line of the horizon. All of these recognitions have to do with the fact of having a body; when standing (and looking), I orient myself and my perception of the world according to these norms and the range of deviance from them that is permitted to the human body while still retaining coherence in the world.

    The abstractness of Caro’s sculpture is intimately related to recognition of elements being used in a way that deviates from various norms because it is the deviation that allows us to recognize the norms themselves. As if the norms themselves are rendered abstract and in being rendered abstract they are recognized, or acknowledged.

    To say that something (e.g., a work of art) is abstract means nothing except in tension with something that is not abstract. (This is why the statement, “all art is an abstraction” is empty and meaningless.) What is not abstract is not something that is recognized, or which refers to something beyond itself, but what is literal and inert, and therefore is of no human interest or value.


    1. Carl, re: Sculpture 2: I am not sure that I agree with the idea that ‘recognition’ is parallel to ‘discovery.’. I repeat: “…we see various elements which we ‘recognise’ as being industrially manufactured elements, imitating industrial usage, but not being ‘used functionally’…” I don’t think we ‘discover’ – we know of them through past experience. I would suggest that in fact ‘discovery’ relates more to LACK of recognition, not less.
      I suppose we could discuss the philosophy of ‘chairness’ ad infinitum. Maybe, in the twenties,when people, who had been used to Victorian furniture,first saw a Rietveld chair, they possibly didn’t recognise it as one.
      I would say that the ‘deployment ‘ of the elements you mention in Sculpture 2 is primarily of an architectural nature rather than a sculptural one; and in good architecture one is always ‘aware’ of the structural elements (or should be). But Sculpture 2 is not architecture and therefore brings us back to ‘recognising’ what it actually is.
      My point is that it is only when one can FORGET the recognition that one can become aware of the ‘discovery’ of the sculpture as something original and ‘unrecognisable’.i.e. abstract.
      I agree that Robin’s remark needs further analysis; I started to suggest that ‘abstract’ is to do with sculptural ‘effect’, but the use of this word too re quires a much more thorough definition, .


  7. With respect, there’s no way “something original and ‘unrecognisable'” is necessarily ‘abstract’, while it must be true that for that observer that something is simply as-yet-uncategorizable. Carl’s stump is a good enough example. Some folks get its potential right off and use it as a seat and even call it a chair, while others wouldn’t dare get rot or moss on their pants. Even if they’re dogmatic about the assessment, either party (informed or ignorant) may at any time reneg on their first judgment, or by any pressing logic or illogic be convinced to see it otherwise on their next. At any time. Either party. Whether it is recognition of a thing as wholly abstract, or it is forgetting to recognize it as some other thing, abstraction is as impermanent a state as frozen water. Any viewer (high-brow or low-) might in the very next degree come to suddenly recognize it as belonging to a category called ‘sculpture’, then perhaps a sub-category of ‘abstract sculpture’–whereupon all said abstraction is immediately undone. Interesting and unavoidable though abstraction, representation, metaphors, analogies, and the like are in our quest to make great sculpture, I still don’t see abstraction-proper being by itself a potent avenue for art exploration so much as it might be for a more scientific investigation into some highly specialized branch of neuro-visual-psychology. But I might change my mind, so y’all please keep testing whatever more or less solid state of form you find yourself most interested in. I shall, too. (AbCrit’s conjecture being one of the more gaseous things interesting me lately.)


  8. l am using the word ‘abstract’ loosely (as we all do). : “My Oxford says: ” process of stripping an idea of its concrete accompaniments; the idea so stripped, something visionary…”; which is not a bad definition for our purposes. With regard to ‘recognition’, if we take, for example, Vermeer’s woman pouring milk from a jug in his picture in Kenwood, one can ‘taste’ the milk the realism is so great, even with, and as well as, Vermeer’s genius with paint, light, spatial composition, etc.
    If one were to take a similar example for sculpture, the result would more than likely be kitsch, or at best, sentimental reproduction of appearances; as we know only too well from sculptural history.
    In order to create the equivalent emotional visual sensations.of an art whose power depends on incorporating recognition (subject or ‘abstracted subject’), in sculpture, one is obliged to a) see where sculpture has already gone, and b) deduce where it CAN go.; and this would seemingly point inevitably to lack of ‘reference’ of any sort, even that we have described as existing in a sculpture like Sculpture 2., or Carl’s seat example.
    This may well be an ‘impermanent state’ as you say; that is a matter of time and the alterations of perception that time will inevitably bring to viewing; and indeed as has been already said, it is almost impossible for a physical object not to be ‘recognisable’ in some way because of its physicality in association with a physical world.
    Perhaps sculpture, abstract sculpture, has now of itself become one with your cited “highly specialised branch”, because it is insisting on eliminating so many alternatives.


  9. I agree with Carl on recognition.
    It’s partly just a matter of how one is using the word, but for me it’s the recognition of something in an artwork that makes art important and interesting.
    Susanne Langer (who I really recommend) would say that we recognize in the (non discursive) logic of an artwork an equivalence to a feeling, or complex of feelings, or a “pattern of sentience”.
    Just as we might discover a chair in the stump, we can discover part of our subjective experience in a painting, sculpture, piece of music, dance, poem etc.

    And how exciting is that? To have something “out there” and shareable, resonating (however imprecisely) with the subjective experience otherwise “trapped” within us – inaccessible to normal discourse due to the impossibility of private language?

    It seems to me that this function of art has an inherently abstract content (subjective experience), whether or not the particular artwork is classed as “abstract” or not. Recognizably figurative elements might serve as a “way in”, but are more likely to be an effable distraction from the ineffable beyond.


    1. Richard: Does the fact that you recognise the call of the cuckoo in Beetrhoven;s 6th make it more “important and interesting” ? Does his Quartet in F Major Op 59 require ‘recognition’ of a similar nature ? Here we go again using the analogy of music to reveal ‘abstract’.
      I am worried by this word ‘discover’ which keeps cropping up. I would have thought that the intense emotions engendered by great art are imposed by sheer force, rather than discovered, which seems to me to be about an educational process; and “…resonating….with the subjective experience otherwise ‘trapped’ within us…” sounds to me suspiciously like ‘conceptual’ art.
      Your last sentence seems to contradict your first


      1. Tim: We can recognize nameable things that are a part of the objective world, like the call of a cuckoo. That isn’t particularly interesting and may distract from the deeper significance of an artwork.

        But we might also recognize a feeling that has no name and which we maybe haven’t even previously been able to single out as a distinct feeling within the constant stream of perceptions, thoughts, emotions etc. that fills our consciousness. An artwork that gives form to that feeling is extremely interesting, since it helps us to order the potential chaos of our subjective experience and also reassures us of our common humanity with the artist and with others who appreciate the work.

        I think the overwhelming emotion engendered by great art is a kind of expansive elation – for a few moments it is as if one has understood all of existence – irrespective of the ostensible “subject matter” ( sad music, happy music), and yes, this is an involuntary response rather than a discovery; but it is the elation incurred by recognition/discovery.


  10. So Tim, the discussion on real sculptural issues has swerved back to word-definition and philosophy pretty quickly, has it not!

    Sounds odd to say it out loud, but I’ve just come back from the National Gallery, looking at some truly great art (Rubens, Rembrandt) and though I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed myself, I don’t recall registering any “intense emotions”. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but everything else seems to be working! True, I do get a bit soppy if you put certain Beethovens on the CD player, but music cuts to the quick on sentiment. And, OK, I have been known to get emotional about visual art too, now and again. I’m absolutely certain that such sentiment has nothing to do with the direct communication of intense emotion from the artist to you. No way. It’s a side-issue. Sometimes emotion catches you up, sometimes not, but the quality of the works doesn’t depend upon it, and it’s more to do with the viewer’s state of mind than it is with the intentionality or the achievements of the work.

    Great art has to do a whole lot more than give you “intense emotions”, and you can find those more easily by looking at bad art – cheap films, bad novels etc.; you can ball your eyes out at those. Great art has to ring out true as life, clear as a bell, a balance of emotion and intellect and some other things beside; great art does not squawk emotion at you.

    I don’t really care much about the definitions or the philosophy, but I think the ambition to make sculpture “more abstract”, however you make the definition, is a truly important and liberating one, on a very practical level, because in the attempt to make it so, sculpture is freed bit by bit from the restrictions and restraints of having to deliver its content via any kind of literal or metaphorical structuring or “vehicle”. It progressively becomes more able to deliver visual/physical/free-form content directly, as the artist focuses all his/her efforts on inventing better/profounder/more resonant things to look at (as opposed to more things to associate with). The sense of liberation as things progress is quite exhilarating, and abstract sculpture is on a path to great things. It will be able to embody quite extraordinary content that has never been seen in three-dimensional art before, way beyond the scope of “objecthood” or any kind of figuration/recognition/whatever thing you want to call it.

    Carl continues to write amazingly as the rational connoisseur, but hell will freeze over before I give a damn. This new, very abstract sculpture that we get a little further into each year is definitely going to work, and thinking about how to be “more abstract” will have played a big part in that. If it takes another fifty years for connoisseurs to catch on, so what?

    (Interesting to note how close the Caro and the Gonzalez illustrated are. They both contain the crude figurative gestures of “stick-men”, of metaphorical structures relating to bodies, but as linear forces, without much of an attempt at three-dimensionality. You can’t rationalise away that deficiency; nor can any philosophy find an excuse for it. It’s pretty poor sculpture, regardless of historical context)


    1. Yes indeed, Robin, it is that old devil semantics again.
      We all, no doubt, have our own ways of defining what art ‘does’ to us; I was, gauchly perhaps, using the words I did; and I agree that one’s ‘state of mind’ has a lot to do with it. Of course the art itself and its quality has nothing to do with the recipient.
      I totally agree that the “ambition to make sculpture ‘abstract'” is “important and liberating” and as you say thinking about it intensively part of it.
      The really important difference between the Caro and the Gonzalez other than their actual forms, is that the Gonzalez was made with INTENTION of converting a ‘stick man’ into an abstracton; The Caro was not.


  11. I understand and appreciate Robin’s comments, and as for ‘discovery’ and ‘recognition’, it feels like the sculptor/painter is at the discovering end of the process and hopefully the viewer can recognise what has been found.


  12. Robin: Your visit to the National Gallery may not have produced any intense emotions but it surely wasn’t ( or isn’t always) the same as going to a good restaurant.
    I agree that art isn’t about transporting emotions, but I do think that emotions are in there somewhere and that art somehow gives us a perspective on all of the internal stuff (thoughts, perceptions, emotions and more) that make up our subjective existence, helping us to “know ourselves” in the sense of facilitating some kind of ordering of the complex stream of sensation.
    We start with nothing – just think of the concentrated bewilderment on the face of a baby encountering its first few bowel movements…
    Science helps us to organise sensations pertaining to the world outside but we have to know ourselves too. As Nelson Goodman writes: “In daily life …. we are likely to be better off if we are skilled in fearing, wanting, braving or distrusting the right things.” Or Langer: “we must understand (feeling) to keep ourselves oriented in society and nature”.
    It’s probably not that important for an artist to have an exact formulation for what art does. I agree with Roger Fry that ” the artist… is generally trying very hard to do something that has nothing to do with what he actually accomplishes”. But I do think it is interesting and perhaps has a bearing on questions such as the importance of resolution/wholeness in an artwork.
    The pursuit of a kind of ultimate abstractness is one thing to “try very hard to do” just as painting’s integration of depth and surface is another one. But I think that the artistic accomplishment that these endeavours may produce is in an entirely different category, one that among other things does involve emotions, though as you say, not in the sense of direct communication.


    1. I agree with most of that, Richard. Emotions are certainly in there somewhere.

      What’s weird is that, though I’m a great believer in painting and sculpture having inherent and unchanging qualities and content imbued by the artist, consciously or unconsciously, it is incontrovertible that one’s perceptions of art are altered radically by context. One of my favourite paintings, “Het Steen” by Rubens, has been moved from its accustomed position in the NG, where it has been for as long as I can remember, to a new location downstairs in a (moderately interesting) display of “Rubens and Rembrandt”. It makes for a very different experience of that painting – different light, different height, different coloured walls (white with a horrid big black skirting), and different (unpleasant) environment. I saw it in a new way, much closer-to, and not entirely to its advantage, with some passages appearing much more sketchy than I had thought; but seeing good new things in it too. It all added up to an enlarging of my personal relationship with the work. Such a singular piece of art can stand up to such change and expand itself to accommodate extended examinations. But, aside from the ongoing enjoyment at looking, one could hardly sustain any kind of consistent emotional state across the span of even a single examination, never mind a thirty-years-and-counting evaluation.

      Additionally, this seems to me a great argument for complexity. This “difference” of my perception, according to context, I see as just an opportunity to discover a new aspect to the work. Great art does not appear to have any limitations or caveats as to how to look at it.

      (…though I suppose I’d better say: that’s no excuse for a bad hang!)


  13. Tim ,Thanks for the response and for re-affirming that the resolution of a work is very much my own problem .Im aware of that.After many years of Greenbergian workshop /critiques I moved down to Devon for purely financial reasons,I could no longer live in London and continue to afford a studio,and time to use it.When I settled in Devon I decided to take longer over each picture,a fatal trap ,because after 7 years I was still re-working the same work,which had changed beyond recognition,but not necessarily improved! I was trying to get round the fast and furious fact that quick Paintings make better Art.You are right that Painting and Sculpture are so different,yet I beleive the stretcher/canvas /support is equally irksome in relation to Painting as Sculpture being a lump.But making Art about breaking that convention seems suitably tedious.I have enjoyed and agreed with Robins assertion that good Art doesnt need rapturous feelings,just some kind of grit to grind against in the oyster.Its good to be talking about what is the artists final intention with regard to the viewer,rather than continually how the bloody thing is made.Samuel Beckett made some insightfull notes on Bram Van Velde called Painting about Nothing.I find his comments about the ludicrous ,flawed ,hilariously accident-prone,continuously failing artist very reassuring.


  14. No offence, Patrick; I just couldn’t think of anything wise to say except to cite my own ‘finishing’ !


  15. Tim.
    I also thank you for your reply, I have a lot of controversial questions but I would not like them to be taken as offensive or something like that. I hope to discuss the following topics.

    I think that if we go straight to the sculptural issues, unfortunately we always encounter very philosophical assumptions that are fundamental to our artistic statements.
    So, I am sorry but under the way to pure sculptural prolems I need to ask with some quastions of theoretical or philosophical nature. I want to insure there will be as next more abaut specific sculptural qualities.
    I see your believing that there is an essence of discipline that makes sculptures more or less “sculptural” is still very alive.
    On this ground there are numerous recognitions and evaluations such as “good sculpture” or “bad sculpture” , the search for “good sculpture” and are generatet thesis and questions like those about Sculpture 2 from A.Caro:
    “I would say that the ‘deployment’ of the elements you mention in Sculpture 2 is primarilly an architectural nature rather than a sculptural one; and in good architecture one is always aware of the structural elements. Sculpture 2 is not architecture and therefore brings us back to ‘recognizing’ what it actually is. ”
    For me the answer is quite obvious:
    It is a sculpture, which “nature of deployment of elements is primarilly an architectural nature than a sculptural one …” and it not necessarily mean that it is non-sculpture or worse than other sculptures.
    Because the assumption of „what is more sculptural deployment of elements” is founded on our past experiences, not on those „from the future” or from the eternity (there is no universal, platonic idea of perfect sculpture – or the best sculpture made out of industrial steel). I suppose, You will say: yes , past …but sculptural experiences , not architectural ones.
    I would say
    Each next sculpture broadens our sculptural experience and the definition … whether we want it or not … Picasso or Caro they did it very well. This is evolution, I want to say that maybe 50 year ago such sculpture with „architectural deployment…” was something to ask – in comparance to previous experience – but now, thanks him, this is… „classic” sculpture.
    I understand that you have many objections to his work. If anyone has such a huge influence, there are always questions. I have too, although I consider him as great artist, I hardly accept the immense arbitrariness he brought to the sculpture (in comparance to Chillida he was sculptural anarchist :)). On the other hand, I began to appreciate some of his impossibly strong and dense sculptures (which I did not like before). It began with the moment when the feeling of reality of sculptural being, physicality, weight, density of “presence”, and balance between architectural and plastic aspects of form (especially difficult to achieve when he combines different materials) have moved higher in hierarchy of my values.

    He just expanded our understanding and acceptance for what we call sculpture.
    Where should we put the border of definition?

    I will repeat. Our declaration of „sculpturnees” of sculpture are grounded in past experiences.
    I know there are thousands of years and exemplars of sculptures shaped in connection to the body, but we agree that throughout the twentieth century artists released and expanded the concept of sculpture and New Generation became part of this process.
    The borders between artistic disciplines are very fluent. We searched for the borders and found only subjective ones.
    Greenberg also sought for a formal (I mean „closed definition”) and he lost.
    He had to turn to the subjective “taste”. This is the point where the question for “good sculpture” starts.
    Whatever we would like to say about “taste”, as we feel (evolutely evolving) the general common sense of beauty and harmony for all people … but we also know how different perceptions we have in the time of our live; How impossibly our “taste” can chang.
    The problem I see is that the question about „good sculpture” belongs to questions which ask aobut universal and absolut Value but the results of sculptural research presented here (I mean the „brancasterian way”) have extremely subjective charater – the results of very rygoristic, limited artistic assumptions (even for the field of abstract sculpture).

    I think also (maybe I am wrong) that you (and they) have found the place where the border is located.
    And you claim beyond this point sculpture is not good enough or non sculptural.
    The border line is in the way in which the cohesion is achieved. The princip of “organism”. Your new sculptures, and even the most arbitrary and abstract compositions of Robin or Mark somehow are still “organisms” ( I don`t hve in minde only human body). The way and reason for putting parts together and unite them are grounded in natural organisms -on the level of formal conections and material unity (the samennes of material, or colour is a „skin”). What we can not say for example about ready-mades like Duchamps „ Bicycle Wheel”, where (in princip) the parts are united by meaning.

    Because of this I have many quastions. Some of them:
    Why the the constructivists thesis from 1920 (eg. negation of mass in sculpture) should be keeped as valid for the new sculpture? Why keep this border of „organism” as a formal princip?
    Why not sculpture hanging from the wall? Why steel?

    But more important quastion or thesis is… if one make a quest for the Universal Value (Good Sculpture), one should try to synthetise so many as possible prevoius most important values from the whole field of sculpture (all history) and not only from small limited, specific branch.
    In other case all the judgements and comparisons with sculptures grounded on differently setted hierarchy of values, intentions and reasons, are meaningless.
    There is no problem for me to judge and compare works in the light of a group of similar assumptions … but comparing eg Giacometti and Katherine Gili`s “Leonid” is for me an intellectual abuse … and to say – as Robin said – Gonzalez`s sculpture: “…It’s pretty poor sculpture, regardless of historical context”…… it …It shot me out of my chair.
    Ok. this was perhabs only an provocative statement for revival the discussion.
    I think, all of the discussed sculptural topics, comparations, analysis have in bacground quastions about hierachy of values.
    My comment become to long, to many things at ones.


    1. Janusz, you have posed a lot of questions, so I will try to answer in some sort of order:

      ” I see you believe that there is…..” Yes, I do think that the whole point of making sculpture is because it provides a unique aesthetic emotional experience which cannot be had in quite the same way from any other art form. What are then ‘good’ or ‘bad’ values within the confines of that particular art form must relate directly to the ‘mechanisms’ of that form. In sculpture’s case the whole business of three dimensionality, physicality, spatial existence, gravity and so on. My point is that if we are going to confuse ‘sculptural’ issues with ‘architectural’ ones (or any other), it is not a question of ‘quality’ that is begged but of ‘clarity’. For a sculpture to achieve its maximum potential, it must be true to its own nature and not that of other things.

      ” Each next sculpture broadens our…..” Yes of course Picasso, Cato , Chillida et al. are important steps along the history road; We learn our sculptural experiences from them in the first place, and yes the advances they made were of their time and we would not be where we are without them. As far as Caro is concerned, ‘objection’ is too strong a word. I have triad to analyse (as have others on Abcrit), some aspects of his work that seem to be at loggerheads with his major achievements, which I am the first to admire having learned so much from him personally. I like your phrase, “compared to Chillida, he was a sculptural anarchist.”

      ” the borders between artistic disciplines are very fluent….” Yes, up to a point.; but the danger as ever is confusion. If the intrinsic (of its nature) emotional territory occuiped by something called ‘sculpture’ becomes invaded by contrary emotions emanating from other sources, achitecture, painting, literature, sociology etc., etc it results in a weakening of the thrust of the work and its purpose.
      I think Greenberg himself dealt with the taunt of ‘formalism’ adequately; I suspect that he would have agreed that he was only trying to be objective about art. There are of course no ‘universal’ and ‘absolute’ values in taste or art, only the ones we know and have experienced. With regards to Duchamp, the question surely is “what meaning?”. Is it anything to do with the (so called) sculpture, its context, its’ being’.; or is it merely an ‘idea’ which has been illustrated? I suspect the latter.

      Of course it doesn’t HAVE to be steel; it COULD hang from the wall. The question is does that DO anything to improve the power of its intentions ?
      I think you should address other Abcrit writers about the Gili and Giacometti, and whether you can get back in your chair over Gonzalez. It sounds to me like a little bit of an overdose of sacred cows.


      1. Thank you for the answer. I will think about it.
        Yes, the last sentences of my comment, about comparisons of sculptures was unnecessary or maybe unfortunate, sorry. I didn`t tell this because I so highly appreciate Gonzalez. Neverminde, I am now back on my sit.
        However broad definition of art we state, there is one thing thing, which is for me always valid.
        Good work of art should fullfill its own intention (artist intention). Otherwise, why should I percived It as Art at all. Artist should keep control over the most important meanings which emanate from his form (the form awakens the meanings in the audience mind )…. but it is almost impossible (and Surrealist artists would say: This is not even nececcary) . I can not stop to think about the proportions between conscious and uncoscious issues present in work of art. In sculpture as well.


  16. Spoken like the true conceptual artist that you are, Janusz (I assume that’s what you are, from looking at your website). I suppose it’s all conceptualists have really, the idea of the idea.

    We’ve been through this a few times. Presumably you are personally somehow party to the intentions of all the good and great artists who have ever lived…? But I don’t know anything about the intentions of anyone else, and sometimes not even my own. It doesn’t seem to stop me getting meaning out of a whole load of great art. How on earth the artist is supposed to “control” those meanings, I cannot imagine, unless meaning in art is simply what the artists says about it. You can’t trust that, though, can you? Even with conceptual art…

    Welcome to Abcrit.


    1. Of course Janusz, it’s the INTENTION that counts, not what is actually THERE; and all our museums are full of reatlly great intentions hanging on the walls. Come on wake up !


      1. Tim, were you being ironic when you said: “The really important difference between the Caro and the Gonzalez other than their actual forms, is that the Gonzalez was made with INTENTION of converting a ‘stick man’ into an abstracton; The Caro was not.”


      2. Don’t you believe in the language of sculpture?
        Possibility of passing content and intentions through sculptural forms?
        If the own projection (interpretation) of the recipient becomes more important than the intention of the artist, then who in this case has the power to say what is inside? Whose projection is valid or more importanat?

        If you say specialists – well then we are in the institutional definition of a work of art.
        I don’t trust artists, so I usually have a suspended judgement about artist’s declaration and his work. Ok. first come my experience of what I see (and belief that it’s work of art) – almost physical experience – then my interpratation goes pararelI with my effort to find artist’s intent or statement, “message”, group of pre-assumptions (possibly objective frame for my interpretation). If the “results” are different than declarations, I don’t find this work good. Maybe it isn’t even a work of art but something… unwittingly accidental. I only wanted to say, that artist should control the relation between form and content. When we do the transgression, we quest for something unknown, we are seeing the results (we are the first observer) and we accept. The results become part of artist intentions. this is something different than uncontroled, unauthorised funny meannings which sometimes emanate from the work. Everybody are seeing this only the autor does not.This comparison between content (intention) and form (result) is one of several ways of learning students, how they should to keep control over the form. I thought this is obvious.


  17. The common idea that the artist “puts in” meaning (or, for that matter, emotion) into their art is a fallacy, and especially so when it comes to abstract art. All the artist can put in is content. The meaning is to be found at a later date by the observer, and it will depend upon the depth and quality of that content just how “meaningful” the experience is. And, of course, it depends upon a perceptive observer.


  18. Thank you, Robin

    I will try not to be insistent and do not appear too often.
    So, Ok. I can be a “young padawan”. I can even be a conceptualist. Although, I am rather not. I just discover for a last few years these new dimensions of art.

    Still, I belive you will find more interesting issues in my comment, than the one about intention.
    You can naturally underestimate them. I know you’ve done these topics a few times. Are the answers sufficient? You put up in the discussions the most important questions that need to be answered rather in the form of a book than a comment.

    For the first time I heard about essences (sculpturness) from Tim 17 years ago and I have dedicated some good years of my life to face it. I was worker who worked, but it seems to me that the practice alone has not liberated me, but rather a confrontation with assumptions that justifies this practice. (Still, Tim… to meet You and learn from You… it was very important and good time in my life).

    One of the important things that I wanted to point out is: if we agree that the sculpture (and sculpturness) is defined by our past experiences, than we should agree that this „essence” is changable (expandable) – It is different for Tim generation and different for my generation.
    Now, 50 years after such sculptures as discoussed „Sculpture 2”, inspirations taken from the architectural, engineering or painterly order are on the same rights as the inspirations from the bodily order. Tim thinks otherwise (as I understand this). I think it’s just a matter of sentiment – 30 000 years of experience of sculpture as body versus 100 years of sculpture as abstraction. I think „Sculpture 2”, has architectural deployment of its parts, but still work out in specific sculptural way.

    If we go to the roots of sculpture we will find only two ways of it’s making: carving and modeling, constructing was, I suppose, more characteristic for making tools. So which aspects are more immportant for good sculpture? By the way – I love sculpture (the „real one”, speaking in your language). I love pure modeling, pure carving, constructing and all of them mixed together.
    Now I can even say, I see sculpture in everything and everywhere :)… maybe this is not good…

    What do you think?
    Do you agree with my thesis that you set the border on the point, where the concept of organism ends? Sculpture, for example, likes (like every organism) to exist as a single form. Why don’t you plan your new sculpture as group of several separate forms having relation to each other?

    I have more such questions, but in the end …I don’tknow if it is needed. For me it is an ocassion to have a conversation with experienced sculptors, I do neither want to argue, nor to convince you, maybe to put a little bit different perspective.
    Speaking about intentions and interpretatons, I belive after longer conversation we would say we agree.


  19. Hi Janusz,
    I don’t believe in any kind of “essence” of sculpture, and have argued against it with Alan Gouk on his Katherine Gili article. And I think that all bets are off as to what abstract sculpture should be and could be – we just don’t know, and I think there is very little connection with figurative sculpture. But we have to inch forward bit by bit, expanding our understanding of what works and what doesn’t. We can’t just leap about all over the place. I guess we would need to discuss exactly what does and what doesn’t work, but it’s very difficult without standing in front of a particular piece of sculpture.


    1. Sorry, missed your earlier comment. No. I don’t believe in a language of sculpture. Nor do I think that “sculptural forms” (whatever they are) carry the message or meaning or content or intention of the artist. In abstract art, content is indivisible from form. Form is not a vehicle for “carrying” anything. And you can’t use sculpture to communicate a message or intention.

      What does that leave? Everything.


      1. Robin, I missed your comment re stick men.
        I was attempting to be humerous, but making a point (re recognition) that Gonzalez did actually begin with known recognition; Caro thought he was not.


  20. Robin
    I see that discussion is going to end, I want to say one more thing.
    I think all the time about your recent comments.
    What we are saying, It is not contradictory.
    There are many levels and aspects of “contents” (as I understand this word). I know for You or for Tim maybe the most important thing is: the way how the “sculpture alone” affects us, how it express it self, its own being… but pararell it will always express autors “temporary state of mind” (and much more, also the thins we don`t want to express) and this is for me also content the sculpture “is carrying” – actually beter is to say: embodies – the ideas the sculpture embodies.

    Like the body express our state of mind, our art do this as well. Whether it is abstract art or not.
    I will say even more. Especially abstract art, free rom the stories, shaw very clear (embodies) our inner order, taste, our consciousness, our principles, us. Somehow, it is always a temporary self-portrait (if you are truly working with yourself … and maybe even if you don`t have that intention, our work will always be some kind of self-portrait)

    On another level, sculpture as a result of the evolution of art embodies many artistic assumptions of the past.
    You say, that in abstract sculpture the contents is inseparable from form. Yes we don`t need to separate this most important experience while confronted with sculpture, but we can not stop to read it deeper and deeper, and there’s a lot of contents in it, well readable. Even if you declare there isn`t, or it is not important content… I would say for one man it is important for another one is not.

    Just as I can not say that a man is only a mind or only a body, I can not say that sculpture is just an idea or just a form. I hope, here we agree .

    However it is

    I wish all the best for You and for Tim


  21. Tim Scott wrote: “Carl, re: Sculpture 2: I am not sure that I agree with the idea that ‘recognition’ is parallel to ‘discovery.’. I repeat: “…we see various elements which we ‘recognise’ as being industrially manufactured elements, imitating industrial usage, but not being ‘used functionally’…” I don’t think we ‘discover’ – we know of them through past experience. I would suggest that in fact ‘discovery’ relates more to LACK of recognition, not less.”

    Where we do not recognize something, we perceive arbitrariness, right? And what is arbitrary strikes us as purely literal. (How could it not be? It’s just there.) I am saying that what we perceive as literal, as a mere object, cannot be “abstract” as that term is used with respect to visual art. Isn’t this more or less how minimal sculpture works? Tony Smith’s cube is what it is, neither more nor less; the arbitrariness of its placement there in our presence gives it a kind of mystery and that’s the experience Smith wants.

    When I look at Pollock’s Lavender Mist, I see (among other things, like surface and color) something I recognize as “lines”, but they are not doodles. They have something to do with drawing; except that here the lines are not delimiting or describing shapes, shapes that refer or remind me of objects in three dimensional space. So I RECOGNIZE lines (or “drawing”), notwithstanding the fact that they are not doing what I might (based on my experience of other paintings) expect them to do. So I DISCOVER something about line and about what a painting is (and perhaps has always been, although I didn’t see it before I looked at the Pollock). My perception of Pollock’s drawing in Lavender Mist as abstract depends in part on my recognizing or acknowledging those lines as something I thought I knew but it turns out I didn’t. That’s more or less what I’m getting at.


    1. So in order to see something as abstract you have to recognise it first as something you can name, then be surprised? How does that make it abstract? Does a chair that is really weird become abstract because it is really weird? Crazy logic!

      How can something you recognise as a chair (or even something with ‘chair-ness’, or ‘door-ness’, qualities which are dependent upon something being extremely similar to a literal thing) ever be abstract?

      “Where we do not recognize something, we perceive arbitrariness, right?” Not necessarily, no. Even in nature, there are lots of structures that have the appearance of both order and intentionality that are by no means “recognisable” in these terms.

      In fact, it would be of great benefit to an abstract sculpture that you do not recognise anything about it or in it as belonging to a type of something else. Then, despite not recognising anything, you have a clearer run at what it is doing as an abstract sculpture.


      1. The difference between our respective understandings of “abstract” is that you think of abstractness as a quality of certain objects, like size, color, weight, shape and so on. There is a thing, and it has these qualities. I think of it as a mode of being, a way that something exists, in our experience of it. An art work always exists as a thing, an object with certain specific qualities like every other object. But when it has real artistic quality, its objecthood is suspended in our experience of it, it exists in a different way that is unique to art. An analogy would be the way in which a Christian cross exists as an object but for people of the Christian faith, as something else; it exists in its significance as a symbol, but not due to its objective qualities.


    2. Carl, I am afraid I am behind the times and had nor read your comment until now.

      As I understand the words;’discovery’ implies something found which one had no idea of previously, (or at most a totally incorrect idea). ‘recognition’ on the other hand, implies something of which one had previous knowledge but which is newly revealed.
      Hence, in ‘Sculpture 2’ I we, as spectators, ‘recognised’ its past associations, but were forced by its new context to see it differently. I am using the word ‘abstraction’ in my post, very loosely to describe this perceptual transformation.
      I don’t think that what we call non recognition implies “arbitrariness”; I would say that it simply implies ignorance. The unknown or unrecognised could I suppose be called “literal’ – it exists as you say. Yes indeed, reducing sculpture to literalness is exactly what the Minimalists were doing.. What I was trying to describe with the use of the term (visual art sense) ‘abstract’ is a deliberate act of transformation of the literal into a purveyor of feeling; human emotional feeling; obviously in sculpture’s case through plastic means.
      Undoubtedly your experience of Pollock’s ‘lines’ is a ‘discovery’ for you, given your past experience of lines. I would suggest, however, that it is when those lines cease being ‘lines’ (in your perception) and become something unknown, able to stir your heart and mind through your eyes that they are ‘abstract’.Perhaps we are “more or less” saying the same thing !


      1. “As I understand the words;’discovery’ implies something found which one had no idea of previously, (or at most a totally incorrect idea). ‘recognition’ on the other hand, implies something of which one had previous knowledge but which is newly revealed.”

        In science, a new discovery is a discovery of new information (which may alter the framework within which we understand old information). In art and philosophy, discovery is not the apprehension of new information but discovery of something we already know but for some reason have been unable to see. That means that when we encounter something that is artistically or philosophically compelling, we learn something about ourselves.

        In a really good Jackson Pollock painting we may discover that lines need not describe three (or two-dimensional) objects in space; if we assumed that drawing in that sense was essential to something’s being a painting we discover that it is not essential. But this discovery requires that we recognize Pollock’s lines as related to or a further instance of the art of drawing as historically constituted. Someone who sees Pollock’s lines as arbitrary sees an elaborate form of doodling rather than as a way of making paintings. So, the sense of discovery requires the experience of recognition.

        In his remarks on Caro’s Prairie, Michael Fried says: “… illusion is not achieved at the expense of physicality so much as it exists simultaneously with it in such a way that, in the grip of the piece, we do not see past the first to the second….More emphatically than any previous sculpture by Caro, Prairie compels us to believe what we see rather than what we know, to accept the witness of the senses against the constructions of the mind.”

        Fried’s point is that we know everything there is to know about how Prairie was constructed and the physical relationships that hold it together as an object. It does not attempt to hide its existence as a literal object. And yet, our knowledge of (for example) the weight of the corrugated metal sheet and poles does not diminish our sense that those elements are floating above the ground, and because our knowledge of their weight and mass is (so to speak) suspended, the ground itself is rendered abstract, as if the floor beneath our feet were simply one more level together with those of the sheet and the poles. (Needless to say repeat at the risk of boring people who read this, my viewing of Caro’s sculptures along with Fried’s interpretation of them has formed my conception of abstraction from start to finish, for better or for worse.) Fried says that these two modes of existence (literal and illusory) do not compete, and I think that’s exactly right. The scupture’s illusory character does not struggle against its literal character – for example by hiding it – and this achievement of co-existence is the abstractness of the sculpture. But our discovery of the thing’s illusiveness, our sense that it really is a discovery, requires that we simultaneously recognize the physical nature of its components and the way they fit together.


  22. No – that’s why the cross is only an analogy. The connection is: in both the Christian cross and an abstract painting or sculpture, literalness is suspended or gives way to significance. Symbols provide one way but it is not the way of (good) abstract art because a symbol only reveals what is known and doesn’t venture into the unknown.


    1. OK so we can agree that abstractness suspends the literal – maybe just overrides it. In my view, it does so without resort to recognition of any “thing”, but by presenting new stuff in new relations/activities that are overwhelmingly visual (though you could argue visual/physical). I just fail to see where in that process things like the recognition of “chairness” figure at all. Do you need this stuff? I don’t. I’m happy with abstract sculpture not looking “like” anything. The alternative you can dress up any way you want, but it is basically just artists making images of things. In other words, it’s figurative. A sculpture that has “chairness” is figurative.

      And you haven’t responded to this:’ “Where we do not recognize something, we perceive arbitrariness, right?” Not necessarily, no. Even in nature, there are lots of structures that have the appearance of both order and intentionality that are by no means “recognisable” in these terms.’

      I’d go further now and say that a majority of structures in nature have a “free-floating” intentionality (meaning not linked to human design intentions) that is far from arbitrary. A tree has lots of structure and coherence and purpose without bothering about “tree-ness”. It doesn’t look like a tree; it is a tree. That direct sense of purpose could be true of abstract art, sculpture particularly. What else do you need? I’m happy with that. “Chair-ness” or “anything-ness” would be such a come-down. As it is in Caro, if you could only admit it.


      1. Carl: Your “viewing of Caro’s sculptures along with Fried’s interpretation of them…” could well be the crux of the matter; (of differences of view concerning abstraction)..
        I,think that the ‘literal’ object (of many a Cato sculpture) is TOO literal; the intended magic of its ‘illusion’ transformation you speak of, frequently being thwarted by ‘recognition’ of its constituent elements. (I tried to touch on this in my Cato and Abstract Sculpture post).. I have to say that this does not diminish the sheer quality of most of the early sculptures, nor Caro’s overall achievement.


  23. Carl – the coexistence of a reconciled literal and illusory character that you describe for Caro’s sculpture sounds a lot like the coexistence of surface and depth in painting. It seems that we require (or at least value) this duality in the visual arts, maybe because it reflects our own perceived duality.
    I would disagree though that this is already the whole thing. It seems to me that it is more like a kind of base requirement that forms the medium for the actual artistic content, which is very much more personal, intuitive and ineffable.


      1. But can’t figurative artworks do that too? I don’t know much about sculpture but Titian and Cézanne spring immediately to mind for painting.


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