#125. Tim Scott writes on “Why ABSTRACT Sculpture?” Part 3

Why ABSTRACT Sculpture?  Part 3

I stated in Part 2 that the ‘ABOUT’ of a truly abstract sculpture, its ‘content’, would have to be redefined if there was to be any real success beyond that already achieved within its history (of around a century). I also claimed that the only parallel that it (new abstract sculpture) could look to for the conveyance of significant aesthetic feeling, was to be found in how music generates deeply felt human emotion through totally ‘abstract’ means; its ‘content’, therefore, being totally devoid of representational back up.

It generates emotion entirely through these abstract means.  Which brings us to the ‘means’ of sculpture.

The means of modern sculpture, that of the last century, involved either some form of quasi or suggestive representation, or, as an alternative, a turning to and associating with, other physical and object worlds for identity and ‘meaning’. The common perception, at present, amongst the audience for sculpture, is that these conditions are satisfactory and laudable.

One has only to turn to the net where one can find literally hundreds of examples of what is called ‘abstract’ sculpture conforming to these parameters and, consequently, not really being ‘abstract’ at all.

The means of creating musical feeling can be separated entirely from the means of production of it (instrumentation). This is NOT the case with sculpture where the means of production are visually synonymous with the reception of effect. Sculpture’s a priori existence as ‘thing’ excludes any other understanding than direct visual contact. This being in fact the reason why photography has done sculpture so much disservice by falsifying it as ‘image’ which belies essential direct visual contact

The fundamental difference between the transmission of musical feeling and that of sculptural feeling, therefore, lies in the FACT of sculpture’s physicality or ‘thereness’ as something real, the antithesis of musical sound’s world of oral illusion.

This brings us to the question as to HOW the material facts of a sculpture, even when deliberately conceived as entirely devoid of any referential or ‘humanist’ role, can convey aesthetic emotion on a par with the conveyance and transmission of that of sound in music?

There is also the fact of internal and external space and its function for sculpture, the effects of scale and how to avoid the production of an ‘image’ which invariably returns the beholder to referential suggestion and analogy.

As with all sculpture then, performance, in an abstract ideal, commences with material and its manipulation, but unlike it, it has NO identifiable subject or preconceived end result in that manipulation.

Sound conveys emotion abstractly (music); materials don’t. Materials are simply themselves, or are fashioned. It is interesting to note that, at the point at which sculptors attempted to dispense with recognisable subject / source, they turned to fabricated material, i.e. that which has already been formed for some distinctive purpose. This in itself began to encourage the idea of being non figurative per se, and the era of ‘given’ (shaped) form began, and continues.

This leaves us still with the unresolved ‘plastic idea’ necessary to activate the material to perform totally abstractly (like musical sound). Beginning with what it IS, and being inevitably confined by the innate characteristics of what it IS (and what it is capable of in manipulation), the sculptor has to search for a means (plastic idea) for the complete alteration, for the viewer, of HOW the forms made from it are perceived and understood other than as ‘themselves’.

My contention is that the making of a truly abstract sculpture in all the senses mentioned above, will involve the deliberate SABOTAGING, not only of any possible ‘reference’ and confusion of identity, but also of its ‘given’ (shaped) qualities as a material.

This ‘sabotage’ must attempt the dissolution, in the viewer’s eye and mind, of ‘knowing’ what is being SEEN from association with previous visual experience. It may ACTUALLY be pieces of metal or wood or any other chosen for the purpose, but it should READ as UNKNOWN by dint of its activity plastically within the unforeseen, until completed, whole. This activity has to be powerful enough to effect the sensation of an unknown destiny, in the sense of not going anywhere already known and familiar, (familiarity being what the viewer knows already about the material in sculpture which then has to be abandoned).

This ‘unknown’ I would suggest, is the key. Just as in musical sound the listener is unaware of what is coming next moment after moment, so too in abstract form should one be in a constant state of surprise as to what is visually occurring.

The viewer will then be put in the position of gradually building up a whole from these multiple visual journeys. That ‘whole, however, will not consist of an ‘image’ as is usual in sculpture; but if truly abstract will remain ‘open’.

Movement in time of the viewer around a sculpture will present an endless number of emotional aesthetic reactions to the plastic journeys. Ultimately, the viewer pieces together the sum of these visual experiences to create in the mind ‘ideas’ of visual delight. This mirrors the finale of musical composition which contains a summary of its previous unfolding in time.

In conclusion, I am positing the idea that an ABSTRACT sculpture can, in effect, be a ‘new’ from of sculpture making that stirs aesthetic feeling in a fashion that has previously been neglected because of the interpretive impediments it has been loaded with. This has blocked understanding of the potential ability of sculpture to be UNIQUE unto itself in expressive force and free from syntactic confusion with other forms.

Finally, it must be emphasised that this thesis is NOT intended to be a comparison of the respective structures of music with those of sculpture. But anyone who has been stirred by the emotional power of music (most people), but who also loves sculpture (the few), will not have failed to notice that the one has a vastly superior range of power of feeling in terms of audience reception, than the other. To attempt to offer some sort of reasoning underlying this fact seems appropriate.

Simplicity and Complexity in Abstract Sculpture.

It was very much the belief in early modern sculpture (XXth C.), that simplicity in sculptural form was ‘modern’. From the newly discovered images of tribal art to the example of architecture which was promoting the philosophy of ‘less is more’ (Mies van der Rohe) in design, sculpture acquired the notion as an a priori context for new models of sculpture making.

The outstanding early example was the work of Brancusi who replaced the “flowers don’t grow under great trees” of Rodin with his simplified and honed down volumes and rehashing of African motifs. He was followed by many other well-known sculptors throughout the century; including work made much later on such as David Smith’s ‘Cubis’, as continuing the tradition.

A large factor in this adherence to the idea of simplicity of form was that much of early XXth C. work was carved. Admiration for ancient sculpture, Egyptian, Mexican, etc., coupled with an idea of ‘purity of form’ made carving seem to provide an a suitable ‘modern’ alternative to modelling.

It was largely the inception of ‘construction’, originating in Picasso’s experiments, that swung sculptural ideas away from these notions and towards a much more complex structure and assembly. It is interesting to note that Picasso’s inherent anarchy and lack of concern for any orthodox ‘sculptural’ method, eventually produced a major form of sculpture making. The introduction of welded metal (again Picasso / Gonzalez), and its inherent capacity for producing a multiplicity of forms within a tightly controlled format increased hugely the prevalence of working in this manner.

With regard to the analyses discussed in the essays above, to create new forms of abstract sculpture which jettison many of the assumptions underlying previous work, the visible aspects of it being either simply or complexly made become an important factor.

The vitally important end result of a sculpture’s ‘image’ as a physical construction in space, plays a dominant role in any attempt to make that sculpture convey infinite numbers of spatial and physical entrances and exits into and around its whole.  If this image is ‘simple’ it reduces these possibilities since the material parts are themselves paired down to a minimum in subservience.

If the image is abandoned (sabotaged), on the other hand, in favour of a total disability to read it as such, the sculpture has a better chance of fulfilling these same possibilities.

The parts comprising the ultimate whole sculpture then become necessarily more complex as does the whole itself. They also become vitally more important since they carry the ‘message’ (content), completely, in the power of their activities.

The conclusion drawn, for the moment, is that complexity of making is a necessary and advantageous mode of building a successful sculpture which attempts to emulate, as I have said, emotional power on a par with that of music. Without it, the danger of other referential interpretations magnifies and the creation of an unwanted total image which dominates all the physical, spatial and structural plastic invention becomes far more probable.

This certainly does not necessarily imply a ‘method’ for making sculpture. On the contrary, method always arises out of intent, and intent is subject to constant change as the inspirations and challenges of projecting the physical world’s offerings, visually, change.



  1. The arrival of ‘construction’ in sculpture has opened up our world to a fitter , leaner practice , capable of spontaneity and ‘change ‘ on a whim.
    Labouring away at a piece of stone as Brancusi did could not have been an attractive proposition for the young sculptor , weighed against his friend studying ‘improvisation’ at the Music School.
    Construction came, but with it came controls and demands . Large works were needed ( public art) and the burning issue to tackle three dimensionality was passed over. But then , all that stuff and the restrictions on what was encouraged disappeared with the arrival of the all consuming Conceptual (art) .
    So what is important to me in all of this you have spelt out , and so clearly , is that we are where we are. It feels logical and I think the sculptors ,all of them , have been radical in their thinking . Our ancestors gave us construction, that is a great thing .
    The not so great things given were pictoriality , the Object , and with the Object , conceptual art .
    It’s a great shame that the Object has itself has gone into decline !
    Meanwhile, back in the thesis , music , being able to be reproduced , and kept ‘live’ by interpretation , well, poor old Abstract Sculpture , which has on the face of it so much in common with music , is left out of the Arts !
    But, it is for me , Constructed Abstract Sculpture and certain Music that do have a commonality, and that , I think , will be through sculpture being a construction ,and that being a base level human thing to do .Sculpture will continue to invent its own humanity as Abstract.
    And that ABSTRACT being the great liberating element .


  2. Tony – Yes, I have left out one very important factor – reproduction of the work.

    As you say,music can be kept ‘live’ through interpretation (even improved upon) and reproduction. Sculpture is poorly served by photography which emphasises and glamourises the idea of a’view’ and a two dimensional idea of an overall image (which I am stating is essential to eliminate (sabotage) in order to achieve an ABSTRACT construction.
    Unfortunately, photography is all we have until technology gives us the equivalient of a three dimensional recreation of a sculpture.


    1. Today I have changed my take on this essay having over reacted to the comparisons made between sculpture and music. With more reading and less reacting I now see an essay full of stuff about sculpture that is not going to go away.
      I like this piece of writing very much.
      As expected I don’t agree with all of it.
      I have no idea what anyone else thinks.

      In my opinion Sculpture, constructed Abstract, doesn’t do anything actually, it is in essence, the remnants of things that happened and have been put together.
      The magic of it is that bringing the bits into groupings , and fluid groupings at that , the same elements can reconfigure themselves as being part of other parts, sequences , to turn what would otherwise be a totally static thing into a living , moving , aware event, via illusion . What was partially ‘thought built’ , partly ‘felt’ , has to be absorbed.
      it takes time .
      If something akin to this were not in place ,the three dimensionality would be ‘literal and ‘real’, and the sculpture not abstract.
      It’s time to flesh out that old phrase ‘plastic and spatial’, and I think it could be along these lines .
      I think of music ,on the other hand , as physical via air waves and ‘mainlining’ straight into your mind and body. There is no middle ground where the mind has to process the ‘doing’, the reconfiguring and the spatiality etc .music goes to the very heart .
      it is immediate , and can reach out to many people at once .
      If sculpture has an advantage it could be in being ‘contemplative’ and as so be replayed in looking at it over and over again without breaking contact . This to discover and draw together its complexities.
      They are not literal !


  3. ” If sculpture has an advantage, it could be in being ‘contemplative’ and as such be replayed in looking at it over and over again without breaking contact. This to discover and draw together its complexities”.
    Exactly so, I agree.

    As I suggested, this ‘contemplation’ (peripatetic visually) is also the key to divorcing the eye (and mind) from ‘seeing’ whole images that are not the bi-product of those complexities’ journeys within and without the sculpture, but are imposed from essentially NON abstract visual experience..


    1. My disagreement Tim is very simple.
      We disagree over what is ‘real’ and what is an’illusion’.
      I am obsessed with combinations that come and go as you move .
      So what the structure is ,is indeterminate,and the sculpture is always building towards something it may never achieve .
      That cannot be real.


  4. Tony – That is a very pertinent view of the role of abstract sculptural “combinations’, with which I am in full agreement.
    “….building towards something it may never achieve…” is, I suggest, a description of what different viewers perceptions will be.
    I requote: “…Ultimately the viewer pieces together the sum of those visual experiences to create in the mind ‘ideas’ of visual delight…”

    Perhaps your ‘illusion’ and my ‘ideas’ are one; and the same.

    The ‘real’ (reality) I refer to is what the ACTUAL piece IS (in substance); not what it DOES as a purveyor of sculptural intention; and I think we are agreed that this constitutes the dramatic difference in the bases from sculpture and music deliver their respective emotional contents.



    1. In a desire not to over explain-but considering the ‘idea’ and the ‘illusion’ as interchangeable , I am thinking they both anticipate the ‘meaning’ of the sculpture; and that meaning being more important than either.
      A question- In viewing a truly abstract sculpture do you become a component part of its ‘illusion’?
      I’m not so sure if your ‘idea’ will do that ?
      -one more thing – Without ‘illusion’ the prospect for a non- literal three dimensionality would be denied. …maybe?


  5. Your question prompts me to further thoughts to add to the rest – Illusion in Sculpture :

    Historic sculpture – Illusion is a means to the ILLUSTRATION, of Nature, or of imagined Nature (religion).
    Early ‘Modern’ Sculpture'[ – illusion is the SUGGESTION, of Nature, or imagined Nature.
    AbstractION in modern sculpture- is also SUGGESTIVE, referring and recalling aspects of reality and imagined reality.
    Constructed sculpture – is equally REFERENTIAL, but to man-made, fabricated objects.and concepts and generated by those same physical processes.

    By contrast, the use of illusion in creating a really ABSTRACT sculpture will necessitate the elimination (sabotage) of reference altogether.
    Illusion created by the parts of the sculpture will BE the ‘subject’, if the mind / eye is to be convinced of their intensity, through visual persuasion, by their activities within and without.

    ” Do you become a component part of the illusion ?”
    Yes – In the sense that given strength of inspiration being sufficient to convince the ‘mind /eye’,
    YOU (your mind) IS part of it.

    “…non literal three dimensionality…”, as I see it, has to be ACHIEVED by the new norms of building a sculpture that follow the precepts of “creating a really abstract sculpture” outlined above.


  6. A good sculpture will, of course, reveal and confirm its qualities and complexity as we move around it. I don’t think an ambition for complexity need be concomitant with putting in a lot of “stuff” though, which seems a more literal way of thinking. Surely it’s about what the stuff, that is there, is doing and how potently it does it – lots or little. How much you up the ante from the off is significant too: creating strong forces which demand equally strong reciprocal decisions to reconcile, or to set up further conflicts and contradictions to resolve, as the work unfolds – the subsequent challenge being in the handling of scale. This is also true for painting. In painting, colour is a force and facture tempers or amplifies it as well as its relationship with any other force.

    I would say the discovery and creation of space, in a sculpture, as opposed to just filling the gaps between pieces, is integral as an element for a work to have a condition of “believability” which is the “reality” of the best art. (it can be made in all sorts of ways too, I would assume). Space in a painting, which also aspires to the same condition, hinges on the differences in painting’s concrete qualities – minus the air, which is in front. Space in painting therefore also includes a “field of engagement’ – in and of the painting, coming at you rather than just leading you in, the latter of which – as a solitary ambition – seems a little like holding up a white flag to the pictorial.

    Sculpture compels you to move, whereas painting induces movement in your eye, as you notice differences. I wonder if it’s a mistake to try to make paintings which overtly seek to lead the eye about, akin to the way an eye would experience a sculpture – when the eye is quite literally on the move. Furthermore, if a work is good enough it will also shut out any import from metaphor or allusion. Its own “illusion” is everything. Then again, there’s no pleasing everyone.


  7. Emyr – Yes, of course sculpture has always involved ‘moving around’.
    I hope I managed to distinguish that the sort of ‘moving around’ I was stating as necessary for achieving an ABSTRACT sculpture, involves a) the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘view’, but infinite numbers of ‘entries’ INTO and WITHOUT the sculpture’s physical and spatial relationships; and b) which you then gradually discover in time (like music) and which, hopefully, are intense enough in feeling to place the viewer into a continuum of plastic discovery and aesthetic delight.
    And yes, of course it is not just about ‘stuff’ piling in. I tried to make clear in the essay that the ‘complexity’ comes about as a RESULT of the above intentions; it does not make them.
    I also tried to make clear in my previous (Part 1) that I feel that space, in a really abstract sculpture, can no longer be ‘passive’, but must play as much of a part in the ‘construction’ of the sculpture as the physical elements;. This is ESPECIALLY the case in achieving a sculpture which has no definable reference as I have outlined in the essay is necessary. Again, I feel that there is a huge difference in these aims between painting and sculpture.
    “…If a work is good enough it will also shut out any import from metaphor or illusion.. Its own ‘illusion’ is everything…”
    Here, here.


  8. Emyr – Perhaps I should try to be a little more explicit on what I mean by the necessity of complete peripatation (?) with an intended abstract sculpture

    That old saw that sculpture is what you fall over when you stand back to look at the painting has a certain amount of truth in it; Sculpture DOES require physical participation from the viewer to truly appreciate its qualities.
    What I think one was doing when viewing past sculpture from varying angles and positions was CONSOLIDATING a total image, in the mind / eye, of the piece as a whole, as a completed image / composition (in space) Obviously this applies only to what used to be called ‘sculpture in the round”; relief or quasi relief is something else..
    What I think is necessary for the appreciation of what a really abstract sculpture DOES, by contrast, is to eliminate in the mind / eye any idea of a finished ‘whole’ or image / composition, in favour of an UNKNOWABLE whole that is created by the constant variation of ‘views’ as one moves around and about and within and without. Just as in a piece of music one is unaware of the whole until completed in time, so too a really abstract sculpture will only reveal itself gradually, one aspect replacing another constantly, leaving one ONLY with a mind /eye summation of what has been seen – in time – as a vehicle of sculptural feeling.
    The trouble with all this is that the wretched photograph (by which most sculpture is judged) will completely contradict what has just been stated above and will present the viewer with the exact opposite, a traditional ‘view’ of the ‘whole’ !~


    1. Yes. I was trying to make a case for the difference between sculpture and painting as you had wondered. The role of time is key. There’s the issue of seeing the entirety of a sculpture as in more open works, as you can grasp its reality immediately and what is ‘hidden’ reveals itself to confirm your grasp, and then enhance/ consolidate(?) this as you get to know it – I wonder if there’s an electricity in the initial encounter (as in a good painting) and then the charge crackles along as you move and is maintained. Tony’s indeterminateness issue made me wonder about the engagement involving a flux state in the locus of the best works: acknowledging the literal and also feeling the illusion of it – and rather than this being a dropping off of energy in the illusion, is it actually the inevitability as the eye /mind scrabbles to make sense of this illusion? I would suggest that this is in fact just as palpable when looking at the actualities of a – good – painting. No, you can’t bump into a piece of it per se, but you can fully grasp its facture/ handling reality – its literalness.

      My point is that you don’t need to try to create “sculpture time” in a painting – it is instantaneous. The gravity of the encounter can be increased with the richness of the facts of the paint’s reality – colour, handling, surface, scale, contrast and all the concreteness available. We can see when something is flimsy or heavy handed straightaway and no amount of time will reveal anything extra – rather it will confirm what is already felt. If the sculpture looks ponderous, lightweight, we get it pretty fast. I have spoken with Tony before when he discusses “contradictions” to check and disrupt the streamline. Well, a Matisse line drawing exemplifies this quite overtly. Painting and sculpture can both aim for the same “target” but via different routes. I was suggesting the the mistake is trying to follow the same path. As painter, I was merely seeking to draw a line in the sand- then again, I would do, whereas you would drop a stick!


  9. Emyr – “…Painting and Sculpture can both aim for the same ‘target’ but via different routes…”

    Yes, I agree, and your “…,you don’t need to try to create ‘sculpture time’ in a painting…” I also think is correct.
    One of the key issues I was attempting to clarify in the essay is just that very point. Past sculpture, just as in painting, tended to have an ‘instant’ impact – on first sight – an overall impression; whereas my contention is that with a really abstract sculpture’s conception as envisaged, it will only reveal itself gradually in time (as in music), because of the way it is conceived and constructed DIFFERING from those of older models in ways I have tried to outline.
    Curiously, this factor being the case will actually FURTHER the aesthetic distance between painting and sculpture, not in terms of your “target”, but in thinking processes and resultant methods including “sculpture time”.

    I hesitate to dig myself in deeper with painting, not being a practitioner, but perhaps the word ‘illusion’ which has constantly cropped up is a clue to the ‘differences’.
    As I understand it, painting IS illusion. Despite the fact that the walls, boards, canvas, cotton duck, etc., and the paint itself, are all ‘stuff’ (materials), they count for nothing in the conception of what a painting is going to DO, in the way of aesthetic stimulation and delight (other than in terms of techniques).

    Sculpture, on the other hand, heavily conditioned by ‘stuff’ (materials), is totally REAL, indisputably there, but has to CREATE illusion for its physical parts to project aesthetic
    stimulation and delight, and not remain lumpen ‘things’.
    ABSTRACT sculpture has to do the same, but in ways differing from the past as I have attempted to outline. Which, in fact, make that very creation of illusion by the sculptor far more agonising than previously with the attempted elimination of all reference.

    What this, incidentally, raises for me, is the question whether there CAN be such a thing as a totally ABSTRACT painting ?


  10. I would like to go back to the beginning of Tim’s essay and his assertion that Abstract Sculpture had not generated the same level of human feeling as that of music.
    We now seem to be worrying over redefining definitions.
    For me , what follows is where I think things are now. ….
    The biggest single noticeable change that would overtake an Abstract Sculpture of today , the structure, content and meaning or believability of which had been reconfigured in all of its thinking, all of its elements etc.etc. , would most noticeably be in its three dimensionality .
    In its new form of being ‘not real’ , an ‘illusion’ , contradictory, seemingly ‘incomplete’, not ‘whole’, having no ‘recall’, no familiarity and no image ,in other words , not ‘something ‘ at all ,the sculptor may have a ‘magic moment’ and feel to be in the presence of some ….?……….?….That is of itself, provocative ,inspiring , demanding, thoughtful yet not satisfying ,and may possibly even leave one wanting more.
    It could offer just that. And , staggeringly it is there in front of you , and shockingly , repeated looking , though felt to be illuminating , never commits to memory .nothing takes root and grows through discovery to a whole . If its‘ very being’ was ordinary ,that would become its undoing. But if the meaning only contributed to its continuity , and in avoiding all reality , could be a worthy Art , super different to any other Abstract Sculpture , having instead a structure, a ‘felt’ three dimensionality that makes it unreal .
    If this a case for the moment , in that absence of facts and truths , what might remain is ‘feeling’ and this very odd three dimensionality, which rather than being a framework , may rely on that ‘feeling’ generated by everything all at once .


  11. Three-dimensionality is the most important thing in abstract sculpture, but you have to go much further than saying that, and not just by adding all the other stuff mentioned. All objects are three-dimensional: but in abstract sculpture, three-dimensionality has to go way further than the norm. It has to be three-dimensionality of a different order, complex and multi-variable, from all directions, beyond what has happened in sculpture or objects or figures before.

    Connections with how previous sculptors have thought and worked are unimportant. I maintain, this is a new start, regardless of whatever is describes here as being important from the past.

    I also think discussing a theory about “feeling” is pointless. Yours are not mine.


  12. Tony – I have to say at once that I was referring to the GENERAL audiences for music and sculpture, NOT to individuals who may well have personal preferences in their aesthetic tastes which could be for one or the other.(usually both).

    “…The biggest single noticeable change that would overtake an Abstract Sculpture of today, the structure, content and meaning or believability of which had been reconfigured in all of its thinking, all of its elements etc.,etc., would most noticeably be in its three dimensionality…”

    If one knows what you are referring to, and I believe that I DO, I quite agree.

    However, the question is begged as to what exactly is meant by “three dimensionality” especially in the case of sculpture.?
    It is NOT (I assume) literal three dimensionality, either of the composite parts or whole of a piece; nor is it to do with the material or its characteristics or its existence as an object in the world.
    It is not (I assume) a SUGGESTION as, for example, the projection of an Indian temple sculpture from semi relief.
    It is NOT (I assume) the three dimensionality of say, architecture or engineering with their enclosure and manipulation of space.
    It is NOT (I assume) as we have argued before, a search for an IDEAL of three dimensionality, (science).
    Which leads inexorably to the idea of CREATING visual conviction in the mind / eye of the viewer, of a three dimensionality, both physical and spatial, as an essential aesthetic constitution of the piece of sculpture itself. The form of this construction to be determined by, as we have all been arguing, a willed attempt to make it COMPLETELY abstract; without which it would immediately degenerate once more into literally three dimensional statements referring back to the sculpture of yesterday,
    I hope, as you do, that this “noticeable change” will grow and flourish in today’s sculpture.


    1. ‘All objects are three dimensional but in abstract sculpture three dimensionality has to go way further than the norm ‘ It has to be three dimensionality of a different order, complex and multi variable from all directions , beyond what has happened in sculpture or objects or figures before ‘

      If you had said that 20 years ago… wow … that would have been good and shown a much better level of understanding than it shows today.
      You are late to this party.

      Could you share some of your crazier thoughts about how you see your development of this new three dimensionality in your own sculptures now .


      1. Tetchy bugger, aren’t you! If you think you knew any of this even five year ago, you are kidding yourself. Non of us had much idea at all about complex three-dimensionality.

        And if you think my thoughts are crazy, try interpreting your own.


  13. Your response says it all for me
    Complex three dimensionality is just three words.
    What it means today and what it meant whenever are naturally two different things, because ….. well because of the sculptures that people have made and seen of other people’s sculpture.
    So what those three words will mean in the future is anyones guess.
    It has always been a gradual and shared thing !
    But I insist that what we saw in Mark’s studio , Year One Brancaster Chronicle ‘Greedy’ 2012 , was not an object , was complex , was very three dimensional. It was then then, the best Abstract (cutting edge) Sculpture I had seen .
    And I said so .
    And I said why , in the best way I could , at the time .
    So it is ,across the board ,a gradual and evolving development as it was on that day , and has continued Full steam ahead , as with this discussion with Tim .

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Let’s hope this debate can continue
    It has been intelligent and successful ,thanks to Tims original thinking ,and has avoided the pointlessness of telling people how to move forward


    1. Maybe you are pissed off with the way this debate has panned out ?
      Do you mean Tim ,myself or us both?
      Are you calling time on this?
      Can you clarify please
      After all it is your Abcrit


  15. Emyr sent me this : ” you have to transcend the lliteralness of your material to create the illusion of your work. I too am aiming for this, but your space is the illusion felt in three dimensions, mine in two.”
    and: “space in painting is not a dimensional issue ”

    But space in sculpture IS a dimensional issue, and in this respect, shares more with architecture than painting. However, with the crucial proviso that the experience of architectural space is not only in the mind / eye, but equally in that of physical motion and exploration.

    I am suggesting that for an abstract sculpture, space, rather than being a passive ‘leftover’ from that occupied by physical form will be ‘dimensional’ in that (to be truly abstract) it will play an active role alongside the physical forms in DETERMINING direction, movement, physicality and ultimately – feeling, within and without the piece.
    It IS illusional per se, but in contributing to the visual RESULTS of decisions made for the form’s journeys (which though physically real attempt to create illusion) can create a mind / eye (abstract) reality.
    (or NOT as the case may be !).


    1. I mostly agree with that, and there is an interesting addition perhaps – that the relative sizes and shapes of the varied materials and spaces might is some way maybe “balance”, so neither dominates the other, though not literally.

      So if the material becomes complex, then so does the space…


    2. Having thought more, I am now not so sure about the word illusion. I do not ever think in terms of any illusion when I am painting (unless the colour is getting away from me and then it sort of leaks and there is a sense of “somewhere else” (to the reality of the painting) and then things need sorting. If you are aware of dimensions, I might suggest the synthesis is not complete.

      A synthetic reality is what it is about instead of an illusion, perhaps; illusions have a connotation of something that is being suggested or connected with, which we would be hooked up to in a state of elsewhere when seeing the work -I’m not entirely sure I see it like that. Much painting is laced with those suggestions and the end of that axis is full on figuration. In fact I would suggest that when the painting is failing, that’s when the illusion comes in and also that’s when the notions of any sort of dimensional issue – I never think in terms of two or three dimensions or work with these terms in mind – or eye.

      A sculpture engages you or not and the richness of that engagement is dependent upon the amount of attention invested into the facts of its reality. You can have high ambitions for all sorts of complexity but this will not guarantee it. You have to be really on the handling, the decision-making and be able to change things and pick up the thread, time and again – not following anything predetermined but with the same focus to discover. As Courbet said: “a masterpiece must be painted (made) more than once”. I can see the attraction also in avoiding what is perceived as compositional decisions with turning things around or letting go in a more autonomous way but I have found this in itself becomes mannered and is only a way of turning your back on things. It’s an approach, designed to outflank yourself. At some point you have to make decisions about joining, cutting plus deciding the amount of “contact time’ with the material – why assume that the optimum way to achieve something good is to artificially take yourself out of the equation? The reason for this is in an assumption that if not doing so you end up having “something” to paint/make – yet this is not true, you just have to work harder to get into that synthetic reality zone.

      I do not see sculpture as needing architecture, painting or object-ness. It has to sort itself out without any of these things. For example and not related to your points per se: materials will have a history to them, but I do not think about the milling of steel or paper or the manufacturing of wood when I am looking at it – those things never enter my mind unless I actively choose to do so. In fact I don’t “think” about anything, or in terms of the three-dimensional issue, to be brutally frank. I look at it and that’s about it. I do not feel elated, moved, disturbed, aware of anything really – I feel like just looking and nodding now; maybe it’s a lockdown thing and we’re all elsewhere in someone else’s illusion.


  16. Robin – Now THAT is a very interesting idea, (whether, or not, a dynamic sculptural space should BALANCE the dynamics of the form), in an abstract sculpture
    My own conception of this has been that, imagining sculptural space to be ‘viscous’ in some form or other, and as a consequence parallel the variety of that form(s), rather like a mould does with a cast; that it would,then, in itself, become the aesthetic equivalent of an actual physical form. Of course only in the mind / eye as it remains – simply – space.
    This notion would automatically induce the same complexity (or simplicity) as pertains in the physical forms.

    Whether or not the relative ‘quantities’ of physical form and ‘physicalised space’ should be equal (balance ?)is another matter, but it is a fascinating topic on which I would be glad to hear other views.


    1. I think the “mould and cast” idea doesn’t sit well with me. In fact, I don’t think of the material as being used as “forms”. It’s not about a division.

      Perhaps in contrast, I was watching a great version of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins on the telly and the complete “continuity of differences” struck me as the very thing sculpture requires in its quest for complex three-dimensional spatiality.

      (However, that’s as much as I know about any relationship with music and sculpture. They seem very different things altogether.)


  17. Robin –
    I defer to your own preferences for metaphors for sculptural procedures.

    I tried to make it clear a couple of times that I was NOT comparing sculpture with music. They are indeed “different things altogether”.
    What I was trying to suggest, and analyse if at all possible, was HOW a purely abstract sculpture could possibly attempt to match the power of aesthetic emotion generated by musical SOUND with its sculptural construction of MATERIAL forms (and spaces) ? Perhaps the answer is that it cannot, especially when Bach is around ?


    1. I think you are right – it cannot compete in the same ballgame. I’m sure you know and understand more than I do about the way music is organised and it’s comparison with sculpture.

      I never think of abstract sculpture being in any way a “pure” thing. This business seems excitingly impure, don’t you think? I say that because for me the development of complex three-dimensions is not merely one of the aspects of abstract sculpture, like any other, but its raison d’être. That’s what I’m in the job to invent..


  18. Emyr – When you hear Bach’s ‘Concerto for two Violins’, is that an illusion ?
    It is ‘real’ to the mind / ear, but otherwise is merely sound, which disappears (like an illusion or a “synthetic reality” when attention passes). Perhaps I have misunderstood you ?
    “…engagement is dependent upon the amount of attention invested into the facts of the reality…”
    Is not that the same, as I put it, as invested in ‘aesthetic feeling’ (for the viewer) ?
    I like the Courbet quote – it is indisputable in my experience (with the proviso that most of my attempts fail !).
    I don’t think that avoiding ‘compositional decisions’ is the same thing as “.. letting go in a more autonomous way…” On the contrary, it is as much of a wilful ‘making’ decision as the opposite: deliberately engineered ‘composition’. The reasons being part of the effort to create an ABSTRACT sculpture. I agree withe your descriptions of decision making otherwise.

    I think that we have all spent quite a lot of time claiming that a new abstract sculpture will NOT need “… architecture, painting or object-ness…”, etc., so I agree.

    The only point I was making concerning materials in sculpture is that its very nature, as an art form, OBLIGES one to take them into account in decision making.

    Robin – I don’t think I used the word ‘pure’, at least not out of context.
    I quite agree that sculpture is “up for grabs” and indeterminate; (the trouble with indeterminacy is that sooner or later it has to become determinate); and I agree that what you call “… the development of complex three dimensions…” is – of the moment.
    All I would add is that there MAY come a moment in which the ‘development of simple two dimensions’ becomes important !


  19. I’m a bit puzzled by your suggestion “The means of creating musical feeling can be separated entirely from the means of production of it (instrumentation).” Surely, instrumentation is part and parcel of how music achieves its effects, along with rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, articulation etc. If that were not the case our response to a piece for large orchestra would be the same as the work in piano reduction.

    You also say: “The fundamental difference between the transmission of musical feeling and that of sculptural feeling, therefore, lies in the FACT of sculpture’s physicality or ‘thereness’ as something real, the antithesis of musical sound’s world of oral illusion.” – I think you might mean “aural” illusion, but an illusion of what exactly? I understood your point to be that music and abstract sculpture are non-representational, referring to nothing other than the medium itself. Music has the same physicality as sculpture, albeit by way of vibrations in the air. Of course, it doesn’t have the permanence of a physical object other than possibly as a recording, but that seems to be a different matter.

    Of course, I might have completely misunderstood what you’re saying.


  20. Is this a(rough) summary of where commentary is at ?

    The models evolved for ‘Modern Sculpture’ during its hundred ( + – ) year history are today being endlessly repeated, ad nauseam; which therefore creates a situation in which progressive sculptors are beholden to conduct a rethink.
    It is fruitless to continue using figurative, semi figurative, quasi abstract, journalistic, sociological, architectural, painterly, graphic design etc., etc., models for new work, which aspires to be original – quite simply because it will NOT be.
    The repetition has been endless and has produced a steadily diminishing aesthetic worth in the ‘audience’s’ perceptions of the art.
    Sculpture has been cheapened and trivialised.

    Finding the means to creating a fully ABSTRACT sculpture opens possibilities for GENUINE originality. However, this means foregoing ::
    Thinking in terms of a total IMAGE (perceived whole) which has always been the end goal previously in history, .and is inevitably induced if the above mentioned norms are followed.
    An abstract whole will merely be a collection of material(s) parts until these are willed into three dimensional journeys incorporating in their activities: physicality. movement (visual not litreral), the expression of forces in and with space; all these and more, within and without the piece as an entity.
    This ‘entity’, will be discovered and perceived in ‘time as it is gradually un folded in the mind / eye,, by the viewer through physical exploration(peripatetic, instead of as an ‘image’
    The nature of this ‘entity’ being multi dimensional, multi spatial and multi physical will not ‘refer’ to anything recognisable (except what it IS),, and will, hopefully, generate its aesthetic force abstractly (like music).


    1. Very well put Tim,

      A question: If you made a sculpture in – for example – wood, which was of a size that you could wrap your arms around, and hold it fully, and then you made a fully scaled-up version, say the size of a tractor, including the scaled up thickness of the wood, so it was scaled up throughout its three-dimensions; if you did this, would your experience of the material and the space created – although proportionate – be similar but just exist in a bigger size? Would the content of the work carry over? I ask this as I have wondered when looking at an area of colour and notice that it seems to reach a breaking point as it goes past a certain point in size: it is not scaleable as such. Seeing a piece of material the size of your hand is something your eye can accommodate, physically, but I wonder if at a giant size it can’t and you have to add something to break up the ‘extent’ of the material when it goes outside the proportions of the body, perhaps, to bring it back in someway to the human scale? In a painting the colour will not carry enough force to hold its expressiveness – as that colour; the force breaks down as we experience it. Colour field painters sought to create space through colour areas on often massive scales – but they held you at a distance as that morphed into the mural and something meaningful was lost

      Therefore I am wondering if force in an artwork must be engaged with as perceptual. (is this what real abstract illusion is – the ‘perception’ of a visual force? Whereas something like a cue of depth (tonal transitions for example) is the illusion of an actual force (physical distances of the three-dimensional world) and is as such pre-conceived or rather, “pre-considered” – a ‘trick’ of the eye rather than a ‘true’ illusion – hence, the extreme titillations of a tromp l’oeil work which is bereft of any true force and is as streamlined as it gets. I am wrestling with overlapping or layered colour, which is a tough one, as I am finding out, when moving between black and white and full colour.

      Is the challenge of the sculptor to contradict the actual yet at the same time work with it to get to the perceptual? This sounds straightforward and even a “so what” statement but the consequence of it places a demand upon the art to demonstrate that there is no compromise in it to be perceived as abstract and that the material is no longer a vehicle or repository for information that could be written down. In short cannot be translated (and therefore is not a language. (You offer the “approximation” of music, agreed). Matisse so brilliantly explained in his notes of a painter: “the thought of a painter must not be considered as separate from his pictorial means, for the thought is worth no more than its expression by the means, which must be more complete (and by complete I do not mean complicated) the deeper is his thought”. Always good to re-read that one.

      Whatever shape this takes is up for grabs but the means to do so would seem to lie in the ability of the artist to deal with the actualities of the materials first. We have to deal with the stuff (for sculptor and painter, alike), synthesise it into the art to ultimately return us to the human – you could say: the abstract starts and ends with the real.


  21. Thanks Emyr – some interesting points.

    My initial answer to your question would be – NO. I think that we are referring to SCALE here. and that is an important factor in sculpture.
    If one takes your ‘tractor’ example, as compared to the ‘huggable’ size, we are talking about entering architectural territory, i.e. space which is actually physically used as well as seen.
    Though it is perfectly possible to have large scale figurative sculpture, history is full of it; ln the field of non figurative, or quasi so, ‘modern’ work it has a tendency to become what I call ‘airport sculpture’. i.e. overblown graphic design.
    I am not a fan of ‘Sculpitecture’; I personally think that Caro was ill advised to go down that road. It always seems to end up as a sort of children’s playground.
    It is interesting to note that Rodin didn’t actually himself work on large scale pieces; they were enlarged be assistants; and I think we have probably all noted that ‘enlarging’ usually means a loss of vitality and ‘touch’.
    The actual size of a piece of sculpture, in my view, is crucial in the making. I would go further and say that the limitations of the parts of a piece, as they project in space, are a very fundamental part of decision making procedure and cannot be neglected as they frequently have been in the past.

    “…Is this what real abstract illusion is – the ‘perception’ of a visual force ?…”
    I like the phrase ‘visual force’ very much. I would agree that it describes something of what I have been trying to get at for an abstract sculpture’s ‘journeys’ of its parts.within and without.

    “…Is the challenge of the sculptor to contradict the actual, yet at the same time work with it to get at the perceptual ?…”
    Maybe “straight forward”, but, I think, accurate, “…but the consequences of it place a demand upon the art to demonstrate that there is no compromise in it to be perceived as abstract and that the material is no longer a vehicle or repository for information that could be written down…”
    Exactly so,

    I will always go along, like you, with any number of Matisse’s sayings; they invariably hit the proverbial nail.
    I suppose ‘up for grabs’ MUST, for the sculptor, mean grabbing the material’s idiosyncracies first and foremost.



  22. Colin – I am very sorry, I had completely missed your commenjt because of it’s placing .

    Yes, I probably did not make myself very clear. I was simply thinking of ‘music’ as being the mental invention of the composer, but of course you are right in saying that its ‘realisation’ depends on its (my word) instrumentation.
    Mea culpa; I meant aural !
    I was attempting to describe the EFFECT of music as against the EFFECT of sculpture in terms of the ways in which they are achieved. Musical ‘illusion’ I assume is in the mind / ear of the listener; that of a potential abstract sculpture in the mind / eye of the viewer. The one being created by sound, the other by a conglomeration of physical material – the IMPORTANT point being that they BOTH do it ABSTRACTLY. This is the sole reason I brought music into the argument, but a crucial one (for me). As I tried to make clear, past sculpture has tended to be associated with other art forms that do not do so, and that this parallel might help clarify what I think new abstract sculpture should aim for in the transmission of aesthetic feeling.
    I HOPE this is clearer !


    1. Thinking further Colin, on your remarks concerning the DEIFFERENCES in the music (as imagined and heard) made by the different instruments used, there is, in fact, some sort of parallel in abstract sculpture.
      If one uses (as I for one have many times) different materials in the making of one piece of sculpture, it is imperative to take into account the differing natures and characteristics of those materials as an essential ingredient to one’s sculptural thinking.and making.
      I would suggest that this has some sort of aesthetic relationship to the composition of
      music ?
      I feel that this is quite an important topic for sculpture too ?


  23. Do you think attention span has something to do with it ?
    Your comment “…Music has the same physicality as sculpture, albeit by way of vibrations in the air…” leads me to ask whether the finite time span of music (it becomes just a memory at the end of a piece), is more suited to the human brain / ear than the permanent time span of sculpture to the human brain / eye ?


    1. I agree, Tim – there are many useful parallels between music and sculpture. One of those is the nature and potential of the materials used – our old friend, “truth to materials” – which is of course, not limited to purely abstract sculpture: polished bronze, stone that is hard and smooth, the pristine purity of marble, soft organic wood, etc. One finds something very similar in music where notes and sonorities are fundamentally entwined. For example, the composer Elliott Carter wanted his music to flow directly from the distinctive timbres and articulations of the instruments on which it was played. During the opening of his his early Piano Sonata he makes use of fourths and fifths that bring out the natural overtones of the instrument and its ability to sustain and layer sounds, followed by scurrying passages that highlight the sparkling nature of the piano. Music abounds with such examples. Take a listen:

      As to the temporal aspect, music exists in memory, but its primary purpose is to engage us while it’s being performed. Much the same could be same of sculpture, however – we look, yet also remember and are on occasions, reminded long after the event. Although a piece of sculpture continues to exist when we leave the room, the fact is that both looking and listening are fundamentally temporal activities. This might be enhanced in the case of sculpture over painting by the fact of its three-dimensionality. It’s more obviously a process than looking at a flat surface, or at least the movement of our body and head makes us more aware of the process of looking, thinking, revising, etc. There is a difference however, in that the successions of music are not down to us whereas our focus on a fixed work of art is generally down to the viewer. The artist can’t dictate the order of the audience’s perceptions.

      I suppose another difference, more practical than conceptual, is that we are probably more used to listening to, and remembering, music. By way of recordings and the ubiquity of music in our lives it’s simply more familiar to us. The grammar of abstract sculpture is less recognisable and maybe we have to work harder, which can of course bring its own rewards.


      1. On reflection, certain abstract sculpture does seem to have a temporal aspect built into it, though not necessarily of a fixed direction; a sense of dynamic echoes and expansions, one thing leading into or reduced to another, which paradoxically makes us more aware of movement, succession and connections than things that actually move. This is certainly the case in respect of a number of your sculptures and those of Robin albeit that I can only experience them “second-hand” in flat reproductions.


  24. Colin – I am so used to equating sculpture with other VISUAL arts, that it is unaccustomed but refreshing to have music brought into it in the case of abstract sculpture (as wished for).

    “…both looking and listening are fundamentally temporal activities…” is of course correct,; your point about ‘successions’ being quite differently conceived in music as compared to the essential ‘exploration’ in time I am saying will be a major part of an abstract sculpture’s success or otherwise, is likewise germane
    Above all, I agree, the general lack of familiarity with sculpture’s ethos.is a huge handicap to understanding; especially of new ideas such as the one’s we are concerned with in these discussions.

    Your last paragraph, hopefully, describes one of the aspects being aimed for in evolving an abstract sculpture which will even BEGIN to move us as music does !

    (Unfortunately I could not play your piece on my steam computer)



  25. Another thought re sculpture and painting space:

    Painting space is contained within the boundaries of the painting, either a real frame or some substitute for it of one sort or another, any one of which is a limitation on any interaction with REAL space (which it does not need ti interact with anyway – illusion).
    Sculpture space, and especially the abstract sculpture space we are discussing, exists in REAL space and partakes of real space. Its physical llimitations in real space are therefore crucial (re your ‘tractor’ Emyr)
    Abstract sculpture space is part of real space, but at the same creates its own (within and without). Painting space exists entirely within itself.


    1. Tim
      With no particular sculpture in mind ,and you are only talking of an Abstract sculpture, as it has therefore no reference to anything outside of itself , no ‘recall ‘, if the sculpture achieves Abstract ,the space , being a fundamental player with the material, must also be Abstract?
      Are you suggesting the space is actually Abstract and Real?


      1. Tony: Is your indeterminate state of apprehending a work in the DNA of sculpture and maybe even more of a locus for experiencing “new, open” sculpture? One would tune into the “illusion” but also acknowledge that this is happening through the actual means of the material’s handled reality. There will always be this state of flux. This is not, then, a dropping off of the strength of the work’s ability to hold you, but is a natural consequence of that hold upon you; it will make you switch in and out as there is no “subject” to confirm your prior experiences – no ‘recall” as you say.

        With regard to painting (Tim) – I would not jump fully into the “in” the painting statement. It can be an equally actual to virtual relationship as in a sculpture but through a fixed point instead of a fluid one (fixed not meaning rigid). The ambition being to make a claim on the space in front of you. You become acutely aware of the reality of the work as you look into (and at) it.


  26. Tony – Yes, the difficulty of finding words for visual concepts.

    By REAL space, I mean the air, the ether, what we all and everything in the world lives in.
    By SCULPTURE space (abstract sculpture as envisaged), I mean that which is willfully engineered by the sculptor as part of the configuration of parts which go to make up the whole piece.
    We have discussed the idea of a positive space of this kind rather than a totally neutral one as was so often in the past.
    Of course, this space too is literally part of REAL space, but its role within and without the piece distinguishes it as ABSTRACT space. I’m sure the scientists will laugh at the idea and probably say that it is impossible. So be it.


  27. Emyr – I THINK I know what you mean.

    A huge painting, say twenty feet long, passes out of your field of vision at either end (if one is in the middle), and requires one to PHYSICALLY adjust (in space) to visually capture the full field of the work ?
    In other words your “fixed point” has to be moved in space (in front of the painting) to fully appreciate the work ? If that is correct you are entering the same territory as I mentioned for sculpture ?
    The real difference then becomes the absolute NECESSITY for THREE DIMENSIONAL movement (peripatetic) in space,around a piece of (abstract) sculpture in order to grasp its own three dimensionality which is at its fundamental conceptual core (in order to be really abstract as we have been discussing).
    Correct me if I have misunderstood.


    1. Not quite what I was trying to say. My point is that every “incident” in a painting will relate to the proportions of the painting (and should so). A work that would grab the space in front of it – feel as big as it actually is and define its believability through its actuality, not by a suggestion of an internal space, exclusively. The Internet has negated the physical and forces the virtual on us. It’s compromising for sculpture but also for painting as we inevitably lose sight of the actualities of the painting. The space I am suggesting is not the air, it’s the awareness of the active to the fictive relationship which would be akin to a sculpture’s flux state of absorbing the believable reality of the work but also getting how it is done (through, how it is done). Fixed meaning you can take it in without scanning but your eye is acutely aware of differences without having to chase them about.


  28. Emyr – No, I had a feeling it might not be !

    But aren’t we back again at the joke: ‘Sculpture (abstract) is what you fall over……….i.e. it is real and partakes of real space as well as containing its illusion of sculpture space, (which is perceived in the mind / eye).
    Whereas painting space (what happens in the mind / eye) IS illusion and has minimal partaking of real space ? Or am I still not getting it ?

    I read what you say as being part of HOW things are done in painting rather than WHAT it does in relation to real space.

    I totally agree that the media, ANY of it, which destroys real visual contact with art is a menace to enjoyment and understanding.


    1. Tim
      You have ,in this debate, set out clearly your criteria for sculpture being ‘abstract’.
      The problem I have ,at this moment ,is I cannot believe that if any of any abstract sculpture is perceived to be ‘real’ that would render the work an object ,and not abstract.
      Hence my pushing the idea of ‘illusion’ , which is hardly foreign to sculpture.
      The combinations of materials and space ,under the persuasion of all the elements , in pursuit of ‘abstract’ and hence a freedom, unfettered , I think ,would have to be achieved for each and every sculpture?
      And it does beg the question…..
      Is ‘abstract ‘ real ?


  29. Tony – I am pleased that my setting out has been clear.

    I think we are agreed that the attempt to achieve a more genuinely ABSTRACT sculpture is worthwhile, since past models have proven to have their limitations, (reference, image, dependency on other forms etc., etc.) The aim being a sculpture that is uniquely itself and whose aesthetic enjoyment is quite distinct from other visual art forms.

    To address your qualms concerning ‘REAL’.
    I would have thought that it is undeniable that a sculpture IS an object. Furthermore, I would also say that its status as a physical object in the physical world is fundamental to what it is capable of DOING (visually and aesthetically)
    The question, then, immediately arises as to what distinguishes IT, as sculpture, from all the other objects of the world.
    My contention is that STARTING with the FACTS of a physical object, (as made according to the sculptor), if a truly abstract state is arrived at in the making, its ‘content’, what it says to the eye / mind of the viewer aesthetically, will enable it to ride ABOVE the REALITY of its ACTUAL being; if you like – an ILLUSION.

    One is tempted to say that any great art does exactly this.

    Perhaps then, the way forward for sculpture is to attempt to be more serious about emulating the way great art has been achieved than has patently been the case in recent times in the history of modern sculpture
    So, abstract WILL be real, when success starts to appear over the horizon.


    1. Tim
      Let’s agree to disagree
      BTW … in my mind I am changing the word ‘real’ for ‘believable’.
      Cheers Tony


  30. OK – Let’s try: eg.

    “….Abstract sculpture space exists in believable space and partakes of believable space. Its physical limitations in believable space are therefore crucial…”

    “.. Sculpture space too is literally part of believable space, but its role within and without the piece distinguishes it as ABSTRACT space…”


    1. Agreed:

      Believability (not belief) – fully realised as a synthetic reality and not leaking into the local space. Indeterminateness as in the work compelling a constant movement in its engagement with a continually redefining of its reality as an expressive work (this being abstract – this state shuts out any recall of allusion and doesn’t promote any narrative (again a leaking). The handling of the material is wilful always; we can try different “out-flanking’ approaches to avoid configuration / composition / the pictorial, to give the feeling of it happening in spite of us and we are responding to the accidental incident but the danger is to assume this is the optimum way to get more abstract. To get a pressure on the materials and work the decision rather than negating it could be something different. The awareness of the how, the what and the “entrancement” of their consequences would seem to be what it comes down to. Having said all that – knowing, agreeing or disagreeing with any of it will not guarantee any success anyway and these esoteric musings lead us up our own tonal depths…” Happiness is treating with quiet reverence that which is unfathomable”


  31. Re the above:
    A problem with the word ‘belief’ is that it has a quasi religious ring to it. we all have had arguments to the effect that “if you don’t believe, you will never understand, etc.”

    I think that in sculpture we should be concerned with FACTS (reality !!) and with altering perceptions of those facts through the dynamics of the work; not through a priori ones that require pre-acceptance suggested by ‘belief’.

    But I am all FOR creating as much ILLUSION as possible in order to subvert facts aesthetically.


    1. Reviewing some of the posts in this discussion I wonder how many of the formulations and distinctions are conceptual in nature and how much of it is concerned with psychological differences in the perception of things, and matters of individual psychology at that which inevitably differ from person to person and lead to talking at cross-purposes. Or, as Doctor Johnson said of two women arguing from buildings on opposite sides of the street, “They will never agree as they are arguing from different premises”.

      Clarity and insight are desirable but on the other hand definitions, labels, and over-determined theories can obscure more than they reveal. Some of out thinking about art and sculpture is deliberately fuzzy and is perhaps best left that way.


  32. I love your Johnson quote Colin. I have to say that I completely agree with you too

    However (that word again), I think it is a good thing, on the whole, to discuss and air views that MIGHT possibly enlighten, or convey some thought that had not previously occurred.
    There is also the fact that several of the (sculptor) contributors, including myself, come from the longstanding tradition of debate originating in the St. Martin’s Crits. and Forums stretching back to the late Fifties.
    Having said that I am the first to emphasise that ANY new or original idea that surfaces for sculpture MUST COME from sculpture itself, from making, NOT from talk talk.


    1. What I have found fascinating in so much of the painting and sculpture covered on ABCRIT, and Brancaster, is the expressive range and the different ways eye and brain can be engaged in an often complex dialogue the works seem to be having with themselves – the nuances and penumbra of experience reflected in a regard for materials and how they can be manipulated and transformed. Having been disenchanted with so much of the trendy, superficial, and attention-seeking art that seems to get so much coverage — the kind of thing you look at, get, and then move on, or which has to be explained in impenetrable prose masquerading as profundity – its refreshing to find serious painting and sculpture that offers so much more. It’s not loud but has a persuasive seriousness of purpose, and genuine wit.

      There are many possible solutions and the diversity of visual thinking is one of the things that makes the art so appealing. Generally speaking, the audiences for painting and sculpture — as distinct from its progenitors — have no particular axe to grind. Imaginative thinking generates pluralities that can’t be reconciled, which is part of what makes us human. There are few absolutes just various categories and distinctions that can help articulate some of what’s going on, and which thankfully admit of degrees. Keep talking but more importantly, keep making.

      There remains a sense of mystery at the heart of this, for artists and viewers alike, the endless feedback loop of how impulse is transferred into matter and back again is something that cannot be put into words or explained in precise terms. And that’s probably for the best. Henry Moore was once sent a book about his work which considered it from the perspective of Jungian psychology. He stopped reading after the first chapter. For him, the fundamentally ineffable nature of the creative process was essential to what he did: to understand it would be to risk destroying it.


  33. So good old Henry just about sums it all up. Cheers.

    Incidentally, Colin, I don’t know where you have been all this time, but come to the shows (if there are going to be any any more !!) and bring your like minded pals. Cheers.


  34. Apologies for joining this discussion rather late in the day. In Covid lockdown mode I find myself contemplating the Carol Bove exhibition at David Zwerner in Grafton Street in 2018. I was tempted to write about the show (as it impressed me) at the time but a) was committed to writing about the Patrick Heron show at St Ives (for AbCrit) and b) lacked the courage to delve into a sculpture show (though I had previous experience with some sculpture shows including Koons, Caro and Calder at various times). I may have mentioned the Bove show to Robin at some point but I don’t think he was getting too excited by the work.

    But the experience of being Bove’s work has stuck in my memory and, in resurfacing, has prompted me to write about the experience. This is currently introduced in my fledgling article with some references to exhibitions I would love to see again including the 10th John Moores show in Liverpool (1976) when I was so impressed with John Walker’s ‘Juggernaut with Plume – for P Neruda’ and the Hayward Annual, selected by John Hoyland (1980) that included so many painters I would follow for years to come.

    But, to get to the point, is Bove’s work ‘abstract’? Is it ‘referential’?

    Tim Scott wrote (somewhere above) – “Constructed sculpture – is equally REFERENTIAL, but to man-made, fabricated objects and concepts and generated by those same physical processes.”
    Does this definition fit her work?


    1. Geoff – Unfortunately I am unfamiliar with Bove’s work; and without the benefit of a (dreaded) photograph, cannot really comment.
      I can only say that IF it resembles, refers to or recalls, a known object(source)rather than being an ‘unknown’ structure that is quite unfamiliar (in the context of abstract sculpture),the answer is probably “yes”.

      Liked by 1 person

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