Measure Twice Cut Once

While driving north from the Florida gulf this past week I was thinking about a life-size horse sculpture waiting for me at my studio. My musings came to rest on the activity of measuring a horse and how it has inadvertently affected contemporary horse sculpture in a negative way.  How an artist goes from concept to the actual sculpture, from little to big without losing your bearing  was spurring me on to examine the process.

I’ve read artist accounts where they claim measuring a horse gives them all the information needed to create a perfect copy of the horse in miniature (usually 1/4 life-size or smaller). The copy part struck me as odd and I wanted to examine what that meant. I’m always looking for the real meaning of statements people make.

An example below is a “copy” of a human by Ron Mueck. Is this art? Yes, the artist’s point is the question of scale; they look like real human beings in the way a wax museum exhibits portraits of people that are uncanny in their detail. They wouldn’t be so off putting if they were loosely rendered in a more painterly way but then again I believe the artist’s intention was to make you examine your perceptions of scale.

Photo credit: Ron Mueck

In the past an artist would first create a miniature of the subject as a prototype for the larger version to present to the commissioning agents. And this was a sketch of sorts, a working model, not the final version and done from observation of the horse. This allowed the artist to further refine his sculpture as it progressed. You can be sure the measurements were off enough to affect the proportions of the larger statue. I believe these sketches were purposely loose so the artist had room to further refine his work; given a breath, a moment, a slice of time which belongs only to the artist and nobody can encroach on the personal space which defines the finished sculpture.

The example cited below which is a  design for monument submission done by American sculptor Lorado Taft shows this perfectly; a loose design done in plaster, created as a working model to be referred to as the artist creates his masterpiece.

Art is not meant to perfectly mimic reality unless that’s your point as the artist did above. Reproducing a copy of a horse through measurements pales against hundreds of minute measurements of a living animal as observed in life.  The real test is relying on experience and talent to look at the measurements and decide to follow them or throw them to the wind and rely on the indelible mark the horse has on one’s eye.