Thursday, 26 February 2009


The picture above is from Michelangelo's unfinished 'Captives' series. These are my favourite of all his works; in them you can see the mind of the sculptor operating and follow the process of the form emerging from the marble. Even at this stage the tension, emotion and sheer beauty are already visible.
Michelangelo is reported to have said that the shape of the sculpture was already there within the rock and the skill of the sculptor was in finding the form and coaxing it out.

I personally think he was selling himself a little short by this. However, I do think there are parallels to the process of writing a novel. According to Margaret Atwood's wonderful 'Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing', I am not the first novelist to liken the sculpting of a novel to that of a stone statue; you begin with your ideas and slowly begin to rough out the beginnings of a form. As you dig into the mass the ideas crystallise and you begin to feel the shape of the story within. There is a definate sense that there is something already there and you are merely smoothing away the layers to find it.

That is very different to the analogy of building, that you start with the raw materials and add block by block, creating the details last.
Sculpture is the process of removal. The story is already there and must be released through determination, hard work and care.

Maybe what is more fascinating, then, is the question: if the writer or sculptor merely reveals the shapes, where do they originate?


LL said...

Since the question is open, I'll weigh in on the topic. The wellsprings of inspiration to write come from within and without. The stanzas below come not from my own experience but from viewing a friend and "extracting" from observations a verbal picture. I think that the sculptor (I also sculpt) finds those cues in the stone, the metal or in the medium of choice.

I am an old garden
beside a river
grander than its shores,
where flowers no longer
turn to the light
but become stained glass
that admits color, not life.

I am an old garden
no one is left to harvest,
where nothing else matters
except the weathered glories
of sun, moon and stars
fallen to the ground
like neglected bounty.

I am an old garden
where once you paused
and inhaled the afternoon;
where the things you planted
grow wild without you,
as careless as a kite in the sky;
careful as wind across long grass.

Art requires pain.

All true art results from longing, impulsive needs to create and insight derived from the painful need to express what you see or feel. From that need, Michelangelo, the tormented genius drew the well springs to see the image in the stone. There is little difference between writing, painting and sculpture. All are about images, all are reflections of ourselves and the world around us.

(sorry for the long rant)

LL said...

All art, whether bronze, stone, pigment or print MUST speak to the "human condition". In effect, it is the clearest record of our passing. The winners of wars control the history books, but they don't control the art.

The Writer in the Wilderness has me thinking...

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, Jen. This is actually the comparison I use to to try and explain what the process is like to friends (think I was boring Felicia with my ramble, actually).
Keep up the blog. It's really engaging.