When it comes to art, I fall into the “don’t know much but I know what I like” category. In other words, I’m embarrassingly ignorant about it.
So I was recently fascinated to hear the technical rationale behind Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture ‘The Thinker’. Anyone with so much as a passing knowledge of fine art would probably consider this information elementary, but it was news to me.
I’ve always liked The Thinker, perhaps because it’s such an easily ‘accessible’ work. Even to the casual observer, it is obvious that this sculpture represents someone in a deeply contemplative state. But what is not so obvious – or wasn’t to me, at least – is the detail that enables this to be conveyed with such apparent effortlessness.
I’m told that the key to The Thinker’s immediately understandable pose is two-fold.
First, the subject is naked. This is crucial because it means that his muscles are visible.
Second, his right elbow rests on his left knee. This may seem a trivial detail, and many observers probably don’t even notice it. But its importance can be appreciated if you try this yourself – and realise that it is neither a comfortable nor natural position. It takes effort.
Because of this, The Thinker’s muscles are visibly taut, which gives observers the unmistakeable impression of a man deep in thought.
What I find intriguing about this is that none of it was in any way serendipitous. These details were not happy accidents: Rodin knew exactly what he was doing.
You don’t need to be an aficionado to realise that The Thinker is the work of a master. But it’s the elements that contribute to this mastery that really get to the nub of Rodin’s creative genius.
Knowing how people will emotionally respond to something.
Understanding the subtle, almost imperceptible details that will elicit this response.
And then weaving it all together with the painstaking dedication of a craftsman.
Now that is a truly creative thinker.
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