Art is a Process: Michelangelo’s Slave Sculptures | AmorSciendi


Cherubs, If you’ve ever been to Florence
to see the Statue of David then you are well aware of the power of that statue, and you’ve
hopefully also seen the TED ed animation I wrote, right?… and perhaps you even saw
the far less popular video I made comparing it to Bernini’s statue of David? Well, if you haven’t, I’ll link to them
in the description of this video and you can watch them right after you finish this one. If you have been lucky enough to see the David
in person, you also, no doubt, took note of the statues that line the gallery approaching
the statue. They are a series of unfinished sculptures. Figures that seem to be breaking out of the
rock that contains them. The chisel marks left by Michelangelo about
500 years ago are still visible. They’re unfinished and imperfect, but they’re
also an unexpected surprise for many visitors because they’re powerful works of art on
their own, despite being far less visible in popular culture compared to the David. You’ll hear them referred to collectively
as the Slave sculptures, and there is good reason for that name. These sculptures were intended for the large
tomb of Pope Julius II, an early patron of Michelangelo’s. Julius, though, called Michelangelo away to
other projects, like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, so these sculptures
are left unfinished…. forever. I should note here that he did finish two,
though. These sculptures, which were intended to be
part of that tomb as well, currently live at the Louvre in Paris and, as with everything
Michelangelo did, they’re layered in meaning. They represent the provinces controlled by
Julius in his life time, but, and this is the interpretation I prefer, they’re also
an allegory of the arts dying and held captive after the death of their great patron. The life of Julius with all his patronage,
these sculptures say, set the arts free, and with his death, the arts are back in chains. The other finished sculptures associated with
this tomb, like the magnificent statue of Moses, are… well… at his tomb in Rome. So not only are these slave sculptures in
Florence unfinished, they’re also out of context. Unfinished and out of context and they’re
still breathtaking. They still make me feel something… they’re
still art… indeed, I will even go so far as to say they’re great art. They fit many definitions of art, like, for
example Danto’s idea of “embodied meaning”. They were originally meant to be slaves, and
they are, just in a different way than was intended. They’re imprisoned by the rock around them
and will forever be a slave to that circumstance. That’s embodied meaning. So he successfully created an enduring work
of art, without actually finishing. I want to explore how something like that
can happen: how can an artist can walk away from a project, leaving it unfinished, and
500 years later the product can sit on a pedestal in a museum fulfilling our expectation of
a work of art. When you sit in that gallery and look at these
sculptures you’re not only struck by the content of a human form struggling to break
free from rock, you also contemplate the process of the greatest artists who has ever lived. You can see his chisel marks and cannot help
but imagine the tortured and temperamental genius in a state of creative concentration
trying to free these forms from the rock that imprisons them. As I’m saying this I’m reminded of my
favorite quote from Ze Frank, the greatest artist of the 21st century, “let me not
think of this as a stepping stone to something else, and if it is, let me fall in love with
the shape of that stone”. Being drawn in by the shape of these stones
we end up contemplating and falling in love with the process. So much of our lives is focused on the end
results of our work, but sitting in that gallery, you realize that so much our lives happens
in the process, so maybe Art appreciation should focus less on the artifact and more
on the action of art. This is, of course already true for a lot
of art. The New York School of artists in the middle
of the twentieth century focused largely on process and the display of an action upon
a canvas. Most famously Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings
are an action performed on a canvas, and the artifact, though engaging on its own, is consciously
an artifact of his process. There’s also Klein’s Big Blue Anthropometry
which used nude models as a kind of brush. The art, here, is the process, it’s the
action. The resulting paper with a blue form on it
is simply the artifact left by an action performed on it. So let’s examine this idea, that art is
an activity rather than a product, by looking outside the western art tradition. The sand mandalas of Tibetan Buddhist tradition
come to mind as a demonstration of a similar philosophy. In that case the product is gathered up and
washed away in a river, which forces the participant to focus on process since there ultimately
will be no product. Huh. I guess if we travel far enough into the future,
that’s true of all art. Ultimately it’ll all be gone… I think I just made myself sad. I guess that’s the question here. Should that make me sad? I mean the very idea of taking a painting
and hanging it on the wall for posterity doesn’t even exist in most non-western traditions. In many indigenous cultures, like the Inuit
and Navajo, the ACT of creation is a central part of their aesthetic philosophy, the act
itself is what lifts the human spirit, not just the product. Actually I don’t even need to go outside
of the western tradition to make this point: all performance art, like dance or theater,
up until less than 100 years ago had no lasting product. We needed film for that. Think about all those lost greek plays we
know were performed, but we have no transcript for. They still had an influence. The performances were still art. They still left a mark on civilization or
we wouldn’t know that they even happened. OH, and ALL music up until about 100 years
ago as well. There was no product, there was just the act. A song was sung, and then it was gone. A beautiful voice could not be recorded. So there’s a reason we’re attracted to
those unfinished slave sculptures in Florence, and Jackson Pollock paintings, and there’s
a reason people are enthralled with pointillism, and there’s a reason I like to stand so
close to Vermeer paintings in order to see the brush strokes, which has the unintended
consequence of making museum guards uncomfortable. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you
should go out and create something today, it doesn’t matter what it is… the product
doesn’t matter. it’s the process that provides value, for
you, and those around you. And as you’re making that something, let
yourself enjoy the struggle. Enjoy the process, because that’s where
the art is. OK, if you liked this video, please consider
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check out my Patreon page using the link below. Thank you for watching.

11 comments

  • City Beautiful

    Great video! Recording art, something that we can do now, sort of extends the lifespan of the product, but it does not guarantee it a future, either. How long will these bits and bytes last? It's easy to imagine that the art produced and shared digitally is only one strong magnet away from destruction. It just makes your point even more correct — it's the process, not the product.

    Reply
  • grghndy

    I haven't been lucky enough to see Michelangelo's David, but one day … 🙂
    Could film then, itself, be an atrifact as well as the product? What does that say about (some) YouTube Creators?
    Thank you for another interesting video.

    Reply
  • BariumCobaltNitrog3n

    yeah Zefrank!

    Reply
  • Electric Eagle

    Slave bodies imprisoned by stone, trying to break free… all leading up to the David. There's an hidden story to tell here…

    Reply
  • Rob Eberly

    I’m trying to teach this concept to my ceramics students right now. Thanks for giving me something to share with them. As always, a great video. Thank you.

    Reply
  • JeffinBville

    I have upset more than my share of museum guards by trying to see the brush strokes in a painting because, as you said, that's where the action is.

    Reply
  • missah7

    Your ears are distractingly in focus

    Reply
  • MsPaprat

    Beautiful video, great job!

    Reply
  • genghisbunny

    Wonderful video, live the message in the conclusion. Keep on keeping on.

    Reply
  • Gonzalo Rus

    Thank you, your video came to my lífe in the right moment.

    Reply
  • Ailer Aguilar

    Read book for audiobooks . Podcast? Make money.

    Reply

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