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How Much “Hands-On” Work Must Qualify for Authorship? Pt. 1

michael binkley, sculptor, sculpture, stone, granite, fine art, carving, studio, granite

Recently, there has been some discussion on social media about artistic authorship and how much of an artist’s “hands-on” work must be done to ethically qualify the resulting artwork as their own. Up until recently, I have carved each and every one of over 10,000 original stone sculptures from conception to finish. However, I realize that in the history of art, this is an anomaly.

Hundreds of artists who are credited as stone sculptors hardly carve even one of their stone creations. For example, Bernini, Canova, Rodin, and arguably Michelangelo created their sculptures in clay or plaster. The sculptures were then sent to a marble studio, where artigiani (Italian for craftsmen trained to copy and enlarge) transferred the sculptures to stone. Artists are still having this done today in thousands of stone studios around the world by human or mechanical copying machines. The life of the artigiani profession has been, and still is an honoured one, especially in Italy. However, it carries the stigma that carving stone is a revered craft and skill, not fine art.  This is why we contemporary stone sculptors, who conceive AND create our pieces, continue to struggle to assert ourselves as fine artists.

In my opinion, the Artist  takes full credit for the conception of the sculpture whether it is designed virtually with a 3D modeling program, it is modeled using a medium such as clay, plaster or foam, or if it is carved directly to stone. There has never been an issue with bronze sculptors who create their sculptures in a different medium and then have a foundry cast, and often scale up their sculptures. These sculptors often never touch the bronze, except to sign it when it is complete. This process has existed for centuries in the realm of stone, yet suddenly there is a discussion as to whether an artist has an ethical right to sign their stone sculpture if they have not had a hand in the carving process. The conception of the sculpture must come from the Artist. Transferring the idea from one medium to stone, whether done by the Artist, a craftsman or a CNC machine, is purely academic. However, having someone, or something else carve an Artist’s concept works mainly with monochromatic stones, where colour pattern, striations or stone imperfections do not compromise the composition.

In the latter part of the 20th Century, there seemed to be an explosion of “direct” stone sculptors. I am among those artists who do not make a model first hand, but carve directly to the stone. There is a huge advantage to those of us who can conceive AND carve their own work. This is where we contemporary stone sculptors who carve our own work excel. We are inspired by the shape of the original block, the colours and patterns of the stone – we can adjust our composition on the fly to accommodate a previously unforeseen flaw in the block or shift in creative spirit. These are issues that a machine or a craftsman cannot address, as these methods are constricted by the artist’s submitted design.

In the following posts, I’ll present examples of projects that I have worked on that illustrate these various methods of creation.

Comments: 2

  • April 21, 2015

    I totally agree, I carve every single sculpture myself. Everything about the stone I’m carving is determined by the colors, size, shape and composition of the stone.

  • April 22, 2015

    I like what you have to say and I am a “direct” stone sculptors. And to do it any other way is hard to imagine. Nicely said.
    Donna Naven

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