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How Much “Hands-On” Must Qualify for Authorship? Pt. 2

michael binkley sculptor sculpture carving fine art vancouver canada

Previously, I wrote about how much “hands-on” work must be done in order for an artist to claim full authorship of an artwork. I wrote about the Artigiani of Italy and the following is my first experience working side by side with them in a marble carving studio. These men and women are tasked with transferring the concepts of other artists into marble sculptures.

My first working visit to Studio SEM in Pietrasanta, Italy was in 2006 where I began “Ansia”, a life size standing female nude. This was a commissioned sculpture that a Canadian patron wanted me to begin work on in Italy and complete in my Vancouver studio. The caché of having the artwork’s gestation begin with the artist selecting the marble block and beginning the work in Italy was very appealing to him.

At the end of the first week of work, the staff Artigiani approached me to ask where my maquette, or model was for the project. I pulled out my pencil sketch of my piece and answered that my idea for the sculpture was in my head. The inquisitve looks I received made me smile. These men are able to execute a marble sculpture only if they are given a model to copy. To work the marble directly, as I do, and create something entirely from their head was a completely foreign concept to them.

For centuries, artists have conceived sculptures as a maquette in some other medium and then send the model to studios, like SEM to have them executed in marble. The Artigiani take hundreds of reference points from the model in order to exactly copy it to marble. The artist rarely touches the marble piece during the carving process and then signs the work once the Artigiani have completed the sculpture.

My argument is that, like the bronze sculpture industry, this process of having another person transfer, or copy an artist’s concept into stone is academic, as long as the original idea has been completely conceived by the artist. The artist has full authorship of the final marble sculpture, even though the artist has not actually carved the marble.

Comments: 2

  • April 22, 2015

    With reference to your last paragraph, I ask,
    “But where is the satisfaction…apart from getting paid?” I refer to these kinds of artists as “designer/entrepreneurs”.There can be very little “soul” going into these works…but many such designers get quite rich with this approach. One has to admire the artisans though who do the work for these designer/entrepreneurs…they have real skills, but get paid peanuts in comparison.

  • April 22, 2015

    Did you read Part 1?
    So you believe that Rodin, Bernini, Canova, etc. put no soul into their creations? I disagree. Although they did not carve or cast each of their art works, the original sculptures they conceived in clay and plaster were (are) incredible. There is the art. My argument is that transposing that art into another medium is academic, mechanical. And I cannot speak for all studios, but the Artigiani at SEM are paid well for their craftsmanship.

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