Art: Conversations With Paul Gsell

One book begets another, continued. Research on Bertha Potter Palmer led me to peek inside her personal library, gifted to the Ringling Museum of Art, where I discovered Rodin’s thoughts on art. Reading this book on line for an art museum felt a bit too earnest, but I did it anyway.
Rodin speaks his mind to Gsell across many interviews. His great point is that our age (1910) is “one of engineers and manufacturers, not artists.”

In modern life, utility is what people want. We are forced to improve existence materially. Every day science invents new means of feeding, dressing, or transporting men. It manufactures bad products economically to give dubious pleasures to the greatest number… The spirit, thinking, dreaming are no longer issues. Art is dead.
Art is contemplation. It is the delight of the mind that penetrates nature and divines the spirit by which nature itself is animated. It is the joy of intelligence that sees clearly into the universe and creates the universe anew by endowing it with consciousness. Art is the most sublime mission of man since it is the exertion of the mind trying to understand the world and to make the world understood.
But today, humanity believes it can do without Art. It does not want to meditate, contemplate, dream. It wants to enjoy itself physically. It is indifferent to lofty and profound truths: it merely appeases its corporeal appetites. Mankind at present is bestial: it has no use for artists.

Rodin invites Gsell to his studio to see him work, where several nude models (men and women) move around or rest. They are paid to constantly move about with the freedom of life, which allows him to discover the expression of feelings in all parts of the body. Rodin leads Gsell through his ideas about modeling, movement, drawing and color.
“There is nothing ‘ugly’ in Art except that which is without ‘character,’ that is to say, that which offers neither outer nor inner truth. The ugly in Art is that which is false; that which is artificial…”

There is no rule that can stop a sculptor from creating a beautiful work in his own way. And what does it matter if this be sculpture or literature if the public finds in it reward and pleasure? Painting, sculpture, literature, music are closer to one another than is generally believed. They express all the feelings of the human soul in the presence of nature.