Annotation

This book is written by a contemporary sculptor and accounts for his take of contemporary sculpture.

Contemporary sculpture is seen as an art of today that, for all the freedom in its creation, is also the logical outcome of the striving of sculptors to say something new. In order to really do that, they should consider what has been said via sculpture so far, thus should be aware of the sculpture’s history. Therefore the history of sculpture, seen as part of the history of art (in this case, art inspired by European culture), is accounted for and analyzed in terms of aims and techniques, leading up to the work of sculptors of today. As the author himself is a kinetic sculptor of international renown, what interests him mainly is the relationship between stability and movement. This has prompted him to organize his text in the following manner:

After a general Introduction, Chapter 1, Dynamics of the picture space, deals with the gradual construction of the conditions for creating and for communicating with art. Chapter 2,  Static/Dynamic of relief work,  accounts for the development of relief from low to high as the first steps of the escape of visual art from the two dimensional plane of the picture into challenging gravity in the third dimension. Chapter 3, Static/Dynamic in sculpture considers the artistic problematique of fully developed sculpture. And Chapter 4, Static/Dynamic of architecture, shows that contemporary architecture is not far from contemporary sculpture, while both have gone quite some way beyond the classical notions and practices of these arts.

The book relies on vast historic data and authoritative contemporary opinion in art theory, coming from artists, critics, and commentators. Relevant visual examples are always supplied, which makes the book richly illustrated.

Now, re the whys and hows of that kind of study of sculpture.

In Bulgarian, the native language of the author, the art of picture painting is called zhivopis, literally “life-like writing”. (To produce a “writing” alike to life, words won’t do, we need pictures!) We can see that in the very naming of the concept there is a double implicit suggestion: (a) that art should imitate life, and (b) that we, the non-artists, know what life looks like. So the artist has a debt to pay: to push e his art up to standard, and be judged accordingly. The book of Todor Todorov is a convincing argument against all that. And, of course, the problematique, though the above example is Bulgarian, is a problematique of today’s art globally.

Elemental sculpture is the name that Todorov has given to the kind of sculpture he makes, and has described that concept in his previous book (Елементална скулптура. Теория и практика. Издателство Алтера, С., 2014. ISBN 978–954–9757–91–0, 2014) In this new book he presents a context to that kind of sculpture, elemental because it is created as an integral part of the elements of nature. Todorov chooses to look at the history of art, not as a succession of asymptotic approximations to a static life, viewed as a given. Rather, for him, it is the development of the culture of vision, of the gradual learning by humankind to look and see. Two groups of people play their parts here: artists and viewers. The artists are the pioneers, who look at the world in new ways, see new worlds and communicate them, at their peril, to the rest of humankind. And the viewers venture to invest time and effort to receive that communication, and, at their peril, see a new world. The perilous moment follows from the fact that they will be seeing a new world while looking at the same old static natural world. And their new vision may collide with the vision of the rest of humankind, who have not invested that time and effort to receive the new communication and have not chosen to learn from it and develop their vision. Rather, they may be stuck in a vision of the world, learned from artists of eight centuries ago, or twenty-eight centuries ago. When Homer called the sea “wine-colored”, he was not being poetic, but naturalistic, for the Ancient Greeks did not see the color blue. Thanks to the artists, now we have learned to see it.  And artists in the USSR just decades ago would be persecuted for new world visions because communist statesmen there had the worldview of 19th c. Russian academic realism, and treated anything different as treason to the people. The milder capitalist reaction is simply to not buy that new kind of art, with the excuse of it being “improper”, or simply “not art”. “Learn to see blue, it’s good for you!” might be a good simplification of the complex statement of Todorov’s book. Of course, that slogan is senseless without its particular a/m context, but, as said, context, in many senses, is what Todorov’s book is all about.

That book should make a good textbook reading. The relevant department in the Bulgarian Academy of Art is still called “life-like writing”, and there are plenty of professors that would like their students to come out as “life-like writers”, tied to the past, and not as artists, free in the future. Again, that is true not only for Bulgaria.

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