Why does an artist need a model? (Part 1)

One of the members of my email list recently asked:

In rereading The Fountainhead I was reminded of something I’ve long wondered about, in the story of Steven Mallory’s sculpture using Dominique as a model: why would an artist of Mallory’s stature need a model? If it isn’t a specific portrait, wouldn’t his ability and imagination be sufficient to invent (and retain in his mind) a figure projecting a more ideal image than any actual woman he’d be likely to find? …  I’d love to hear a professional’s response to this.

I reached out to sculptors I know, and heard this from Michael Wilkinson.

Your subscriber’s question is insightful and has it mostly right about a sculptor being able to project a more ideal image than any actual woman hired as a model. I say mostly right, because there are rare exceptions where a model is perfect in every way, like Dominique Francon in the Fountainhead. Dominique’s stylized physique and her expression, evoked by Roark’s presence in the sculptor’s studio, inspired Mallory.

As a professional sculptor, I have logged many hours drawing and sculpting the human figure using a live model. The result is that I can create a clay figure from memory and don’t have to rely on a model over the entire course of creating a work, if at all. When I do use a model, especially for larger or complex works, it is as a reference for anatomical accuracy and detail — and as a baseline from which I can make anatomical changes to a sculpture for stylistic/esthetic reasons. And since it is rare that a model inspires in the manner of Dominique, it is up to me to imbue the work with meaning and expression.

Michael Wilkinson, Study of Prometheans. Cast acrylic. 26 inches high.

Michael Wilkinson, Study of Prometheans. Cast acrylic. 26 inches high. Photo (c) Michael Wilkinson.

Michael Wilkinson, Water Music. Cast Acrylic. 30.25 inches. Photo (c) Michael Wilkinson.

Michael Wilkinson, Water Music. Cast Acrylic. 30.25 inches. Photo (c) Michael Wilkinson.

Michael Wilkinson, Morning Light. Bronze. 13 inches wide x 20 inches high. Photo (c) Michael Wilkinson.

Michael Wilkinson, Morning Light. Bronze. 13 inches wide x 20 inches high. Photo (c) Michael Wilkinson.

About the sculpture above, Wilkinson adds:

Morning Light is a rare example of being inspired by a model (in a drawing class at the Art Student’s League). She did short, breath-taking, dramatic poses and I would try to capture her in a quick sketch.  This pose, even without the floating in air (!), is a hard one for a model to hold for very long. It’s an example of knowing anatomy well enough to recreate a pose.

See more of Michael Wilkinson’s work here.

More

  • Quent Cordair Fine Art in Napa, California is one of the galleries that carries Wilkinson’s work.
  • To be notified of future posts in this series, join the DianneDuranteWriter/ForgottenDelights mailing list. Email DuranteDianne@gmail.com
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About Dianne L. Durante

I’m an independent scholar and freelance writer /lecturer on art and art history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are *Innovators in Sculpture¸* a survey of 5,000 years of art in two hours, and *Monuments of Manhattan,* a videoguide app by Guides Who Know that’s based on my book *Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide.*

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