Showing the Block Who’s Boss

When you start out learning to carve stone, you have to lose your respect for it. Probably you will not be able to bring yourself to really lay into the noble block. You will make token swings with the hammer; you will shy away from using all your might.  And you might secretly feel a little relieved when your chisel skips and only scratches the marble a little.

Why all that dilly-dallying? Isn´t stone just another material?  In the past it did not strike the awe it strikes in us now.  They did not hesitate to hack it to pieces, to drive drills into it, to smooth it into the most unrock-like shapes and surfaces.  All they wanted was its hardness.  Sometimes all they wanted was its cheapness—in classical times, for example, when anyone would have preferred bronze.  They painted over the surfaces to liven it up, treating stone no better then we treat plaster.

That first big block of marble is much more intimidating than a writer’s empty sheet of paper (not only because it is much more expensive).  It is imposing because of its mass, its weight, its origin.   It is nature’s own creation, the weird child of millions of years and of the mysterious forces that made the universe and us.

The respect a beginning sculptor feels for his block is also like what someone who knows only small animals feels before a horse or a cow.  Such mass seems to be outside your power to control and possibly even its, the animal´s.  The fear is that you may destroy the block but also, a little, that it might defend itself and crush your foot.  It is too big a thing to be aggressive to.

The best way to lose your respect is to watch stone-cutters for awhile.  They are not awed into inaction or retreat.  There is a tool as old as stone-cutting, called the maul.  It is chisel-shaped—the kind with the screwdriver head—but larger and heavier.  It is even blunt.    It works cruelly on a block.  In the hands of a skilled stone-cutter its effects are incredibly devastating.  It does to the block what an earthquake does to the mountain.  It actually causes an earthquake in the block, sending violent vibrations up and down it, which is how it works.  In one stroke, with or against the vein, entire sections of the block will collapse, whole shoulders will fall crashing (and crushing if your foot is unadvised) to the ground.

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3 Responses to Showing the Block Who’s Boss

  1. Ion Danu says:

    Some painter also have that fealing: awe, and the fear not to ruin the canvas or watercolor paper (which is not cheap either)… I never had that “block” (like in the writers-block, not block of marbre…) but I sure can understand it…

  2. cantueso says:

    To Danu: a fealing?

    But the block mentioned above is not that kind of block.

  3. 100swallows says:

    Cantueso, re-read Danu’s remark. He says which block he means. But maybe there are sentences in the post that could mean both kinds: writer’s block and block of marble.

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