When I heard that I would learn how to “point” a figure or “carve from points”, I turned up my nose. Though I wasn´t sure exactly what the method consisted in, I knew it was mainly mechanical. The very idea of reproducing seemed immoral or at least anti-artistic. I did not want to copy a plaster figure, even if it was my own. I wanted to create right there directly in stone like Michelangelo—or as I was sure Michelangelo had done.
What was pointing then?
The shophands marked a point on their plaster model.
With compasses (callipers) or another device they called a “máquina” they plotted that same point on a block of marble, marked it, and then removed all the stone above it down to the right depth. They marked off many points—scores of them—and eliminated all the stone above and between them.
Without examining any of the copied, i.e. reproduced, figures, I would have supposed that they had to be of low quality. I could see that the men who made them not only had no aesthetic sense but even lacked interest in what they were doing.
So I was shocked at the high quality of the stone figures which had been reproduced by this pointing method. They were really indistinguishable from the originals. Every curve, every fine curl and bulge had been perceived and reproduced to perfection. Wasn´t it criminal! And this by workmen who hated their job! Did I want to be a party to this? Wasn´t it like forgery?
I thought I had learned some sordid secret. To see just how widely the evil was practiced I hurried to galleries and museums to find signs in the sculpture of this mindless pointing—proof of copying. What signs?
Workmen mark their measuring points on the surface of the marble block with a pencil. Then, to fix that point on the stone surface—to make sure it doesn’t rub off while they work—they spin a little drill over the pencil-mark and so make a shallow, perfectly round, hole. Ordinarily, the chisel and subsequent polishing remove this point altogether. But sometimes, whether because the little hole went too deep or because the sculptor when finishing the statue decided to make certain changes in the stone as against the plaster model, that little hole stays around and can be seen in the finished work.
On my visits to galleries I found the points everywhere, on almost all the sculpture on display. Sometimes the little holes were half buried in the unpolished base of the statue but often too they were plainly visible on the finished, polished, area of a figure—on an arm, a leg, the very face. Wasn’t the sculptor ashamed of them? They meant that his statue was a copy, not an original—that he had not carved the figure “passionately” according to his inspiration but had merely, coldly—cold-bloodedly—copied it from a plaster or polyester model. Or worse: he had not even done the carving himself.
I made a trip to Paris, to the house of Rodin, the greatest sculptor of the nineteenth century, to have a look. I went straight to The Kiss, one of his most famous sculptural groups, and didn’t need but a few seconds to find points everywhere. The lower part of the woman’s leg was full of unremoved points—little holes like buckshot holes in wood—even on the very flesh of the marble. So Rodin had had workmen point his famous statue—copy it from a plaster model. Later I learned that Rodin had had at least two marble copies made. Only God knows how much chiselwork there is by the artist himself in the Kiss I saw.
My immediate reaction to this was disgust.
But then on consideration I realized I was being unfair. Figures have always been reproduced, and sculptors have always had helpers. Yet there are degrees of everything. How much of the work was done by helpers? Did the sculptor model a clay figure and then let others carve it for him in stone?
What IS so objectionable about the idea of a copy? For one, the viewer is generally not aware that the work is one. He believes—and the artist knows he believes—that the marble work is the original and that it has been carved by the artist himself. The question is the deceit.
Another implication is that if the sculptor has used a copying device, his work is not such a difficult achievement. So the viewer might consider that both the artist and his statue are worthy of less respect.