That’s what the painters used to say when the debate about sculpture and painting was on.
Michelangelo was both a painter and a sculptor. Here are two of his famous works: the painting of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and his marble statue of Dusk in the Medici Chapel at Florence.
Michelangelo’s Adam (public domain photo)
Dawn by Michelangelo (source here)
The painters spoke from a very high horse. They said things like:
The sculptor copies the most, abstracts the least. He does no more than transform an already great and suggestive object—the stone. He needn´t create light or color or mass or perspective on a figure; he need only turn it like the moon to catch the sunlight.
Yes, he is the least, the very least, of artists, the one who understands least about art. Unable to comprehend that the aesthetic impression is a spiritual thing, he needs something to TOUCH. He is the artist with the smallest imagination, for he needs a MODEL for each of the works of his mind. No retentive power. No aptitud for imagining in three dimensions.
Among artists he is the blue-collar worker. His work is hard and dirty. He needs his whole body to cut out a figure, while a painter´s stress is all mental, all intellectual. The sculptor uses up his vital energy in the struggle with his material. Yet ultimately his goals are the same as the painter´s: a spiritual effect through illusion.
The price he pays in work and time to achieve his effect is just too great, or anyway out of proportion. He actually WASTES his time carving. He should use it to draw and to model—his intellectual or aesthetic contribution stops with these. The “work” is usually not the big stone but his little plaster or wax model for it. Putting his mind to sleep while slaving for long hours over the hard stone is IRRESPONSIBLE of him. He should have someone else copy his model in stone for him; he should do no more than what only he can do: the final chisel-work.
Michelangelo spent—Michelangelo WASTED— whole years of his life in the quarries of Carrara and Pietrasanta looking for good blocks to carve. What IS the job of the sculptor? How much of his time should he spend gathering materials, sharpening tools, building scaffolds, making frames and supports? Is it right that he tire himself out on the initial roughing out of his figure in the block? Is that sculpture—that stage of the project? There is no aesthetic judgment required here, is there?
Now the sculptor, by his nature, didn´t care for talk of this sort. He listened politely to the big gang of haughty painters and then turned away and got back to work. He worked until he surrendered late at night. In a way, he was the deeper of the two artists—his love for his work had to be greater. Why?
Because he had to hold out through many reproductions and losses of his figure while always keeping his ideal in mind. One by one he would lose his original figures as he converted them into more permanent material—clay to wax or plaster to wax again (if for a bronze figure) or stone. Dozens of times along the way he would see other options and be tempted to change his original idea. Each time he would be invited to question it, to re-evaluate it, to give it up. But he held out. Perhaps he understood the fleeting nature of beauty better than the painter. He must have been the greater lover.