The Ascent of Sculpture
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Back in the day we used to ask people for directions and write down what they said using vague distance estimates and sketchy landmarks to guide us. “Turn right at the rock that looks like a bear, and then go 5-10 miles until you hit the dogleg…”
The intrepid driver would also depend on paper maps to navigate. It was quite a skillful juggling act to drive, look at a map and negotiate the correct turns and exits while drinking coffee, eating a sandwich, and shifting a manual transmission.
Then came MapQuest. An online mapping site where you could put in your starting location and destination, and it would give you a list showing each segment of the journey, the proper turns to make, and the distance of each leg. You would print the directions out and have a sheet of instructions for your journey. It was a big improvement over handwritten directions.
The next step in the development of personal navigation was Garmin – a small GPS device that attached to your windshield with a suction cup. You punched in your destination address and it would guide you step by step by voice. The future had finally arrived.
In just a few years these Garmin devices became all but obsolete with the advent of Google Maps on our ubiquitous phones and built-in GPS navigation screens in every new car. The programs get better and better as time goes by, and become easier to use. It makes you wonder how we ever found our way to anywhere in the old days. It seems inconceivable that we would go back to handwritten directions.
I describe this brief history of driving navigation to draw a comparison between it and the progress in the area of sculpture design and fabrication. Almost no one uses word-of-mouth directions, but many artists are not using or even aware of the current technology available to aid them in the creation of art. The process of making art has gone through some revolutionary changes, and an artist’s capabilities can be greatly enhanced by using them.
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Although every sculpture starts with an idea and the desire to realize that idea in three dimensions, the methods available for achieving the final form have changed radically in the past two decades. As some members of the older generation resist learning to use computers, so do older artists resist learning how to use modern tools and techniques. I can say that being old myself! Venerable senior members of the artistic community, it’s time to navigate your way to art production of the future.
At the root of everything is CAD – Computer Aided Design. Using a program like Solidworks, everything in your design is plotted out in three dimensional space. The design is then able to be exported into a 3D file that can be read by a computer controlled device like a plasma cutter, waterjet cutter or laser.
The most radical tool is 3D printing. This technology takes the hand of the artist out of the picture completely. Dimensional sculpture can be printed layer-by-layer in plastic or resin using CAD files. The 3D printed forms are mostly used as prototypes, maquettes, or molds in which to pour a final bronze.
These modern tools broaden a sculptor’s capabilities. They are in no way a substitute for the artist’s imagination and skill. The old ways still remain the most important element.