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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Правильная ссылка на статью:

Striving for naturalness as one of the key trends in the field of modern wooden sculpture: domestic practice / Стремление к естественности как один из ключевых трендов в области современной деревянной скульптуры: отечественная практика

Чеглаков Александр Дмитриевич

художник, член Творческого союза художников России

117593, Россия, г. Москва, бул. Литовский, 13/12, кв. 507

Cheglakov Aleksandr Dmitrievich

Painter, Member of the Union of Russian Artists

117593, Russia, g. Moscow, bul. Litovskii, 13/12, kv. 507

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Аннотация: Статья посвящена современным тенденциям в сфере искусства деревянной скульптуры. Основной вопрос, которым мы задаемся в статье, заключается в том, чтобы провести границу между искусством и ремеслом. Проблема различения этих двух терминов – один из важных вопросов теории искусства. Рассмотрев творчество ряда современных художников, работающих в жанре деревянной скульптуры, мы приходим к выводу, что ключевое различие между ремесленной и художественной деревянной скульптурой заключается в стремлении художников к естественности, работе с необработанным деревом, фиксации естественной красоты материала, что не столь характерно для ремесленников.   Обращаясь к современным экологическим тенденциям, мы предполагаем, что задача современного художника и человека, желающего жить в гармонии с природой, заключается в том, чтобы научиться видеть в природе ее красоту, угадывать ее даже в неприглядных формах. Автор констатирует, что величие природы заключено в ее разнообразии, и сегодня, в эпоху перепроизводства (повторение, например, перенасыщения), в том числе перепроизводства предметов искусства, наша общая задача все больше сводится к тому, чтобы работать с найденными в природе объектами, которые подвергаются минимальной обработке и, в первую очередь, манифестируют красоту природы.

Ключевые слова:

ремесло, русское крестьянское творчество, деревянная скульптура, архитектурные формы, художник, современное искусство, эстетика, тренды, обработка дерева, экология

Abstract: The article is devoted to modern trends in the art of wooden sculpture. The main question we ask in this article is how to draw the line between art and craft. The problem of distinguishing between these two terms is one of the important issues in the theory of art. Having examined the work of a number of contemporary artists creating in the genre of wooden sculpture, we come to the conclusion that the key difference between handicraft and artistic wooden sculpture lies in the desire of artists for naturalness, working with raw wood, fixing the natural beauty of the material, which is not so typical for craftsmen. Turning to modern environmental trends, we assume that the task of a contemporary artist and a person who wants to live in harmony with nature is to learn to see its beauty in nature, to guess it even in unsightly forms. The author states that the greatness of nature lies in its diversity, and today, in the era of overproduction, including oversupply of pieces of art, our common task is increasingly reduced to working with objects found in the environment that undergo minimal processing and, first of all, turn, manifest the beauty of nature.


a craft, Russian peasant creativity, a wooden sculpture, architectural forms, an artist, modern art, aesthetics, trends, woodworking, ecology

Wood is one of the most traditional materials for sculptures. It was used in primitive times, creating the figures of the so-called “Venus”, and was also widely used in the art of all ancient civilizations. Wooden sculpture receives significant development in Christian art [6]. Over time, wood lost its popularity as a material for sculpture, giving way to stone, bronze, and then more modern materials [4]. Since then, wood has remained primarily a material for folk, non-professional, or, on the contrary, the author’s highly artistic creativity.

Wood has played a particularly important role as a material in the abundant forests of Russia, primarily in native folk art. “Artistic woodworking had an exceptional place in the history of Russian peasant creativity. It was closely connected with all the art of ancient Russia: with wooden carved architecture, with carpentry and carving, in which the Russian people were so skillful ... Decorative art was the area where, along with monuments of architecture, sculpture and painting, the Russian people managed to create works which were perfect by their beauty” [1]. A folk artist actively decorated his house, temples, household items. All objects were made by hand, and the master led the process of creating a thing from start to finish, which makes each item unique. From the middle of the 19th century, folk art, including the craft associated with wood, fell into decay, and was replaced by mass machine production.

The task of reviving folk crafts is undertaken by artists of the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, for example, authors close to the creative circles of Abramtsevo and Talashkino. Addressing both classical art and peasant creativity, artists strive to revive the crafts and adapt them to the needs and tastes of our time. In parallel, the wooden sculpture is undergoing a period of revival. It occurs in the works of such masters as A.S. Golubkina and S.T. Konenkov.

However, the revival of sculpture and arts and crafts did not last long. In the USSR, whose art is oriented more towards industrial rather than craft aesthetics, wood is perceived primarily as a material for industrial production. Wood remains a material that is more popular in the field of non-professional creativity and hobbies.

Today, if we search for “wooden sculpture” on the Internet, we will see more objects that can be attributed to the sphere of handicrafts rather than works of art – they are mainly carved wood figures designed to decorate a house and garden rather than a museum or gallery. Certainly, many of these objects are distinguished by a high level of craftsmanship: they are carefully processed and achieve significant believability in terms of figurative representation. However, most of these creations carry little aesthetic problematics, they do not expand the horizons of art, do not raise urgent problems. Undoubtedly, landscape gardening and sculptural objects made by the hands of artisans also have their own value, but it is difficult to attribute them to the sphere of actual sculpture.

The problem of drawing a line between art and craft is one of the important issues in the theory of art. In general, the process of the relationship between these two concepts can be described as follows: “since antiquity, a craft and art are closely related and mutually condition each other, and in arts and crafts they form a single whole until the emergence of the art industry. Over time, the work of an architect and artist is separated from the craft of a bricklayer, marbler, carpenter, founder, potter, acquires a different social status and rises to a different level of education. A household, rural and urban craft, directly serving the life of the population, constituted the basis of folk art; the organization of labor in workshops, artels, medieval workshops and guilds supported the unity of art and craft. A handicraft, entering into market competition, and the even more development of machine production of household products, establish a sharp line between individual manual labor and mass production of impersonal products. Since the end of the XIX century the desire to restore the lost unity of art and craft finds expression in the arts and crafts movement and in the organization of art-industrial associations – werkbund. In the XX century along with the development of design, interest in the revival of handicrafts (forging, pottery, carving, etc.) was growing” [7].

Where is the border between art and craft today? What makes wooden sculptures displayed in galleries and museums different from simpler and handicraft items?

In order to answer this question, let us turn to examples of actual wooden sculpture. First of all, we will consider domestic practice as it is closer and more understandable.

Nikolay Vladimirovich Polissky (1957), a modern sculptor and artist working in the genre of land art, is a recognized master in the field of domestic wooden sculpture. Since 1989, the artist has settled in the village of Nikola-Lenivets in the Kaluga region. There, he partnered with local residents and volunteers to create permanent and temporary wooden structures, transforming a previously dying village into an international art park. First of all, N.V. Polissky is known for large land-art structures created both in Nikola-Lenivets and beyond. However, the artist also creates more intimate works, close to traditional sculpture.

N.V. Polissky’s permanent co-author is nature, the landscape in which the works are made, as well as a material for their creation. It implies one of the most important effects of the author’s sculptures and structures: they demonstrate to us that all cultural creations, no matter how large-scale and important they are, will suffer the same fate – they will merge with nature, return to the original state of the material from which they are created. “... Nikolai Polissky’s works maintained a delicate relationship with the world around us till sacrifice. More precisely, they revealed the ambiguity that has always been present in the concept of “environment” so beloved by ecologists, which assumes that no matter how we care about the nature designated by this term, it always remains for us only something external and alien. N.V. Polissky’s land-art objects have not seemed to think of themselves as something surrounded by nature, erected in the middle of the landscape, in its center, dominating over it and at the same time being in a kind of vacuum ... In reality, they suffered the natural fate of the materials from which they had been created” [5].

Nikolai Polissky’s works, whether they are large-scale land-art objects or more chamber forms that can exist in the confined space of the museum, look like something created not by a man, but by nature itself or animals: either birds made a nest, or beavers built the dam, or the trees piled on top of each other after the hurricane, forming a kind of temple. Even structures that refer to traditional architectural forms – ziggurats, towers, gazebos, gates – seem to be not creatures of culture that conquers and controls nature, but such that exists in harmony with the environment and is a part of it. N.V. Polissky’s sculptures are always created from simple, organic materials that are not processed and retain their natural angularity, knotty and roughness. The key material is wood: firewood, twigs, branches, tree trunks, vines. In his works, the artist does not seek to give the material a gloss and accuracy that is not character for it, but, on the contrary, emphasizes its simplicity and rudeness. In this approach to the material, a viewer reads sincerity and spontaneity, because the tree does not seek to pretend to be anything else, nature does not imitate culture, and culture does not mimic nature.

Sergei Ivanovich Gorshkov (1958) is another important contemporary author working in the genre of wooden sculpture. The artist graduated from the sculpture department of Penza Art School named after K.A. Savitsky, however, the style of his work is closer to the naive peasant art than the academic direction. The artist himself describes his works as follows: “For me, art is an eternal magical land, a kind of cave located very close to real life. It is enough to open the secret door – and you find yourself in a fantasy world. If you close it, you will find yourself again among cars, exhaust gases and search for income” [10]. Both in sculpture and painting, S.I. Gorshkov turns mainly to bright, cheerful motives – they are flowers, angels, animals, toys, fairy-tale characters. Even serious people, for example, famous writers and politicians, take on the appearance of persons of a cheap popular print or carnival in Gorchakov’s creations.

Ordinary plots of naive art require a simple technique: working with wood, S.I. Gorshkov does not strive for perfection of processing and accuracy of reality. “The sculptures were cut down with an ax, not polished, traces of tool blows were left on the surface. And because of it there is something very ancient, archetypal in them” [8]. However, in a simple, roughly processed material, one feels a special fragility and grace, as well as trust and love for the world.

Modern artists from St. Petersburg, who are close to the art group North-7, work in a similar rough aesthetics. These artists often turn to non-artistic materials such as earth, plywood, branches, stones, rubbish. Most of all, Nestor Engelke works with wood – an architect and artist, an inventor of “ax painting” or “wood painting”. Instead of canvases and paper, N. Engelke uses wood, and instead of a pencil and brushes, he uses an ax. The image, carved with an ax on a wooden surface, stands on the border of painting and sculpture. The artist perceives the tree as a natural entity with its own history and character. Nestor Engelke explains his choice of material and technique in the following way: “I am interested in the tree itself – it is alive; it is a piece of flesh. There is a frozen movement in his growth. There’s just a branch, and I’m interested in finding a place for it in a person’s life. When wood is only a material for chairs and cabinets, then it is not the main thing. And if, for example, I swing an ax at it, then it will manifest itself, the essence will climb out of it, it will be released from the closet, from the nightstand, from the wall” [9]. The tree acquires its own voice and begins to play not a functional, but an aesthetic role in Engelke’s work. Wood, capable of submitting to the furious blows of an ax, becomes an excellent material, which especially vividly and directly reflects the author’s style of the artist, his search for something traditional and at the same time modern, as well as a challenge to the boundaries of artistic genres.

Although we briefly reviewed the work of only three sculptors, it is safe to say that today wooden sculpture enjoys considerable interest among contemporary artists. The names given in the article are widely known to both domestic and foreign public, leading museums and galleries collaborate with them, they constantly participate in exhibitions, biennials and fairs of modern art.

The main thing that unites these authors, as well as other contemporary artists, whose works are not included in this article, is the desire to preserve the natural character of the tree. What does it consist in? “Summarizing the stylistic features of wood as a sculptor’s material, one could say that wood is characterized by a somewhat awkward mass and, at the same time, an extremely rich, dynamic, expressive “texture” and surface, a contrast between raw, inert matter and organic strength” [2].

Modern artists do not seek to carve an image out of wood that the most faithfully repeats the figure of a person, an animal or a specific object. They do not strive to achieve absolute thoughtfulness, smoothness and purity of forms. On the contrary, they emphasize the simplicity and naturalness of the wood material through the use of rough, “clumsy” (often literally) techniques.

This approach refers not only to traditional folk art, but also resonates with the context of modern environmental trends, which call for the perception of any natural materials and objects as equal to humans and no less significant. The ecological view is characterized by a special attentiveness to the world and its natural features. It is the concept of abstentionism, harmonization and consistency.

An approach to art that does not impose unusual patterns on the material, but only emphasizes what is inherent in the stuff by nature, can be called environmentally friendly. A tree in this paradigm remains primarily a tree, while figurative imagery and the artist’s concept fade into the background. If at the beginning of the XX century the sculptor Anna Golubkina advised her students: “Beginners must be careful not to subordinate themselves to the tree” [3], but now, at the beginning of the XXI century, artists, on the contrary, tend to obey the tree, revealing as much as possible its woodiness, clumsiness, angularity, spitefulness.

Having considered the work of a number of contemporary artists creating in the genre of wooden sculpture, we can confidently say that it is precisely the desire for naturalness, working with raw wood, fixing the natural beauty of the material that is the key difference between handicraft and artistic wooden sculpture. While artisans and handicraftsmen strive for the correct figurative, smooth forms, perfection of processing, then modern artists are more focused on following the material and natural properties of wood.

In our artistic practice, we also concentrate on the natural shape and texture of wood, because there is so much beauty and variety hidden in them that it is impossible to conceive for a person. The task of a modern artist and a person who wants to live in harmony with the environment is to learn to see its beauty in nature, to guess it even in unsightly forms. The greatness of nature lies in its diversity, and today, in an era of overproduction, including oversupply pieces of art, our task is increasingly reduced to working with objects found in nature that undergo minimal processing and, first of all, manifest the beauty of nature.

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