How does one train to become a sculptor? Learning from the masters opens up the mind and vision.

Veteran artists commonly agree that a passion for sculpting is second to none — if that is the trade one is interested in pursuing. You would take this to be an axiom if you were to look at how some of the leading artists have had to struggle to carve a niche for themselves in the arts. Even though this is true of many other vocations, besides the visual arts in totality, the expenses incurred in making a sculpture especially in the initial stages, need to be factored in.

“The nature of the work entails you to have your own studio where you would be creating the sculptures. You need manpower, especially when you are doing metal sculptures. Welders charge anything between 800 and 1,200 for a day,” says S. Nandagopal, an artist settled in Cholamandal Artists’ Village, Chennai.

Money may play a secondary role in determining one’s decision in becoming a sculptor, but dedicated artists straddle different domains in the art not only to supplement their income but also as a platform to explore and enrich their vision in the arts. Delhi-based sculptor Satish Gupta did odd jobs during his study days. “I worked as a gardener and postman as my scholarship for studying at Ecole des Baux Arts, Paris, did not suffice. I started out as a painter in the early days. It was only in the last 10-15 years that I turned a full-time sculptor,” he says.

But how does one get to train to become a sculptor? Art schools conduct regular classes on drawing, skills in which are essential to be able to visualise to finally create a sculpture. “You may learn a technique on your own, yet first time knowledge from a master opens up the mind,” says Gupta.

Yet there are several artists who have not been trained in traditional art schools. “Some individuals from liberal arts, architecture, and trade and craft background are known to have succeeded as sculptors without formal training in art. Self-taught artist with aptitude for learning can learn to develop visual awareness and understanding to pursue sculpture as a discipline,” adds Professor Dhruva Mistry RA, artist and former Head of Sculpture and Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda.

Trends

Art schools should evolve with the changing times. Artist and secretary of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation Riyas Komu says, “It’s no longer constrained to just aesthetics. It’s also about how you communicate your ideas in a complex political world. With the increased influence of technology in our lives, art schools must include in their scope new media, in addition to sociology, contemporary art history, and anthropology.

Having a world-view is essential in the visual arts — not just in terms of a broad-based knowledge in the liberal arts but also being updated about art trends in other countries. Nandagopal cites an example of the U.S., “Some of the artists live on campus in colleges in the U.S., and do not necessarily teach. It is worthwhile for students to observe the artists as they go about their work.”

The whole idea is that different levels of interaction and exposure open up your vision and artistic perspective. “It is crucial for aspirants to learn to look at, probe and evaluate the visual world, explore forms, historical and cultural contexts and ideas of significance. Hands-on training with material and techniques can enhance self-expression of aspirants to work with ideas of form, material and technique suited for visual expression,” says Mistry

Much of the work would be a reflection of thoughts which revolve around the conditions we live in. Komu, whose works centre on burning issues in a global context which discusses conflict and displacement, says, “Artists must contextualise their regional background in their practice.”

Sculpting practices have evolved in the past decades in terms of the range of ideas and material one can improvise with, as is exemplified at the ongoing exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery, titled ‘Once Removed: Sculpture’s Changing Frame of Reference’, where artists have made use of newspaper articles, 16 mm film, television and steel chairs in their works. In recent decades, artists have been increasingly experimenting with newer forms of sculpting such as kinetic, light and environment sculpting.