My Debt to Sculpture
Although music was irresistible to me as a young child, thanks to ADD, OCD and every other exhausted acronym known to humankind, I was unable to absorb practically anything from either my piano or trumpet teachers (or instructors of any subject for that matter).
Thus, my first twelve or so years, which were essentially filled with nothing but frustration and rage and which resulted in extreme vandalism, kleptomania and general mayhem, were rocked by a sudden, acute passion for Michelangelo’s work. This rescued me from a fate clearly headed toward police precincts and general disaster. At last, something I could possibly learn to learn. Perhaps spoiled juvenile delinquent was not my only calling.
This occurred when at age 13 my father took me with him on a brief trip to Florence. I was stupefied by what I saw. Music was my passion but I felt I’d already failed with it. Might I have a shot at this?
Upon our return (by this time I’d retired from academe), my concerned but determined father equipped me with an elaborate studio at home but also suggested that I at least attempt attending art school in hopes that I might have found something, anything to which I could apply myself other than expulsion. I said no, of course, assuming that art school, like eighth grade would include desks, chairs, teachers, etc. Eventually, he talked me into taking a look at one of them just to see what it was like.
The moment I walked into Studio 6 of New York City’s National Academy, my life changed permanently. Not only was I confronted with a naked (extremely well endowed) lady who, after studying the flabbergasted jaw lying on the floor, understandably asked if I was sure I was in the right place, but far from desks, chairs and the like, there were twenty-five to thirty-five-year-old sculptors modeling clay figures of this wondrous beauty. This began a long, arduous road toward finding my own niche in this unlikely world.
Eventually, to my total astonishment, I won the academy’s highest award, the so-called Albert N. Hallgarten Memorial Traveling Scholarship, a rather lengthy title for such an honor, but there you have it. My mother, upon hearing that I’d in fact actually won something – as opposed to the usual call from the cops saying I’d been caught stealing or worse, or from a headmaster with news of a brand-new, fresh expulsion - was so astounded, shell-shocked and in such a state of utter disbelief (to put it mildly), that when she called my father to relate the miracle, she was weeping with joy so uncontrollably that she couldn't get the words out, and my father, assuming I’d been murdered or whatever, rushed home only to learn that his son was still flailing.
In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit that yes, a few years later, for a variety of reasons inappropriate for this “essay,” I was indeed expelled even from this life-saving institute, but that’s another story for another time.
So sculpture and drawing not only replaced dreaded school after many fruitless attempts at eighth grade, but demonstrated that I could actually work at something from which I might derive satisfaction: a notion that had never even occurred to me. Within a year or so I was even able to begin seriously studying piano and trumpet again (although this time with myself).
At this point, and for quite a few years, I attempted to earn a living modeling people’s heads: what many refer to as busts. Of course this became problematic given the fact that most who decide to have their bust portrayed (post circa 1575) have a good deal of neurosis working and are often, if you will, schmucks.
In the meantime, it became clear that if not for my immersion into this world, I’d never have been able to switch to music, which had always been even more meaningful to me than artwork.
Alas, some twenty-odd-years later, with the academy a distant memory and working in my own studio, I became depressingly obsessed over a piece (a head of sorts) I was executing over and over... and over. I could not budge. It turned out that this was the beginning of a realization that I had to leave sculpture. Because I now possessed a modicum of discipline, it was just a matter of time before I had to leave it: up to that point, the hardest and most anxiety-producing decision of my life. Music was dragging me away, and I knew it. And although I no longer practice sculpture, or even draw very much anymore, I’ve remained addicted to this day.
For those who may be interested, I’ll add (being fully aware that such an essay can easily and dangerously border on the pretentious - so let’s be extra careful here) that for me the impulse for writing music and sculpting is identical. The push/pull thing, which I really don't know how to describe, seems to dominate both efforts equally.
And with that nod toward affectation, I’ll say so long for now.
- Jed Feuer, 2010