When I attend meetings of the International Sculpture Conference, speakers express a strong prejudice against figurative art, and no one seems to question the speaker’s assumptions. At the National Sculpture Society, which was founded in the 1800s when all sculpture was figurative, figurative art is emphasized in meetings, but abstract is not condemned (conceptual, maybe, but not abstract). As long as the subject matter is from life, human or animal, the NSS judges it by its artistic quality. The National Academy ignores subject matter completely, voting both abstract and figurative artists into the organization as Academicians. They look for the best abstract art, the best figurative art, or professional artists who combine the two. Art is judged more by its abstract qualities of form, line, balance, and the use of positive and negative space that by its subject matter. I belong to all three societies. I was elected into the NA and the NSS, and ISC membership is open to anyone who will pay annual dues. All three societies are serious and professional. All three provide valuable information and services for young and emerging artists as well as professionals.
In my mind, all art is an abstraction of reality. Abstract Art and Figurative Art are not opposites, but they are on two ends of a continuum, and all art, both good and bad, is somewhere along that continuum. My own art moves back and forth along this continuum, as the sculpture galleries will show you. When I was young and strongly influenced by Henry Moore, primarily an abstract artist, and Giacomo Manzú, a strongly figurative one, abstract art predominated. However, during a visit to Manzú’s studio one time, he asked if I would take advice from an old man. “Beware of nature. She will trap you.” I understood exactly what he meant – art is itself an abstraction from what we see in the world, and sculpture of the figure must be something more than taxidermy. What that ‘something more’ is, describes the work of the world’s figurative artists far more than how close they come to the model.
As Vladimir Nabokov once said, “Pay attention to the how, and not the what.”