Posts Tagged ‘I am thinking therefore I am’

When I was a college student majoring in French literature, which brought me to Paris for an academic year from 1974-1975, we spent quite some time studying the works of René Descartes, the French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Most of us are familiar with the quote “I think, therefore I am,” (“je pense, donc je suis” in French), but I was surprised to learn that a better English translation might well be “I am thinking, therefore I am.” Why? Those who deeply study Descartes’ work believe that Descartes was trying to express the idea that it is in the very act of thinking that he proved his own existence. I admit this is pretty esoteric and geeky, but it is part of my memories of Paris.

Yesterday I visited the Musée Rodin that is housed in a beautiful building, the Hôtel Biron, where noted French sculptor Auguste Rodin worked and lived. The French government bought the building in 1911 and was going to evict Rodin, but he made a deal with the government, pledging to donate his works to the state if it turned the building into a museum and let him remain their for the remaining years of this life. The museum and its surrounding gardens house and amazing collection of Rodin’s works, along with paintings by Monet, Van Gogh, and other artists.

I consider myself to be a thinking man and Rodin’s famous statue, Le Penseur (The Thinker) has always been my favorites. Yes, the statue has been overly commercialized and there are multiple castings of the statue throughout the world. It is difficult to say which one is “the” original, since a smaller version of the stature was designed to be part of Rodin’s large work Gates of Hell. Emplaced outdoors in Rodin’s world, surrounded by countless other works by Rodin, the version of statue at the Musée Rodin feels authentic—it is the one that was donated to the people of Paris in 1906.

One of the coolest thing for me about sculpture, especially when it is outdoors, is that you can examine it from multiple angles and the feel of the statue changes as the light and weather changes. I spent a lot of time with The Thinker yesterday and even spent some time seated on a bench with two others as the three of us silently worked on our sketches of the well-known sculpture. As the final photo shows, my skills have not yet improved, but my confidence has definitely increased. I did not feel ill at ease or self-conscious when sketching.

Two things really struck me about Rodin’s work as I was sketching. The first impression was a sense of wonder and amazement at Rodin’s ability to capture the human physiques. My rudimentary drawing skills kept rendering the body with straight lines— ended up with skinny arms and legs—while Rodin expressed so well the muscular curves of the men he sculpted. Secondly, I concluded that it is near impossible to sketch hands and feet, especially when they are twisted or contorted. There are just two many moving parts in hands and feet, which makes knees and elbows seem easy by comparison.

The Thinker in Paris

The Thinker in Paris

The Thinker in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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