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Design Review: Volume 1, Issue 6 (April-May, 1949)

Please Do Not Touch

page 7

Please Do Not Touch

The obvious reason why this is the frequent command of those possessing or responsible for sculpture and pottery is that the urge to touch, feel and handle is almost irresistible. The artist meant it to be so, and where “Don't drop” would be right, “Don't touch” is absurd.

Too much stress is laid on the visual arts being visual. Every work of art reaches us through the sense of touch as well as of sight. I recently saw a child work the entire length of the Melbourne gallery trailing her fingers across every canvas. Though not good for the paintings, it was excellent for the child, whose sense of touch was not sufficiently trained to perceive texture through “imagined” touch. As “seeing” a picture requires training so “feeling” a texture in imagination needs education till it can be felt as the trained musician “hears” the music from reading the score alone.

The Bauhaus, training ground of artists from rudiments up, began by letting the student put together a series of materials of different texture which could be “read” by running the fingers from end to end, providing, incidentally, a new and thrilling aesthetic experience for the blind.

Texture is an integral part of the artist's means of communication. When Michelangelo or Epstein left their tool marks we feel the taut muscle and sweating strain that coupled the sculptor to his unyielding material. It was not the pleasure of being extravagant that impelled Van Gogh to smear the paint on thickly with a knife. If texture of this kind offends us it is because our palate has Become debauched by the slimy machine finish of plastics and chromium. Only our insensitiveness to touch prevents us reacting against putting milk into a plastic jug of greasy texture, and some of our modern buildings have the pleasant texture of a well filled pincushion. Better far are popular sculptor's smooth nudes which tempt our wayward fingers to traverse their silken skin.

No self respecting potter ever made his wares to rest on the mantelpiece untouched. Pottery is made to be taken in both hands and felt, with enjoyment of its wavelike ripples. The sculpture of Henry Moore is “finger sculpture” not only to gaze at but to grasp by its inviting pistol grip, sliding the palms of the hands around its alluring swellings and exploring the opening with thumb and finger ends. Try it, at least in imagination, and its meaning as sculpture will be made plain.

Figure, 1933—Lignum vitae wood by Henry Moore

Figure, 1933—Lignum vitae wood by Henry Moore