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Drafting: The Rodin Way

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I went to see the Rodin exhibition at the Tate Modern with a couple of friends. It was good fun (as far as post-pandemic museums go), even though many of the works I had already seen at the British Museum two years ago. I love how this exhibition, of roughly the same pieces, made me think about different things from the previous exhibition.

This time around, it made me think about drafts. The exhibition focused on Rodin's process, and it's extraordinary how much work he had put into every "final product". He did it in two ways: the first was to study a specific detail. For example, he studied hands.

A small fraction of hand drafts from Rodin's studio
A small fraction of hand drafts from Rodin's studio

Or, like here, where he studied motion.

Motion studies

The other way he drafted was the rough draft of the final product. In the exhibit, there were about 20 different drafts of a particular statue. Here are two of them.

Rodin Draft Sample 1
Rodin Draft Sample 2

Note the improvement from the first to the second. There were drafts in between, before, and after.

How does this relate to the process of writing? Well, I'm glad you asked.

For me, the second way is obvious. Even the best writers have at least a few drafts of any final product. In the two pictures I've put above, you can see how an earlier draft has the structure but none of the details, whereas the later draft has more details. In writing, an earlier draft might not have any structure at all (something you can't do in statues), but the form is fairly set in later drafts. You still tweak it, but it's more about the details.

The first way, the studies, is what I find interesting. In my lay-person visits to art exhibits, I noticed that visual artists always have "studies". Like Rodin's little hand sculptures, painters study a certain aspect over and over. I tried to think what looks like that in writing.

For me, that's short stories and blog posts. Short stories study an aspect of the human psyche in the same way that st Rodin's hands examine the human hand. We look at it from this way and from that way, without necessarily worrying about a three-act structure or themes. The same goes, at least for me, for blog posts. I look at a particular topic from different angles, considering my reactions and responses to something. In most of my blog posts, I grapple with something until I (sort of) figured it out.

If I can study the human psyche in the same way Rodin studied the human body, I would be satisfied with my creative work.


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