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Picturing a World

Rodin's Cambodian dancer

When I saw this sketch in a study of Cézanne's watercolors, it took my breath away. Such sureness and elegance of line! Such vitality in just a few strokes of pigment! The peculiarly expressive hands continue to fascinate me. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that a sculptor might be a superb draftsman, but it did. In the well-illustrated Cambodian Dancers, Auguste Rodin, and the Imperial Imagination, you can read a lot more about the visit of a Cambodian dance troupe that elicited this quick sketch and other studies—and a lot about current thinking on "cultural appropriation," the evils of colonialism, and related social topics.

As the article's title implies, the author deprecates Rodin's failure to portray Khmer culture from a Khmer point of view as he pursued his own aesthetic response. Well, yeah, but that's what artists do. They take what they find and through their own sensibility change it so that we look at the world with new eyes. (See my previous post, Steal What?) If Rodin had pretended that he was scrupulously reporting on another culture ethnographically, it would be one thing. But he made clear that he was recording his delight instead (he declined to have his sketches included in a book on the dancers), and I, for one, am happy to delight in the results.
For another, less political article, see The Cambodian Dancers and Rodin.

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