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MacKenzie, I. (1987). Theories of Reading: Carvers and Modellers. Am. Imago, 44(4):241-256.

(1987). American Imago, 44(4):241-256

Theories of Reading: Carvers and Modellers

Ian MacKenzie

The distinction between carving and modelling is long-established in the practice and criticism of sculpture. The English art critic Adrian Stokes extended the use of these two terms to designate, metaphorically, the two most general attitudes an artist can adopt to his medium. Stokes later allied these concepts with the two ‘positions’ an infant adopts, in Kleinian psychoanalytic theory, in relation to objects: the ‘paranoid-schizoid’ position, in which the ego recognizes only ‘part-objects,’ and the ‘depressive’ position which follows from the recognition of whole-objects. Stokes' distinction may fruitfully be further extended to include the audience of art objects, and in particular interpreters of literary texts and theorists of reading, who may be provisionally divided into those who regard the text as a self-sufficient object replete with (authorial/historical/generic) meaning, and those who consider that the meaning is supplied by the reader.

In The (Quattro Cento (1932) and Stones of Rimini (1934), Stokes describes what he considers the supreme attribute of a carver, which he identifies in the sculpture and architecture of fifteenth century Italy—a love of stone or, more generally, of the artist's chosen medium. The carver recognizes and values the inherent qualities (color, texture, grain, weight and shape) in the stone or marble he uses, and produces a work which conserves these qualities and respects the vitality and integrity of the material. In Color and Form (1937), Stokes extends the concept of ‘carving’ to include painting, a love of color replacing that of stone. The ‘carver’ attributes a vitality to the surface of the canvas and endeavors to preserve it, by allowing color to determine form.


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