Monday, September 1, 2008


In 1886, Camille Claudel dictated a contract for her lover to sign. Claudel was only a young art student but her lover, the great sculptor Rodin, obediently wrote down every word:
In the future starting from this day of October 12, 1886, I will have as my Student only Mademoiselle Camille Claudel, who will be my sole protege.... I will accept no other students to avoid producing, by chance, rival talents, although I suppose that such naturally gifted artists occur very rarely.... Under no excuse will I ever go to visit Madame X again, to whom I will no longer teach sculpture. After the exhibition in May we will leave for Italy, remaining there at least six months together in indissoluble union after which Mademoiselle Camille will be my wife.
-- A. Rodin
Camille's contract doesn't specify what Rodin received in exchange, but his letters made it pretty darn clear:
I only had to meet you for everything to take on unknown life, for my gray existence to flare up in a bonfire. Thank you, for its to you that I owe the entire measure of heaven that I’ve had in this life.… My dearest, down on both knees I embrace your fair body.
Rodin met Camille when he was 42 and living with his long term companion, Rose Beuret. Rose was a seamstress who shared none of his friends or interests, but she took care of his daily needs and provided him with order and stability.

Camille took a job as Rodin's apprentice but critics agree she was so talented that she soon became a major influence on his art. The two worked side by side, creating beautiful and sensuous objects:

When the time was right, Camille disrobed for Rodin. Her nude form became the inspiration for some of his greatest works of art.

Rodin soon became a captive of his love for Camille. He followed her around, begging her to see him:

My savage sweetheart, Yesterday evening I scoured our usual places (for hours) without finding you. How sweet death would be!... I can’t take it any longer. I can’t go another day without seeing you.... I love you furiously. Rest assured dear Camille, that I have no liking for any other woman, that my entire soul belongs to you.
For years Rodin and Camille continued their partnership commingling art and love.

Statue by Camille

Eventually, the story of Camille and Rodin spiraled to a tragic end. He began to withdraw from the intense demands of their relationship, preferring the calm companionship of his "gray existence" with Rose. Camille became despondent, making angry sculptures about abandonment.

Before long Camille sank into mental illness, screaming in the streets that Rodin was trying to kill her and steal her ideas. She was placed in an asylum where she spent the rest of her life while Rodin married the talentless Rose and became wildly successful. His lack of passion for Rose did not seem to hinder his ability to make passionate art.

The fulgurous combination of Rodin and Camille emitted some illuminating sparks for us:

Rodin was better at creating art about love, but Camille was better at loving. She followed her passion for Rodin right over a cliff, while the more cowardly Rodin accompanied her only as far as the edge, then backed away.

If one thing is certain from the long history of art, it's that you can't make art and make love at the same time (or, in the words of Robert Coane, "you can't drool and draw.") Every artist who has tried to combine the two (and which artist over 18 has not?) ends up with artistic mush. Love requires acceptance and commitment while art requires discrimination and challenge. As much as we yearn to merge art and love, it seems that the price of great art remains detachment. Poet Peter Viereck wrote,

Art, being bartender, is never drunk
And magic that believes itself must die
Perhaps the separation between art and experience is the source of the very ache that leads to art.