Is 3-D Printing The Lazy Sculptor’s Muse?

Since the days during the Italian Renaissance when Michelangelo painstakingly carved his David out of a giant block of marble, the physical process of wrangling art out of wood, rock, or metal has remained virtually unchanged for millennia. Whether our forebears were creating ornate embellishments and flourishes to the columns adorning Gothic cathedrals or weaving a story line out of hieroglyphics on a stone slab, the work was the same: diligently eliminating material with a chisel in hand until the shapeless gives birth to something recognizable.

With the rise in 3D printing, it has become apparent that a sculptor no longer needs to work out his or her creation in the world of tangible things. Instead, with the stylus, some clicks of a mouse, or with the touch of their finger, the software becomes the sole arbiter between the world of ideas and of concrete reality. Imagination is the only limiting factor.

Faces and silhouettes emerge out of pixelated computer screens, as they are conceived in the binary language of zeros and ones, taking form according to the exact parameters as set forth by the creator. A sort of dance ensues, eyes narrowing, focusing on the virtual sculpture, as the artist tries to get a feel for something that cannot be felt, and the creation is turned this way and that, as it yields to the keyboard commands of its maker. A two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional design is as sometimes just as difficult to grasp in the mind as it is in the hand, but the artist is undaunted.

We’ve opened up a brave new world, and it is one that many a sculptor is keen on exploring. And it raises philosophical questions: is this the end of sculpting, and is 3D printing the lazy sculptor’s muse? We can try our best to answer that question, but in reality, only time will tell. We have, perhaps as our guide posts, gleaming examples of other age-old industries that have been radically altered by redacted technology.


One could very well pose the question as to whether the introduction of the telephone meant we no longer passed lazy days chatting idly with the neighbours over coffee or whether the invention of photography gave way to the world without painters splashing pigment on a blank canvas. Could light bulbs ever dampen our heart’s desire to peer into the wonder of the stars at night?

And while it is true that we have lost certain arts to the sands of time, it is also true that no forgotten discipline remains buried forever. Ways of forging metals into swords and recipes for making sand into concrete become new again, as we seek out the ways of our ancestors, and we peer into the past to regain the knowledge they once had. Old becomes innovative, and the ancient becomes front page headlines. Like with the Renaissance, there can be a rapid explosion in construction using a once-dead technique many days past the time when it seemed history had closed its creaky door. Perhaps such things were only slumbering during a long hibernation.

One also has to consider that the introduction of 3D printing software cannot negate the deeper drive nestled in man’s bosom to resolve the conflict of man versus nature. As long as mankind has the collective capacity to dream and to see the expression in stone, and as long as those dreamers have the desire to create, we will not see the end of sculpture.

After all, we don’t create because we have the technology, we create because we must. We do it, because we need to feel and transform the elements found in nature or deep underground into something we have mastery over. And that is something no computer programmer can ever give us. It must be won, and the victory is hard-fought. It is known that even Michelangelo bled while sculpting and that the ground beneath his feet was sometimes tinged with a dusty red colour.

3D printing is not a lazy man’s skill, as it takes time and devotion to develop a conglomeration of digital lines into a physical form. The dedication is decidedly different than sculpting, though it is no less intense. Even so, there is no printing software that can take the place of the men who, through time and perseverance, left their mark on Mount Rushmore and who are now carving a colossus of Crazy Horse out of the ridge. Nothing is certain, and though nothing truly is forever, we know that sculpture can stand the test of time for eons. There is no true substitution for handmade sculpture, and because of this, it is doubtful we will ever see a day when men will no longer climb the mountains in order to shape them.

Photo by Tim Savage Courtesy of Pexels

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