Completely enclosed in the hollow of his hand
June 17, 2015 3:47 AM   Subscribe

There is popular music and popular cinema and there is actually popular sculpture. Much of it is what we would usually call ornaments. Some of it is minis — i.e., miniatures. Minis are sculpture for the masses in the same way as pop is music for the masses. (If you are trying to explain this to someone suspicious with an arts degree you can call them Kleinplastik, which means almost the same thing but is German and therefore a valid intellectual construct.)
For HiLoBrow Patrick Stuart starts a new, ten part series analysing the mini figures and models used in wargames as art. In the first he looks at the constraints that go into designing and manufacturing minis. (Originally published at his own blog.)
posted by MartinWisse (26 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I scanned this I was like, wait, is this the Patrick Stuart I'm thinking of? And then the link to his blog - yes, it is! His book of monsters Fire on the Velvet Horizon is seriously excellent and worth reading whether or not you play D&D.

This seems really cool, I'll be interested to read the whole thing.
posted by graymouser at 3:53 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is an awful lot of words to avoid saying "a craft project that's socially acceptable for young men." The whole point of these figures is that they get used for something-- a war game. Sculptures don't usually involve modification from the consumer, but craft supplies do.
posted by Gable Oak at 4:14 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


His book of monsters Fire on the Velvet Horizon is seriously excellent and worth reading whether or not you play D&D.

Holy shit, SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY indeed.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:28 AM on June 17, 2015


It turns out, on the other hand, no, it was not the Patrick Stewart that I was thinking of.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:37 AM on June 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is an awful lot of words to avoid saying "a craft project that's socially acceptable for young men hobbists."

The figures are ostensibly designed for wargaming, but they're not exclusive to any one particular group. As the kits are sold in hobby shops, they're sometimes bought for the sake of putting something together, in order to satisfy the interest in testing alternate techniques. Old-timers and young women alike do particupate, though the slant of miniatures skews toward male interests.

What's sad is there wasn't any mention of the Bad Old Days of scaled figurines, when the pieces were cast from lead or zinc (as bottom-line concerns viewed pewter as more expensive to source out and re-smelt in the event of any manufacturing mistakes). Though toxic, the style was favored for its weight and could stand up to oil-based paint better than (then) non-vinyl/acrylic plastics of the mid 70's and early 80s. There was a huge market of those pieces, until someone realized people would place the unpainted figures on a game board, then grab a handful of food, then refer back to their game manuals without batting an eye...

Sculptures don't usually involve modification from the consumer, but craft supplies do.

Quite a lot of hobbyists and collectors will "kit-bash" their pieces. Crafting's not exclusive to the tools, as the materials (kits) can be formed into additional tools themselves. The Warhammer armored figures sell well out of the interest in doubling - having one set in good condition simulating field readiness, and another simulating wear and tear, weather/terrain effects (or, being Warhammer, inferring initial Chaos Affliction). That type of practice dates back to standard model-making, in addition to train collecting and diorama setups. For a particular job, it's not unusual to cannibalize an inferior piece or merge assets from a duplicate set of kits for better defining a particular look or theme.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:12 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Generally you are trying to fake a figure that occupies three dimensional space with a technology that wants to make rounded blobs. Molten pewter doesn’t want to make a nice long sword-like shape so you make the sword part of the mould the final tributary of the river of molten pewter as it flows out of the cast. This means the sword or spear must be held away from the main body, projecting out, reaching the furthest point of the model away from its central mass.

This stuff is fascinating, cheers!
posted by Artw at 5:22 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Im excited for the rest of this series. Hilobrow hasnt introduced many new topics recently that have resonated with me but this one is going to be great.
posted by lownote at 5:59 AM on June 17, 2015


Painting is a whole other thing. So far as I know the West hasn’t painted sculptures since Greece.
Mm. 12th century. 13th century. 19th century. 16th-19th century commercial sculpture.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:04 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


If Warhammer mini figurines are "art" or "sculpture" then they are pretty crap art and sculpture.

Its a bit like claiming that children's colouring books are "artistic" - I really don't think the author of this piece has been to an art gallery in a while or has any real idea of what consistitutes art at all. His primary comparison in the opening paragraph is against Pop-Music which even then is barely considered an artistic practice these days. About as "arty" as working in commercial graphic design.
posted by mary8nne at 6:06 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wasn't suggesting that women don't participate in Warhammer 40k, rather that there are many more crafty activities where young men are socialized to avoid because they're "for girls." My argument is also that we don't consider other mass produced craft supplies to be sculpture, so we shouldn't accept Warhammer figurines as popular art. Are model trains art? What about pewter dolphin heart charms used for jewelry? I think they could be used transformatively to make art, but I don't buy that, when used for their intended purpose, they are art-- popular, low brow, or otherwise.
posted by Gable Oak at 6:09 AM on June 17, 2015


This series is really great. His blog is excellent if you like to over think Dungeons and Dragons. And really, who doesn't?
posted by chunking express at 6:11 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the 80's, when comic shops were actually a thing, a local shop opened and the owners let me paint figures: they displayed them and sometimes even sold them. They would give me credit to buy paints & brushes and the like for each one I painted.

I did a lot of Ral Partha elves and stuff, and later big dragons (like this wyvern). On vacation in 1986, I bought a huge box of Warhammer 40k dwarfs at the Games Workshop storefront in York, England, and one of them is the only figure that I still have: the comics shop kept them all, and when my parents moved house ten years ago the last of the stuff went out.

Eventually my HO scale-lovin' Dad started to make palm-size dioramas to pose the figures on: the guys who ran the shop couldn't believe their luck; my dad just thought it waas cool. One time we mixed green tempra paint with plaster and then threw stuff at it in order to make craters; that went under a box that he built out of plexiglass, and we hung some Star Trek ships from monofilament inside it. Another time he made me a base about a foot on a side, with a tunnel mouth opening onto a clearing, and we set up a bunch of figures.

*nods* Good times. Love you, dad!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:30 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


"a craft project that's socially acceptable for young men hobbists."

"I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. "
posted by Trochanter at 6:36 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


mary8nne: " I really don't think the author of this piece has been to an art gallery in a while or has any real idea of what consistitutes art at all."

Of course not. If he had been to an art gallery, or enjoyed real art, he would have no appreciation for miniatures.

That, or he could be a supermutant like myself, who manages to enjoy going to art galleries and likes Warhammer minis (especially the old Chaos stuff). But that's practically a superpower, so I hesitate to believe anyone else in the world could share my exceptional ability.
posted by Bugbread at 7:10 AM on June 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


As octobersurprise points out above, I am utterly wrong about the history of painted sculpture in the west, especially painted religious sculpture. In my (poor) defence, the original was written a long time ago and I neglected to update or amend that part when I sent it off to Hilowbrow.

The last art gallery I was in was the Liverpool Tate, they have Naum Gabo's 'Stone With Collar' a Pevsner model, a small Moore and a really great Hepworth which I think was called 'Ikon'. They also have a bunch of smaller Gabos including one of his very small models which I think was acetone or a kind of transparent plastic? It reminded me a lot of 15mm scenery and was on about the same scale. They also had his 'Spiral Theme'

It always surprises me how much I like Naum Gabo, even when his pieces are very small they kind of leap out to me from across the room.

it's interesting how many of Gabo's sculptures were models for larger things that never got made.

I did see one thing by a sculpture I knew nothing about till then, this fabric thing by Dorothea Tanning http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/tanning-pincushion-to-serve-as-fetish-t07988

They have a Leonora Carrington exhibition upstairs which I couldn't afford to get into but what I could see was very good. They also have an (I think Polish?) photographer downstairs whose name I have misplaced but he was good too.

It's true, though, to say I rarely go to galleries, I have no formal art education and have never sought one out. There is a great deal of modern art that doesn't move me at all and in any gallery it's rare for me to love more than 10 or 20% of what they have on at a particular time. make of that what you will I suppose.
posted by pjamesstuart at 7:39 AM on June 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


Real art.
posted by Artw at 7:55 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


It turns out, on the other hand, no, it was not the Patrick Stewart that I was thinking of.

Well, for what it's worth, that Patrick Stewart has a tendency to break figurines when really, really, really angry.
posted by qcubed at 7:57 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


If Warhammer mini figurines are "art" or "sculpture" then they are pretty crap art and sculpture.

Your favorite music art sucks.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:03 AM on June 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


mary8nne: If Warhammer mini figurines are "art" or "sculpture" then they are pretty crap art and sculpture.

Dude, meet your audience where they are, not where you are, or where you think they ought to be, or should be trying to end up.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Great article - thanks for posting it, and for writing it PJS (Welcome to MF btw!).

I particularly liked the focus on the kinds of constraints which affect the creation of models - both commercial, materially, and practically - like the need for space marines to look satisfying when viewed from above. I found myself thinking this feels like it could be the first rough conception of a phd (maybe ART history;-) ) project - and wanting to hear more detail about all of the facets that are described so quickly.
posted by ianhattwick at 10:34 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]




As octobersurprise points out ...

I wasn't trying to put you on the spot (or not too much).

It isn't very useful to quibble over whether or not figurines are "art" or not. I think it's more useful to think about them in the context of other traditionally painted representational figures (like the ones I mentioned above) and also in the context of other traditionally cast figures, like ancient Middle Eastern animals, the Trundholm Sun Chariot, Greek mythological figures, and early modern tin soldiers. The work of people like Otto Gottstein and Roy Selwyn-Smith is of interest here. Relatedly, I also think of Carrie Stettheimer's dollhouse for which artists like Duchamp and Bellows created tiny works of art.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:42 PM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh man this really made me want to play 40K again. Valhallan Soldiers of 2nd Edition represent!
posted by wyndham at 12:45 PM on June 17, 2015


(Misread the name, and thought Sir Patrick Stewart was a miniatures fan.)
posted by Canageek at 1:19 PM on June 18, 2015


Holy shit, SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY indeed.

My copy showed up this weekend. It joins The Areas of my Expertise as Thing That Is So Me That I Am Mad I Did Not Make It. Worth every penny, even though my wife could not make it through the entire entry on The Murder Men before nope-ing out in unease.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:42 AM on June 23, 2015




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