Rodin’s longest success

So, for this blog I’m going to be reflecting on what you can learn from Rodin

The De Niro film, with the epic car chase – where they are all fighting over a briefcase with unknown contents?

No, that is Ronin. This is about the sculptor Rodin who created The Thinker and The Kiss. I was recently invited for a tour of the Royal Academy – and I recalled that, to my shame, the only other time I had been there was to visit a Rodin exhibition, which I found genuinely fascinating.

I knew very little about Rodin before the exhibition – but The Thinker holds a special place for me as I am, ashamed to say, a toilet reader, and we had a small scale version of it in the most private of rooms when I was younger.

You read on the toilet?

Look, it’s called lifelong learning and you can’t let the call of nature get in the way of the acquisition of knowledge. I’m moving on from this now…

Private reflections

In 1880 Rodin was commissioned by the Directorate of Fine Arts to create an entrance for a (still to be built) Decorative Arts Museum in Paris – with the theme and design being left to Rodin’s choice. The museum was never built and therefore the piece never got to fulfil its purpose.

The work Rodin created was called ‘The Gates of Hell’ and based on the work of Dante. Rodin worked and toiled on the piece for 37 years until he died he. It was incredibly complex piece of art that he had put time, creativity and effort into – but that never made it to public exhibition in his lifetime. 

So, Rodin wasted a huge part of his career then?

The interesting thing is that Rodin recycled this work into at least 11 other pieces of art during his career. The Thinker and The Kiss are essentially extracts from this larger body of unfinished work. 

Not only did Rodin recycle his work, but he did it multiple times, I had always laboured under the misapprehension that there was only one sculpture called The Thinker, but in fact there are at least 28 different casts of it on display around the world. 29, if you count my parents’ toilet. 

Rodin commercialised fragments of his one initial vision and then deployed the results on multiple occasions. Making repeated success out of a failed commission

The Gates of Hell – The Thinker in the centre

Lessons for HR

  • Even unfinished work can be brilliant – it still has value to you (and value to others) in both what you have learnt and what is new that you can use elsewhere
  • Once you have something that is uniquely you – the cast or model that forms your work – it can be deployed again and again in new environments and still feel fresh,. So don’t be afraid to change environments – you’ll just find somewhere else to make a difference
  • When you see brilliance, then just let it loose – these pieces all may not have arrived had Rodin not been given the ability to choose his own subject matter
  • Next time that you feel that your work is wasted – just reflect on someone who spent 37 years on something because he considered it a worthwhile endeavour in the first place. Time spent on things we value is never wasted – even if the results may not match our initial expectations
  • Failure is just a perspective. Rodin either spent 37 years on a piece that never fulfilled it’s purpose or 37 years creating his greatest piece of work. It just depends on how you tell the story

Thanks to Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1 )for the tour and the conversation that prompted this

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