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truth to material

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A belief that the form of a work of art should be inseparably related to the material in which it is made. The phrase was much used in aesthetic discussions in the 1930s and is particularly associated with Henry Moore, who in Unit One (1934) wrote that ‘Each material has its own individual qualities…Stone, for example, is hard and concentrated and should not be falsified to look like soft flesh…It should keep its hard tense stoniness.’ Moore later admitted that the idea of truth to materials had become a fetish and in 1951 he conceded that it should not be made into a criterion of value, ‘otherwise a snowman made by a child would have to be praised at the expense of a Rodin or a Bernini’. (Bernini's virtuosity in creating lifelike effects in marble exemplified the kind of falsification Moore had criticized in Unit One: according to a contemporary report, Bernini said of the elaborate curls in the wig of his bust of Louis XIV that it was ‘no easy thing to attain that lightness in the hair to which he aspired, for he had to struggle against the contrary nature of the material’.)

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