“Every block of stone has a statue inside it”

Someone asked Michelangelo how he created create sculptures such as Pieta and David. “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” he said. A world-renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross and her student David Kessler took this as a beautiful metaphor on human nature — “You are the purest and most perfect being.” It may be invisible, but all of us have a “great person” who is waiting to be taken out inside us.  

In 1974 a columnist in the “Boston Herald American” of Massachusetts printed another more elaborate instance with Michelangelo and “David”: 11

“How in God’s name could you have achieved a masterpiece like this from a crude slab of marble?” someone is supposed to have asked Michelangelo.

“It was easy. All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”

They use Michelangelo’s quote to console people who are trapped in self-contempt and despair. They think pure human nature is “covered by masks and roles that they have to wear in reality.” Roles such as benevolent parent, hard-working employee, good student and good daughter or son are pressing down on us like a rock. This is the essence of their healing theory. They advise people to lose the pressure, fear and negative thoughts that they should take responsibility of everything and do “what they want” instead of “what they should.” They tell us to realize that we are more special and significant than we think.

We should cut off unnecessary parts like Michelangelo did, thinking that our mind is a block of stone with a great person inside it. Then, we can recover from despair or self-contempt. It would not liberate us from all the roles we have to play or heal all the wounds we have. But believing that a great being is inside us consoles us. We can find a great person inside us when we cut off unnecessary parts. The imagination itself is consoling. It is all the more consoling because we are living in an era full of distrust, skepticism and cynicism toward human nature.

Courtesy: Dong-A Ilbo of  June 23, 2021