What Is Art Sculpture?

Sculptures are one of the oldest visual art forms in existence and one of the most publicly visible forms of artwork. 

Sculptures are more than just beautiful objects; they help us learn about ancient civilizations and understand history. 
 

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Whether classical, like Michelangelo’s ‘David,’ or modern like Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain,’ sculptures have long been storytellers and reflections of the zeitgeist. 

This article will explore what art sculpture is, the types of sculpture, its origins, and how it has evolved.

 

What Is Sculpture Artwork?

A sculpture is one of the main types of both visual and fine art. It takes the form of hard or plastic materials worked into three-dimensional objects. 

Sculptures are traditionally reliefs or freestanding objects. However, contemporary artists may also use sculpture as a part of “experimental art,” where sculptures are part of environments or tableaux that can envelop the spectator.
 

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Traditional sculpture materials were marble, wood, clay, or metals. But contemporary sculpture can use any material the artist desires, from plastic and even found objects. 

Modern and contemporary artists may also include lights, projections, audio, or other technology as part of their sculptures. The use of 3D printing in sculpture is also becoming more common.

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What Are the Four Basic Types of Sculpture?

There are four main types of classical sculpture, defined by the materials an artist chooses to use. The four traditional materials for created a sculpture were stone carving, bronze casting, wood carving, or clay firing.

 

What Are the Three Main Types of Sculpture?

Historically three different creation methods could define sculpture. These three traditional methods of sculpture-making are modeling, carving, or joining. These creation types could use any of the three traditional primary materials or modern alternatives. 

Of course, the wide variety of materials used by modern sculptors may require other creative processes.

 

 

What Are the Elements of Sculpture?

Several vital elements define sculpture and other 3D artworks: line, space, mass or volume, shape, value, color, rhythm or repetition, continuity, emphasis, balance, texture, and proportion. Most sculptures will use many or all of these elements.
 

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Line: Line can be observed in most forms of artwork, including painting, drawing, and sculpture. The line describes the outline or edge of a form; it is the meeting of planes. It may include linear materials such as wire, string, wood, metal rods, or other materials that have a long thin shape. 

Space: Space describes distance, areas, or volume. It is the physical space independent of what may occupy it, also known as absolute space.

Plane: A plane is a level or flat surface within an artwork. Planar sculpture materials can include foam core, sheet metal, cardboard, plastic sheets, plywood, and more.

Mass or Volume: Mass is a closed and independent, three-dimensional form. Mass, or volume, is impenetrable and surrounded entirely by space. Volumetric sculpture materials may include blocks of plaster, stone, or wood. Sometimes mass may refer to a positive solid, while volume refers to the negative, an open space surrounded by material, for example, a bowl or vessel. 

Shape: Shapes can be both positive and negative. Positive shapes in sculpture are a totality of the mass found between its contours. 

In three-dimensional artworks, a visible shape or outer limit of a sculpture’s form will change as the viewer’s position or angle changes. Outer limits are perceived as shapes that move back and forth between an artwork’s major contours. 

Negative space is an empty space defined by a positive shape. Sometimes these positive and negatives shapes will be referred to as occupied or unoccupied spaces. 

Value: Value describes the light and shadows found on the surface of forms. Value can denote the quantity of light that is reflected by a sculpture’s surface. This value can change and may be affected by the addition of color onto the surface of a culture. 

Texture: The texture of a sculpture describes the quality of the surface on a form. Textures could be rough, weathered, smooth, so on. The texture will often be determined by the material a sculptor chooses to work with.
 

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Color: Color is an essential element of sculpture describing the actual color of the material being used. Older classical sculptures on exhibit in the present-day may appear to be without color or simply the color of their base material. However, many older sculptures have just lost their color over time or changed color by exposure to the elements and weathering. New York’s Statue of Liberty is an example of this; it is a copper statue that was originally brown but has now turned green.

Contrast and Variety: Contrast and variety are the different qualities or characteristics within a form. Contrast and variety make an artwork enjoyable and interesting by using various shapes, textures, forms, and so on. 

Rhythm and Repetition: Repetition creates rhythm in an artwork. There are three key rhythmic devices: duplication of the same form, two different forms used alternately, or the sequential change of a form (for example, changing from large to small). Jon Barlow Hudson’s ‘Double Helix: Flowing Balance’ is an example of how sculptors can use rhythm and repetition.

Emphasis: Emphasis in a sculpture makes one element in an artistic work a dominant feature. Emphasis creates a high point or climax in an artwork. It may also be a dominant motif or design element.

Continuity: Continuity is similar to rhythm and repetition. It is an organized movement or rhythm seen within an artwork. Continuity could take the form of repetition, alteration, or progression.

Balance: Balance describes the order and relationship between the different elements of an artwork. Whether a sculpture is symmetrical or asymmetrical, balance will create an equilibrium. Balance can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Symmetrical Balance: symmetry describes visual units which are equal. Symmetrical elements will be displayed either right and left or top to bottom from the center point of the artwork. 

Asymmetrical Balance: Asymmetry is the opposite of symmetry. It is a visual balance that is achieved by different visual units. An example of asymmetry would be two or three small shapes shown on the left of a sculpture, balancing one larger form on the right. 

Proportion: Proportion describes how the elements within a sculpture compare to one another: proportion considers an element’s quantity size and degree of emphasis. 

 

What Is Relief Sculpture?

A relief sculpture is a style of sculpture where designs or images are set against a flat background. Relief art sculpture is one of the oldest and earliest known forms of sculpting. There are records of relief sculptures that date as far back as cave art from the Upper Paleolithic period around 25,000 BCE.

Relief sculpture can be found throughout history in both eastern and western cultures around the world. From the Ancient Egyptian wall carvings to classical Chinese architecture or the sculpted marble or bronze pictorial styles from the Italian Renaissance, it can be observed everywhere. 

The relief style of sculpture is commonly used alongside architectural design as a feature within monumental buildings. Relief sculpture was common in classical architecture, and many of the most beautiful relief sculptures still exist today. 

You can visit and see classical relief sculptures with your own eyes at sites like Parthenon at the Athenian Akropolis in Greece, Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the United States or Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise found at the Baptistery of Florence.

 

What Are the Three Types of Relief Sculpture?

There are three common styles of relief sculpture:

  1. Low relief, also known as bas-relief, where motifs are only raised slightly above the 2D surface.
  2. High relief, also called alto-relief, where a sculpture projects at least half or even more of its circumference out from the 2D surface.
  3. A sunken relief, also known as an incised, intaglio relief, or coelanaglyphic relief, where a carving sinks into the 2D surface, so the design is below a flat surface level.

 

Famous Sculptures

Many famous sculptures have been created throughout history. Sadly, some of the most beautiful examples of sculptures have been partially or entirely destroyed through age or during conflicts. However, many others still exist in good condition and can be viewed today.
 

Famous Sculptures Include:

  • Venus of Willendorf, 28,000–25,000 BC
  • Bust of Nefertiti, 1345 BC
  • The Terracotta Army, 210–209 BC
  • Michelangelo, David, 1501-1504
  • Laocoön and His Sons, Second Century BC
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647–52
  • Antonio Canova, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1804–6
  • Edgar Degas, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, 1881/1922
  • Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, 1894–85
  • Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1912
  • Andy Warhol, Brillo Box (Soap Pads), 1964
  • Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
  • Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1996
  • Antony Gormley, The Angel of the North, 1998
  • Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994–2000

 

Famous Sculptors

Many of the most well-known sculptures are from the classical period, but many other famous sculptors were working through the ages. Some of today’s most celebrated contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, F&G, Yayoi Kusama, and David Kracov are sculptors. 

Some artists throughout history have specialized in sculpture, while others, like Picasso or Michelangelo, are often better known as painters. These are just a small selection of the many talented and well-recognized sculptors throughout history.

  • Augustine Rodin
  • Michelangelo
  • Donatello
  • Henry Moore
  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Jeff Koons
  • Anish Kapoor
  • Leonardo Di Vinci
  • Barbara Hepworth
  • Myron
  • Yayoi Kusama
  • Thutmose
  • Vincent Glinsky
  • Nathaniel Kaz
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini

 

What Makes a Good Sculpture?

Venus Sculpture
 

When it comes to critiquing and enjoying original artworks, “good” is always a subjective term. Any piece of art is good if you enjoy it or it sparks a reaction. However, the quality of a sculpture could be measured by factors such as:

  • Creativity, or the newness and originality of the concept
  • Composition, or the visual Balance of the design
  • Expression of meaning, how an artwork conveys its theme or statement
  • Expression of emotion, whether an artwork evokes an emotional response
  • Execution, how well an artwork is created, and its overall impression

 

Enjoying Sculpture

Sculptures have long been a popular choice for public display. Many of the most famous sculptures in history were commissioned as a part of public building works. 

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Contemporary sculpture is also displayed in public places and is also popular in commercial spaces. Private collectors can also enjoy sculptures in their homes. This artwork form can become an excellent conversation starter and makes a unique addition to your personal art collection.

 

 

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