Art Principles and History

Art Fundamentals

What is sculpture?

Whereas graphic arts like drawing and painting are two-dimensional, sculpture is three-dimensional. An artist who works in sculpture is called a sculptor. Traditionally, sculptors use different processes including carving, modeling, and casting, though contemporary sculptors sometimes use construction (also known as assemblage) methods to make their works. Different materials are used depending on which technique the artist employs. Stone, such as marble, as well as wood, are often used for carving. Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture was carved from Carrara marble, a beautiful gray-white stone from Tuscany. Modeling requires softer, more malleable materials such as clay. In the 1970s, over 7,000 terra cotta soldiers were discovered in the tomb of the ancient Chinese Emperor Qin. Terracotta, which means “baked earth,” is commonly used for modeling sculpture, especially in the ancient world.

One of the more complex types of sculpting is casting, a labor-intensive process that relies on metals such as bronze and other metal alloys. In a technique known as lost-wax bronze casting, molten bronze is poured into a wax mold, which forms a negative image of the final sculpture. Once the bronze is cool, the wax mold is heated and removed, revealing a bronze form. Different versions of this process can produce both solid and hollow sculptures. Casting also allows for multiple copies of a work. For example, Auguste Rodin’s nineteenth-century masterpiece, The Thinker, has been re-cast many times. Sculpture can range from tiny to monumental in size, and can be both representational and abstract. Sculpture made from a wide range of materials can be found all over the world.


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