Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Sculpture (Latin sculpere,”to carve”), three-dimensional art concerned with the organization of masses and volumes. The two principal types have traditionally been freestanding sculpture in the round and relief sculpture.


Sculpture Materials and Techniques Artists can create three-dimensional forms using a wide variety of materials and techniques. Some of the most commonly used materials are clay, wood, stone, plaster, and metal. Techniques include carving, chiseling, welding, and casting.

Stone Carving An artist begins a sculpture with a mass of material, which is systematically broken down using special tools. In order to break off corners and angles, a sculptor hammers the stone with a pitcher—a heavy, pointed chisel with rough edges. The form is then refined with more subtle tools, such as claw chisels and flat chisels, which are used for sharper details.Mike Yamashita/Woodfin Camp and Associates, Inc.

Modeling in Clay This artist is creating a sculpture out of clay. She is using a wooden tool specifically designed for clay sculpting. Working in clay can be done using tools or the artist’s hands. It is one of the oldest methods of sculpting.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Welded Metal This artist is creating a sculpture out of metal. He is welding pieces together to create the form, using a technique known as “direct metal.” Although metal sculpture is almost the oldest form of sculpture in the world (after stone), welding is a 20th-century technique.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Sculpture can be made from almost any organic or inorganic substance. The processes specific to making sculpture date from antiquity and,... up to the 20th century, underwent only minor variations. These processes can be classified according to materials—stone, metal, clay, and wood; the methods used are carving, modeling, and casting. In the 20th century the field of sculpture has been enormously broadened and enriched by new techniques, such as welding and assemblage, and by new materials resulting from technology, such as neon tubing.

Celebrating Lady Liberty
Designed by sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and presented to the United States by the citizens of France, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Since then she has served as a national monument and a powerful symbol of freedom for millions of immigrants seeking new opportunities on American shores. In this Collier’s Year Book article, editor and author Geoffrey M. Horn reflected on the statue’s history and its enduring appeal on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

  • Carving
Michelangelo's David One of Michelangelo’s best known creations is the sculpture David (1501-1504). The 5.17-m (17-ft) tall marble statue shows an alert David waiting for his enemy Goliath. It originally stood in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, but was later moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

A procedure dating from prehistoric times, carving is a time-consuming and painstaking process in which the artist subtracts, or cuts away, superfluous material until the desired form is reached. The material is usually hard and frequently weighty; generally, the design is compact and is governed by the nature of the material. For example, the narrow dimensions of the marble block used by Michelangelo to carve his David (1501-1504, Accademia, Florence, Italy) strongly affected the pose and restricted the figure's outward movement into space.

Various tools are used, depending on the material to be carved and the state to which the work has progressed. In the case of stone, the rough first cutting to achieve the general shape may be performed by an artisan assistant using sharp tools; then the sculptor continues the work of cutting and chiseling. As work progresses, less penetrating tools are used, such as a bow drill and a rasp; finishing touches are carried out with fine rasps; then by rubbing with pumice or sand, and—if a great degree of smoothness is desired—by adding a transparent patina, made with an oil or wax base.
  • Modeling
Modeling consists of addition to, or building up of, form. The materials used are soft and yielding and can be easily shaped, enabling rapid execution. Thus, a sculptor can capture and record fleeting impressions much the way a painter does in a quick sketch. Clay or claylike substances, baked to achieve increased durability, have been used for modeling since ancient times.

  • Casting
Molds and Casts The four seals, top row, were used as negative molds to cast the positive reproductions, bottom row. Similarly, in sculpture, artists shape a model from clay or some other malleable substance, form a negative mold of this model, and pour a liquefied casting substance such as bronze into the hollow mold. Once the casting substance has hardened, the final work is ready.Scala/Art Resource, NY

The only means of obtaining permanence for a modeled work is to cast it in bronze or some other durable substance. Two methods of casting are used: the cire perdue, or lost-wax process, and sand-casting. Both methods have been used since antiquity, although the lost-wax process is more widely employed. Casting is accomplished in two stages: First, an impression or negative mold is formed from the original—a clay model, for instance—and second, a positive cast or reproduction is made of the original work from the negative impression. The term negative refers to the hollow form or mold into which the liquefied casting material is poured. The term positive means the copy or reproduction resulting from filling the negative mold with the substances selected for the specific cast, which are then allowed to harden. Plaster is frequently used for the negative mold, and bronze for the positive or final work.
  • Construction and Assemblage
Early Egyptian Metal Statue

Although traditional techniques are still employed, much 20th-century sculpture is created by construction and assemblage (see Constructivist Sculpture below). These methods have their origin in collage, a painting technique devised by Pablo Picasso and the French artist Georges Braque in 1912, in which paper and foreign materials are pasted to a picture surface. Picasso also made three-dimensional objects such as musical instruments out of paper and scraps of diverse materials, which were termed constructions. Examples of modern constructivist sculpture range from the surrealistic boxes of Joseph Cornell to the junk-car and machine-part works of John Chamberlain, both Americans. The term assemblage, which is now sometimes used interchangeably with construction, was coined by the French painter Jean Dubuffet to refer to his own work, which grew out of collage.

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