Several thousand years ago a tribesman took tool to stone and hewed the shape of a woman. The statuette is the Venus of Willendorf and archeologists date it back as far as 22,000 BC. A rounded female with exaggerated mammae, she symbolizes fertility itself, the source and center of life. She predates the painted animals in the Caves of Lascaux and marks the beginning of a long history of our relentless efforts to express ourselves in physical form. This is sculpture. It is the only form of art that is to be experienced from every physical angle, without any one side or vantage point. It exists in real space, unlike the more two-dimensional qualities of painting, exerting itself into the same domain in which it is observed.
Carving is the oldest technique of artistic form-making, the process of carving away from a solid mass. This is the very meaning of the Latin verb sculpere from which we get the word sculpture. Michelangelo claimed he was taking away from the stone all that was not his subject. Modeling is the process of form-making whereby soft malleable materials, such as clay, wax, and paper-mâché are manipulated, often directly with the hands. Modeled forms can be maquettes for larger works or finished pieces in their own right. Casting is a third method which allows sculptures to be reproduced. A modeled piece, often made of wax or clay, is taken and covered in a molding material, to later be separated from the original work. The cast is then filled with liquid materials, often bronze and other metals. This method allows for several reproductions and editions.
Alongside these tradition techniques, the twentieth century has seen radical departures of materials and methods. Marcel Duchamp famously used a found urinal and set it on its back instead of in its upright position, and titled it Fountain. Thus “found art.” Joseph Cornel is considered a pioneer of “assemblage art” whereby found objects are poetically arranged inside of boxes covered in glass. Sculpture became more abstracted, representing figures only by loose resemblance, such as in the work of Henry Moore, or free of representation altogether, as in the work of David Smith. Contemporary sculpture has expanded the vocabulary of materials yet again, to include kinetic pieces, earthworks, site-specific installations, sewn fabrics, colored lights, animals in formaldehyde, electronics, and even chewing gum. The material possibilities of art are now limited only by the imagination of the sculptor – browse our collection of sculptures for sale for numerous fine examples.This article was written for ARTmine by Rob Wright.