Michelangelo, David, 1501-04, marble photo By Jörg Bittner Unna (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Sculpture is one of the three major fine arts mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists in the 16th century. It can be, as with Michelangelo’s David above, in the round, also called free standing, which means it is meant to be seen from all sides. This work is also carved from marble, which means parts of the block of marble were cut away in a subtractive process until the artist was satisfied with the work. Marble is very brittle, so often you will see the small supportive features, like the tree trunk by his leg, as a means to support more exposed areas.


Cambodian, Lintel from Angkor, 9th century, By Vassil (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another way of creating sculpture is by carving only one side, which is called relief carving. These are meant to be seen from only one side, typically inset into a wall or base of a larger piece, and may be high, middle, or low relief. Notice the way the different levels of relief create different shadows on the work above.


Egyptian, House Altar Showing Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and 3 of Their Daughters, c. 1340, By UnknownAndreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is an example of sunken relief, where the image is carved into, rather than away from the panel.


Sculpture can be kinetic, or it can be assembled from a variety of materials, making it mixed media.  Sculpture, like the work below, can also be assembled from 1 type of material, in this case, steel.Alexander_Calder_Crinkly_avec_disc_Rouge_1973-1

Alexander Calder, Crinkly Avec Disc Rouge, 1973 By Rufus46 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Assemblage was a technique developed in the mid-20th century, where in found materials, traditional art-making techniques, and other elements would be combined to make one large work. Artists working with this technique were trying to push boundaries of what art is, and what makes something art. Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg were 2 pioneers of assemblage as art. There are also a number of artists today working with 3D printing and other new technologies to create new works of art.

Another type of sculptural work is the creation of installations, wherein artists create large-scale works that may encompass bits of assemblage, painting, stagecraft, etc. Artists typically have a message or overall meaning behind the large-scale installation, which can take up an entire room, museum, or other space. Often, these are site-specific, meaning that they have been created for a certain site, museum, or other space, and are meant to fill it, although that is not always the case. Site-specific works can also be large environmental or earthworks, also called land art, made since the 1970s as a means to call attention to environmental issues.


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