In the many categories of visual arts, sculpture is a branch that operates in three dimensions and is known as one of the plastic art forms. Plastic arts is a form of physical manipulation of a plastic medium by using the techniques of molding and even modeling which can be seen in ceramics and sculptures. Originally, resilient sculptural proceedings used carving; which is the removing of material, and modeling; which is the adding of materials an example of this is seen in clay; in materials of stone, metal, wood, ceramics, and numerous other materials. However, with the insurgence of modernism which arose from wide-scale changes in Western society between the late 19th century and early 20th century, has seen a change or shift in the sculptural process. This has led to a complete freedom of materials and processes to represent the art form of sculpting. In terms of carving and modelling there has been various amounts of materials that have been worked into this visual art form. This includes materials being removed by means of carving and then accumulated by using methods of welding, molding or cast.
By far, sculptures that have used the material of stone have survived better than other works of art that have used materials that are more likely to be perished. It is these surviving works of stone, other than pottery, that has allowed for modern times to have a glimpse into the ancient cultures. This art form as been prevalent in many religions as a sign of devotion found in various cultures around the world. Until recently, larger or enormous sized sculptures were a form of expression of religious beliefs and even political beliefs. Certain cultures whose visual art forms of sculptures that have survived in numerous amounts are those of the Ancient Chinese, Indians, Mediterranean, South Americans, and Africans.
History and Evolution of Sculptures
In regards to human life, sculptures have filled in many important roles for the last thousand and more years. It is hypothesized that some of the earliest sculptures may have been used to contribute some sort of mystic of magical help to early hunters. With the coming of civilization, the formations of statues were utilized as a representation of what humans at that time thought of their gods. Many ancient monarchs believed and wanted to attain immortality had their likeness carved bringing about the evolution of portrait sculpture. In order to understand the evolution of this visual art form, it is necessary to examine the many pre-historic methods of sculptures.
Prehistoric Period of Sculptures
By examining the very few pieces of prehistoric visual art forms researchers have found copious amounts of small portable sculptures. An example of this the various small groups of female "Venus figurines" like Venus of Willendorf which is found across various regions in central Europe dating back to 24,000 B.C.E to 22, 000 B.C.E (Anderson & Barr, 2012). Another portable sculptural figurine is the Lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel which dates back to 30,000 B.C.E. and is about 30 centimeters long. It is the oldest form of known zoomorphic figure from the Aurignacian era that hardly has any other pieces that can be related to it (Anderson & Barr, 2012).
Ancient Cultures and their Sculptural Art Forms
Of many of the ancient civilizations the first to establish a recognized artistic style is found in Egypt. The ancient cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt have created a massive number of works that are considered sculptural masterpieces. Most of these sculptural works of art were monolithic and had some sort of ritual relevance which are beyond artistic consideration (InfoPlease, 2012). In the Ancient Americas sculptors had devised sophisticated techniques and styles to improve their art work which was also symbolic like their other counterpart cultures throughout the world. Sculptural works of art in Asia were already highly developed as an art form since the time of antiquity which are prevalent in Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Art. Ancient Greeks had developed their freestanding and relief sculptures from the stringency of their archaic forms. It was during the classical and Hellenistic time periods that sculptures saw representation of intellectual veneration to subjects which were of human form (Boreham, 2012). This concept would later become so celebrated that is would later become the inspiration of European art for centuries to come.
Western Sculptures of the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century
It was during the time of the Middle Ages that Europe that religious architectural sculptures that derived from Romanesque and Gothic periods began to form fundamental and primary parts of various church buildings. It was during this time that a single cathedral began to integrate carvings of thousands of figures and narratives. Some of the most famous of Romanesque sculptures of cathedrals and churches across Europe are Moissac of France, Hildesheim of Germany, and Santiago de Compostela of Spain. Most of the art pieces found during this era are anonymous however; the sculptor Nicola and Giovanni Pisano had gained great prominence in the early 13th century across Italy.
Modern Times Sculpture
By the 18th century there was a shift in style which modified the use of dramatic style of baroque to create works of art that were more intimate resulting in the birth of neoclassicism. Later derivative style was prominent throughout the 19th century seen the works of Thorvaldsen however, simultaneously to the neoclassicists came the distinguished like of realist sculptors from France which range from Rude to Rodin (Compton, 2012). A key element that has evolved in modern sculpture is the use of movement.
Characteristics of Sculptures
Sculptural design has seen many variations throughout its evolution in history. However, there will always be two important elements that are found in sculptures which is characterized as mass and space. Sculptures are made of any material substance that holds a mass and has an existence in a three-dimensional space (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012). This allows an extension into the types of sculptures prevalent. This includes sculpture in the round and numerous types of relief. Sculpture in the round embodies characteristics of statues which are not attached or linked to any sort of background other than a possible base. However, various form of relief is attached somewhat to a background surface.
The quantity of imperativeness given to either mass or space in the specific design of the sculpture varies from artist to artist. The most important of aspects in sculptures is the different kinds of expressive characters of various kinds of surfaces. Each type of surface symbolically shows a representation of external and internal forces (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012). For example, a double curved convex surface of a sculpture may suggest a representation of fullness and outward pressure of internal forces. This aspect is mostly seen in the artistic forms of Indian sculptures which seem to have significance metaphysically. On the other hand, concave surfaces may suggest the external forces acting. Flat surfaces on a sculpture tend to represent a feeling hardness or rigidity which are unaffected by internal or external forces (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012).
Some of the most common purposes of sculptures are usually in the form of association to religion. Common in many cultures are cult images that characterized a specific deity seen in Ancient Greeco-Roman art and Egyptian art. Smaller sculptures from the prehistoric era are seen as personal possessions while larger in size sculptures are used for public art, this was mostly used to influence an impression on the person seeing it to show the power of a ruler or a deity.
It is difficult to pin-point central principles of design in the universal form of art sculptures. There are several principles that preside over the organization of several elements in sculpture to form expressive masterpieces which are different from style to style. The main principles of sculptural design that preside over the approaches used by the artist are fundamental matter such as proportion, scale, articulation, balance, and orientation.
Influences of Sculpture on other Art Forms
Sculpture has had a significant influence on many art forms but it is most closely related to that of architecture. In architecture it has played a significant role in architectural decoration and to some extent its design. Similarly to sculpture, architecture works and is concerned with the three-dimensional form or art. Most of the dominant influence by sculpture on architect is seen in the second quarter of the twentieth century (Collins, 1998). In the beginning of the 1920's and 1935, several abstract pictorial and sculptural devices were used as a means of creating original architectural forms (Collins, 1998). However, the sheer difference between architect and sculpture, is architecture's main concern in the design of any building is the organization of the space rather than the focus on the mass. The development of a spatial form of sculpture is very intimately related to the opening up and lightening of architecture, which was allowed with the development of modern technologies used for building technologies. With this in mind, main 20th century sculptors are often said as treating their work in an architectural manner.
Dance is another form of art that has been influenced by sculptor and vise versa. Both these art forms inhabit a midway positioning in regards to their respective spectrums. An example of an extreme case might be that the dancer may remain motionless to express as certain influence or idea in the way a sculpture can. On the other hand, mostly from the impact of modern art forms, a sculpture in an extreme case can be perceived as being in motion. The solo form of dance embodies the solitude of a sculptor to influence the expression that is put forward by a dancer.
Two-dimensional art has also been influenced by sculptures in various ways. Two-dimensional art form like painting is also said to have influenced sculptures and the art form of sculpting. In most modern forms of paining there is an attempt made by the artist to allow the reality as a whole to enter the work space. Since sculpting is thought of as a three-dimensional form of art, painting has evolved to creating techniques that encompass an aspect of three dimensions on flat surfaces.
Important Contributors of Sculpting
During the late medieval times that enflamed the Italian Renaissance period where influential contributors like Della Quercia and Giovanni da Bologna. Michelangelo, also an Italian Renaissance sculptor was influential in the development of Western art. Most of his sculptural works would later influence the architectural style of Mannerist that was pioneered by Michelangelo. Rodin was another significant contributor to the art form of sculpting. Rodin's innovations came with expressive techniques in the 20th century to release and free the work of sculptors from realism as well as the dominate ideas that came from the Greek ideals. This idealism is seen in the work of Aristide Maillol where the ideal is predominating.