Kelly, James J., The Sculptural Idea 4th Ed., 2004, Waveland Press Inc.
Four fundamentals to consider when sculpting either physically or digitally;
- material selection or choice
- tension of space
- the texture or the language of the surface
Form, space and choice of material define sculpture. This is uniquely different from the planar 2D arts. Firstly, Form is to sculpture as shape is to the drawn image. It has been defined as the universal meaning of sculptural objects. While this may be true, it is often much more. It is shape, dimension, structure, technique, the intrinsic and extrinsic character, the arrangement of content, and all of these things in combination. Further, and most important, it is the sculptor exercising his or her will on the piece and giving it life.
Second is space. Space would be the negative area surrounding the positive area of the form. The marriage between form and space, how one “weaves” the two together, defines the appeal of the sculpture. “The displacement of space by a new and intentional form by the artist creates a new reality: sculpture.” An excellent example of form displacing space is Constantine Brancusi’s Bird in Space, 1932, MOMA, NYC.
Take this a bit further, what makes contemporary sculpture, today’s sculpture, unique from the other forms of art? It can be argued that some paintings are very “thick”, and therefore protrude far enough to qualify as having form, and therefore are sculpture. Or a ceramicist creates non-wheel thrown forms, and considers them sculptures. I suppose from the traditional perspective this is absolutely true. However, times have changed, and so have the mechanisms for the definition of sculpture. Let’s look at welding, for example. At the turn of the 20th century industrialism was sweeping across the first world, and this very practical method of fabrication changed the landscape of sculpture forever. Sculpture was no longer limited with large bulky forms bound to the earth, but could penetrate space with linear wispy arms reaching into the sky.
The tensile strength of steel allowed artists such as David Smith to create armatures that are not columnar, but cantilevers in space. Like a line draw on a wall, sculpture became drawing with steel in space. Not only does the steel jut into space, but it can be covered or carry many sorts of materials at varying weights. David Smith, Cubi X, 1963, Welded Steel, MOMA, NYC.
This leads me to the third requirement in defining sculpture, and what separates sculpture from its’ contemporaries. That requirement is Material choice, or the artist’s selection of materials. This conscious choice and the juxtaposition of those materials is critical in defining the overall concept and appeal of the sculpture. The painter chooses paint, the ceramicist chooses clay, photographers choose prints, yet the sculptor, unbound to a set material, chooses the material(s) that delivers the concept. “At the present time, any and all materials are fair game for the sculptor”. The wrong material choice can lead the viewer astray, regardless of how well made, or how iconographic
the piece may be. The primary material juxtaposed with one or more materials is a critical fundamental step in creating appealing sculpture. The overuse of juxtaposing materials can become confusing for the viewer, cluttered, and can lead the concept astray. A balance, or proportional use of materials must be struck to avoid the viewer being mislead.
Related to the choice of materials, is the interlocation, or interlocking of parts. How do all the parts come together? What fasteners, or lack thereof, are used to join the materials—a “marriage of the parts”. Interlocation can be achieved with a dove tail joint, a weld, a screw, a wooden nail, a nut and bolt, with glue, putty, cement, plaster, wire mesh, etc. All of which are materials to be considered as a part of the whole, if not a part of the armature. Interlocation could also be defined as the “arrangement of content”.
Finally, the ability to access the tension of the space, or the lack of tension. Is the negative space used effectively to communicate the interlocation of the chosen materials? Imagine two magnets of the same pole trying to touch, yet they are always just out of reach of each other. That space is the balance from one material to the next. The bronze Reclining Figures of Henry Moore and the leaning steel forms of Richard Serra are great examples of the tension of space between subject and viewer, the viewer, I believe, being the juxtaposed material.
Manipulation of the texture of the surface, the marking, or the language of the surface affecting it intentionally, and juxtaposing the material against others is critical in designing the appeal of the piece. The surface can not only create a narrative of the material, but can draw out the emotive reaction from the viewer, they may yearn to reach out and make contact with the piece. Whether it is physical or digital, literal or perceived as literal, the tactile sense defines sculpture.
Affecting the surface, such as drawing on, painting, or burning it, will encourage the viewer to take a more intimate role of inspecting the piece. This leads the sculptor to an arena of thinking, where they can have both the macro and micro visual stimulus at once. Monumental sculpture, like a Richard Serra piece, combined with the intimacy of surface from an Eva Hesse piece or that from the figures of the classic sculptor August Rodin.