Sculpture was the first and most ubiquitous form of artistic expression. The earliest sculptures appear to have been created by modifying found objects that suggested either animal or human forms. As tools and technologies developed, artists progressed from carving bone, wood, and stone to manipulating and firing clay, then to casting in bronze. Sculpture is typically produced using bronze, woodcarving, stone, and other materials.

Constantin Brancusi was a seminal figure in 20th-century art, with a profound influence on sculpture and design. He created sculpture using different materials, his statement below provides insight into the artist’s perspective.

“…you cannot make what you want to make, but what the material permits you to make. You cannot make out of marble what you would make out of wood, or out of wood what you would make out of stone. Each material has its own life, and one cannot without punishment destroy a living material to make a dumb senseless thing. That is, we must not try to make materials speak our language, we must go with them to the point where others will understand their language.” ~ Constantin Brancusi

Bronze casting involves the modeling of a form in clay, plaster, or wax. First a mold is made of the original sculpture. This is used to make the wax form. To this is attached a funnel shape and gates or ducts, also made of wax. The wax form is covered in heat-resistant plaster, and the whole is placed in an oven. During heating, the plaster hardens and the wax melts and runs out through the ducts. The plaster mold is now inverted and packed in sand and molten bronze is poured into the funnel. The mold is later chiseled away and then the gates chiseled and chased from the surface of the bronze cast. When creating a large statue the mold of the original model has to be cut into two or more pieces to make a wax shell, from which a hollow bronze can be cast.

Carving in wood requires an awareness of the flow of the grain. This respect for the natural form of the wood was a notable feature of the work of the British sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The woodcarvings of Brancusi are outstanding for their simplicity and elegance.

The art of stone carving has achieved amazing degrees of naturalism through the techniques of carving, pinning, drilling, and polishing. The most prestigious stone for sculpture is marble, which is very hard and difficult to carve. Alabaster, which can give a similar effect, is much softer. Limestone, granite, and sandstone are also popular media.

Modern sculpture has exploited almost every conceivable material, construction process, and method of assembling objects. American sculptor David Smith created welded abstract geometric metal structures.  Modern sculpture also delights in re-creating everyday objects on an unexpected scale or using unexpected materials. Artists such as Eva Hesse and Claes Oldenburg produced sculpture using soft materials, such as foam rubber and latex.

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