Sculpture Terms

Sculpture has 3 dimensions  height + width + depth.  In computer design, the 3 dimensions are defined using x, y, and z, same as geometry.

Form is the physical manifestation of a design.  Function is the purpose of the object; the object’s use.


Relief: Sculpture in which forms project out from a flat surface (floor, wall, ceiling, etc)  The degree of projection ranges from low to high relief.

Bas Relief: In French, it means “low raised work”. Three-dimensional forms project from a flat background of which they are a part.  An good example is Griffon by Jean Francois Ortiz


Freestanding sculpture (aka artwork in the round): A sculpture that is self-supporting or is not supported by anything. It is designed to be viewed from all sides.  A good example is Always Tomorrow by Morgan Robinson


Assemblage (aka Collage): The sculptor uses found objects to create an artwork. Such as works by Kirkland Smith who creates assemblage out of consumer waste.


Kinetic:  Of or due to motion; a sculpture which contains moving parts powered by air, hands or motor.  A good example is Anemone Kinetic by Robert Mangold.

Installation Art: an artwork or design that presents an ensemble of images and objects within a 3D environment.


Site-specific Art:  Any work made for a certain place, which cannot be separated or exhibited apart from its intended environment.  A good example is Conversation Piece by Juan Munoz.


Earth art (aka. Environmental Art): This diverse movement began in  the early 60’s and  70’s. It shares concerns with the growing ecological movement and produces photo-documentation of often large-scale earth works such as Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson.


Cross‑media: Combines different media forms to achieve its ends. (eg. it can be a sculpture that includes sound work or video performance).  A good example is Center Cross by Agathe Snow.

Performance Art: a live presentation which may combine elements from a variety of art forms, such as film, video, theatre and dance.



Additive Process

Modeling involves shaping soft materials (clay, wax, paper maché. Casting involves pouring liquid material (molten metal) or pressing soft material (clay) into a mould to harden.  An example is Night Owls, by Pine Bell Art



Subtractive Works

Carving is removing material (chipping, filing, cutting)  from a solid form.  Materials: Wood, Stone, Marble. An example of this is The Embrace by W. Renday


Mixed Media

Construction involves joining (soldering, gluing, nailing) separate pieces of one or more materials (Plywood, Metal, Plastic, Cloth, Found Objects). An example of this is Horse by Leo Sewell.




LINE: an area whose length is considerably greater than its width.  Kenneth Snelson does large scale installation pieces with metal pipes.  He is an American contemporary sculpture and photographer.  His sculptural works, such as ‘Forest Devil’ (1975) are composed of flexible and rigid components arranged according to the idea of ‘tensegrity’.

Alberto Giacometti does linear figure forms that are highly gestural such as his ‘Three Men Walking’ (1937)  He works mostly in bronze.  He was a Swiss sculptor, painted, draughtsman and printmaker.




TEXTURE: the surface characteristics we could feel if we touched it; an object’s hardness, softness, bumpiness, smoothness, sharpness, furriness etc. Sculpture can show differences in visual texture vs natural texture vs worked texture.

Meret Oppenheim was a German born Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer. Oppenheim was a member of the Surrealist movement of the 1920s.  Her sculpture ‘Object’ (1936) shows a good example of texture.



FORM: that which occupies 3D space (in contrast to the 2D element shape).  With Form, one can consider interior vs exterior, primary & secondary contours, positive and negative space, static vs dynamic forms.

Barbara Hepworth was an English artist and sculptor. Her work exemplifies Modernism and shows strong example of the use of form, such as her Oval Sculpture No.2 (1943).

Henry Moore is a sculptor that carves and casts the human figure and abstract forms.  He creates forms that are really organic in nature such as his Recumbent Figure (1938)




SPACE: a 3D field in which the artist works – can be positive or negative, can activate the surrounding space or it can confine the space.

Robert Smithson was an American sculpture famous for his transformation of the natural world and use of photography to capture his time-sensitive land art such as Spiral Jetty.



LIGHT (VALUE): can be manipulated through a range of values, highlights, textures and forms. It can be used as a design element or as a medium itself.

James Turrell is an American artist primarily concerned with light and space.


COLOUR:  which uses natural colours of materials or added colour.

John Chamberlain is known internationally for his long career of making vividly coloured and vibrantly dynamic sculptures using discarded automobile parts that he twisted and welded into monumental shapes.  He used the early modernist techniques of collage and assemblage at a magnified scale and he emphasized the brilliant colours of automotive paint such as in his ‘Sculpture’ (1960)