Styles of Sculpture

by Goody Clairenstein

Sculpture is a highly variable, three-dimensional form of visual art that has been around for thousands of years throughout the world. There are many different styles of sculpture, each of which has its own particular characteristics. The materials used in sculpture are also myriad, and range from the use of found objects to more traditional substances such as marble, bronze and soapstone.


Free-standing sculpture is designed to allow the viewer to observe the sculpture from all angles. A piece of free-standing sculpture is surrounded on all sides by space, and usually rests on a supporting structure or stand. Free-standing sculpture is also called "sculpture in the round." This style of structure has almost limitless materials and installation possibilities. Whatever the artist can construct as a free-standing structure is an example of free-standing sculpture. Free-standing sculpture can also be static -- stationary -- or dynamic -- that which moves.


A statue is one of the most recognizable forms of sculpture. A statue depicts a person or object and is a type of representational visual art. While a statue can certainly depict a person or figure in his entirety, one type of statue is the bust, in which a figure is depicted from the neck or collarbone up. Busts frequently rest on pillars or columns for support and elevation. Equestrian statues, which depict persons on horseback -- frequently military figures -- are installed in museums as well as parks and historical sites.


Light sculpture uses light, either artificial or natural, to create a piece of three-dimensional art. A piece of light sculpture might use electricity to produce light with the use of bulbs and other illuminators, or it might be constructed so that daylight refracts off its surface to produce a certain three-dimensional visual effect. One of the most famous light sculptors is the Bauhaus artist from Hungary, László Moholy-Nagy, who was active from around 1920 to the early 1940s.


Relief is a style of sculpture in which the artwork's object appears to be raised above a flat surface, creating a three-dimensional effect that seems to rise out of a two-dimensional plane. Relief sculpture is actually created by cutting away at a thick, flat piece of material, such as wood or soapstone, to reveal the impressions of the artwork's object. As such, the field is actually lowered, which causes the uncut parts to appear raised. There are three major types of relief sculpture -- bas-relief, alto-relievo and sunken relief. Relief is frequently seen as a decorative detail in important architectural buildings and structures, where it is used to tell a historical story or illustrate an important historical element central to the building's significance.


Kinetic sculpture is sculpture that moves. As opposed to static sculpture, kinetic sculpture is dynamic. One common example of kinetic sculpture is a mobile, which is suspended from a ceiling or other elevated structure to create a moving three-dimensional art installation. A fountain is another form of kinetic sculpture -- one which uses water to create continually moving artwork. Wind, a motor or the viewer herself can provide the means that animate a piece of kinetic sculpture into movement.

About the Author

Goody Clairenstein has been a writer since 2004. She has sat on the editorial board of several non-academic journals and writes about creative writing, editing and languages. She has worked in professional publishing and news reporting in print and broadcast journalism. Her poems have appeared in "Small Craft Warnings." Clairenstein earned her Bachelor of Arts in European languages from Skidmore College.