How to Analyse Sculpture

Posted: January 20, 2013 in Visual Arts Theory Analysis
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 From Durantas’ A guide for for Analyzing Works of Art; Sculpture and Painting

Trojan Horse | Willie Bester

Identification: Recording the Sculpture Details

  • Name of Artist if known, or anonymous
  • Title or subject of  the Work
  • Where it was made
  • Date

Technical Data

1. Size of work; in giving dimensions, list height first
2. Medium; from what material(s) is it constructed?
Is it carved from stone? Wood – if so, what kind? Modelled in clay and then cast in bronze? or glazed? Welded metal? Other?
3. If Historical – what is the general condition; whole or undamged? a fragment? worn? etc.
4. Display; Was the work meant to be seen on its own or as part of a complex sculptural or architectural setting? Free-standing? Mounted on a pedestal or base? Standing on ground? Against a wall? In a niche? Altar piece?

Jackson Hlungwane – Man riding Fish – His sculptures were functional in that they served as iconography in his ‘church’ just like sculpture would in classical Roman cathedrals.

Subject Matter

What is shown? Abstract, or representational (depicting recognizable people, people, place, things)?

Take inventory of what is represented, beginning with major motifs. To which culture, and/or belief system did the subject belong (the cult or myths of a particular tribe, clan, or court; the Hebrew Bible or New Testament; classical literature; the lives of saints, Renaissance literature; history, everyday life etc.

If the Human figure is represented, to what category does the person belong; deity, athlete, warrior, states person  private person, poet, philosopher, mythological figure, etc.

Characterization; consider age, pose, movement, attire, body build, skin quality, facial expression; psychological focus; emphasis on an anatomical or other parts, relationship of drapery or other clothing to the body?

If a group of figures, also consider; physical and psychological relationships among figures, movement from figure to to figure – rhythmic, patterned, disjointed etc.

Jane Alexander - Butcher Boys - They sit together on the bench but there is no communication between them.

Jane Alexander – Butcher Boys – They sit together on the bench but there is no communication between them. “The deformed and stunted relations between human beings that were created under colonialism and exacerbated under what is loosely called apartheid have their psychic representation in a deformed and stunted inner life.“ -J. M. Coetzee

Formal Analysis

Prevailing Axis; Vertical, horizontal, diagonal, spiral?

Volumes; What kind of three-dimensional forms are basic to the sculpture? Geometric (conic, cubic, pyramidal, etc.)? Irregular (organic – lifelike; jagged; smooth)? A particular combination of the irregular and geometric? How are these forms organized (including relative scale or proportion)?

What kind of three-dimensional forms are basic to the sculpture? Geometric (conic, cubic, pyramidal, etc.)?

Space; To what degree does the sculpture displace space? Do forms and surrounding space interpenetrates? Is it a relief that creates an illusion of space within it?  Is the sculpture frontal Does it turn in space? Was it meant to be seen from one point of view only, or from many?

Line; How is line used in the sculpture? Contour; does the work have an open or closed silhouette? Are the dominant linear elements seen in the forms themselves, or are they incised onto the surface? What is the relationship between the linear and volumetric elements?

Colour: Is colour or gilding added to the sculpture? Is the colour of the material of special importance? Does the colour have a thematic significance? Does it have a descriptive or expressive function?

Sculpture at Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park – head of gilded driftwood and painted wood-and-tyre

Light; Has the artist considered the effect of light upon his work? Are the forms arranged so that a particular effect of light and shade will be attained? Do part s of the sculpture cast shadows? Are there sharp protrusions that catch the light? Deep pockets of shadows?

Relation of Technique and Material to form; Are some of the forms inherent to the carving or modelling or assembling process? Has the surface been polished? Is there a pattern on the surface?

Further Iconographic analysis; (i.e., historical analysis of subject matter) Is the subject treated in the same way in contemporary works? Has this been a constant tradition, or has the theme varied over the centuries? Is it a new subject altogether? Has a radically new interpretation been given to an old subject?

Function; Was the work intended for public or private viewing? Was its function primarily sepulchral (tomb, grave), votive ( votive offering is object(s) displayed or deposited, in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes),  Was it made as a copy of an admired work, or inspired by another work?

Ancient Greek votive relief, 400 BCE. Asclepios is sitting on an omphalos between his wife Epione and a man clad in himation, Acropolis Museum, Athens

Content; How did the subject, theme, and form convey ideas, values, sentiments, beliefs, perceptions? What may the work of art say about the period and culture in which the work was created?

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