Taking a closer look at sculpture

Sculpture is any three-dimensional artform crafted using four basic processes: carving, casting, modelling and constructing. Sculpture has the added dimension of being experienced in space, with our experience of the object changing according to our movement around the object.

The traditions of sculpture reach back to prehistoric times, with the earliest known objects da-ting to around 32,000 BCE. These items were practical objects that had been decorated, or were religious or spiritual figurines carved in bone, ivory or stone. In ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations, sculptures were created on a monumental scale. They expressed power and were used to memorialise important subjects. Classical Greek and Roman sculptures attempted to perfect the ideal human form while portraying mythological heroes or gods and goddesses.

For a long time sculpture was used as an instructive or educational tool, either by the church or by powerful individuals. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the expressive properties of sculpture were explored. Modern artists removed sculpture from its traditional pedestal and experimented with mediums beyond marble, stone, wood or clay. These artists also reframed the purpose of, and contexts for, sculpture, valuing sculpture as an artistic medium in itself.

Think and Discuss

Select two figurative or sculptural works of art that are similar. Explain your selection. Perhaps consider the artist’s intention as well as surface, texture, material, pose, size or proportions.

Practice looking closely

Select a figurative sculpture and recreate the pose. The year 10 students at St John's Grammar have been looking at the theme of “domesticity” and used Duane Hanson’s Woman with a laundry basket as a starting point. It’s a great way to get them to look closely at works of art and discuss the composition.

St John's Grammar Year 10


Experiment with folding, cutting, tearing or perforating paper. Play with light to cast interesting shadows so that light and shadow become an integral part of the experiment. Photograph your results.


Collect a range of containers, lids and small boxes. Select three objects to create your own sculpture. Name your sculpture and present your work of art to the class.

Artists love to experiment and will often use materials that we may consider to be ordinary or disposable. Challenge yourself to create a three-dimensional work of art using only white paper.

Use clay or plasticine to quickly sculpt a body in action. Create a frieze, or decorative panel, by combining your sculptures with those of your classmates and document them using drawing and photography.