Sculpture is an ancient art form involving creating works in three dimensions out of different materials ranging from clay and metal to bronze and marble.
Like painting, sculpture is an artistic medium with multiple applications. From beauty and identity to discourse and documentation to exaltation – even uncovering an unpleasant odor – sculpture has the capacity to help achieve many different ends.
Baudelaire’s aesthetics were heavily influenced by both literary and visual art, as well as contemporary philosophies of religion and social sciences. He is remembered as one of the early pioneers of modernist poetry and helped establish symbolism as an influential movement throughout France and Europe during late 19th-century France and Europe.
His reputation was further cemented through his analysis of painting and literature and music in general. He published several essays under the collective title Curiosites esthetiques (Aesthetic curiosities), as well as a small selection of critical studies like two on caricature and an outline for an unconventional theory of comedy.
His essays and critical writings about art, poetry and dandyism, fine art, music and musical theatre all challenged conceptions of what constitutes aesthetic experience – expanding it to encompass wider values and purposes. Furthermore, his reconceptualisation of poets as intimately linked to social, psychological, material and sexual relationships brought forth new ways of considering how the poetic represents them.
Understanding how poetry rearticulates and enacts social, psychological and material conditions has informed much modernist writing – from Nietzsche and Sartre through Merleau-Ponty to Lukacs and Benjamin; even later poets like Ezra Pound; his work on the dandy is particularly influential as many modernist conceptions of how art can help groups form new forms of identity and solidarity have drawn on his work on this theme.
The Dandy’s complex passions, his disdain for commercialism and materialism and his disdain for modernist poetry has inspired numerous modernist poems; especially his famous poem, “The Swan”. Many twentieth-century poets have taken great interest in this piece of modernist poetry.
The Materiality of Sculpture
Sculpture is an ancient art form involving the three-dimensional creation of objects through modeling, casting and assembly processes. Sculptures may be freestanding or integrated into their surroundings such as gardens or city streets; traditionally sculptures were commissioned by monarchs or religious leaders and displayed publicly to show wealth, power, religion or politics.
However, sculpture remains an art that requires expertise and much skill despite its increased popularity over the last century. Therefore, some sculptors opt not to craft their sculptures themselves but instead hire fabricators to build them for them.
These art fabricators use various techniques to manipulate materials such as clay, metal or plastic into sculptures that exceed what an artist could produce on their own by hand alone – often this requires manufacturing on an industrial scale.
Materiality plays an integral part in conveying meaning through sculpture to its viewers, so many sculptors select materials with strong associations to specific subjects or ideas when crafting their artworks.
An artist using plastic will usually select colors that reflect light and glow to make their artwork even more aesthetically pleasing. This gives their art an individual look.
One important element of sculpture’s materiality is how it interacts with its environment. Be it in public space such as city streets or private galleries; be it an installation that stands alone; this interaction can have an enormous effect on how spectators interpret its meaning and interpret the piece as art.
The Spectral Materiality of Sculpture
Sculpture can create the illusion of new dimensions and spectral richness for our senses when presented deliberately, like Tauba Auerbach does with her Chromorifice wall-mounted sculptures.
Auerbach uses strips of raw canvas to weave vertical, horizontal, and diagonal patterns together, creating the impression of three-dimensionality within his works by engaging viewers’ senses and challenging them to consider their relationship to it. His works serve as an excellent example of art’s ability to engage viewers more deeply while challenging them to reflect upon themselves in relation to its creation.
Pamela Rosenkranz is another artist exploring materiality; her monochromatic interpretations allow viewers to focus on the meaning behind her works rather than complex color palettes and technical details. Rather, Rosenkranz employs a simpler palette which makes her artworks easier for viewers to identify conceptual ideas without becoming bogged down with intricate and technical jargon.
Nikolai Panitkov of Russia works similarly with materials to craft an abstract and political sculpture piece called Stuff Up the Hole, Stuff Up the Crack (1987). For this work, Panitkov punctured a hole into white painting before filling it with cotton batting to emphasize both materiality of paint as well as construction while simultaneously exploring silenced voices during communist regime.
Anthony Pearson, Richard Serra, Liza Lou and Sterling Ruby are other artists who approach sculpture from an intellectual or contemplative angle. These artists include found objects and materials into their art to add symbolism or social relevance to their pieces.
Sculpture as a Utopia
Sculpture has long been used as an expression of humankind’s hopes for a better world, particularly among cultures who use large sculptures to express religious devotion and political convictions.
Modern sculpture often takes its inspiration from literature and film that portrays utopia; Picasso, for instance, often took cues from utopian texts when creating his pieces.
Ernst Bloch asserts in his essay, ‘The Utopian Function of Art and Literature’ that utopia as an idea is more significant for humanity than any particular place or state; further explaining its presence throughout history in various societies around the globe.
The English term for an ideal society was first coined from Greek ou-topos – an adjective meaning perfect harmony or equilibrium – by Sir Thomas More in 1477-1535 as part of a satirical treatise to describe an island community with seemingly ideal sociopolitical systems and legal codes.
Bloch suggests that utopia reveals how humanity has been driven both by material needs and aspirations for an idealized future. He asserts that it is this desire for change that informs an artist’s work.
Bloch notes that sculpture provides the perfect way for people’s imaginations to flourish: unlike other media which only represent one image at a time, sculpture encompasses all aspects of our globalized world.
Sculptural artists can communicate complex ideas with ease through their art, which makes utopias all the more compelling and insightful for us to comprehend our world and its inhabitants. Through such art, we gain greater knowledge about society as a whole and its inhabitants.
The Politics of Sculpture
For thousands of years, sculpture has been used as an expressive form to convey wealth, power, religion and politics. Dating back to ancient times when kings and religious leaders would commission pieces for display in public spaces, sculpture is now an ever-present sight across classical cities and public parks and museums worldwide.
In the Renaissance and Early Modern periods, different forms of government and political factions utilized sculpture to express their ideals and achieve their goals. For instance, republican regimes often preferred depictions that expressed state ideals over images celebrating statesmen.
Art was an expression of political expression for the Church. For example, during the 12th century images depicting God overseeing the weighing of souls at Autun Cathedral inspired fear; Albert Bierstadt’s depictions of American Western in the Civil War may have expressed moral dilemmas caused by America’s transformation.
Politico-artists use their work to challenge power structures within society and the art world, with claims such as media manipulation distorting reality or using art to advance one cause while discrediting another.
Contemporary society’s relationship between art and media is complex and has an outsized influence on its production and interpretation of artworks. This relationship has become even more critical given that much art no longer produces for museum/gallery patronage environments but rather created to be distributed via social media channels such as Instagram.
Art can serve as a tool for political activity for numerous reasons, with perhaps the primary one being that politics are embedded within its production and distribution – this being one of the key aspects of contemporary political art and aesthetics.