Definitions, Processes, and Sculptures


Read this overview of three-dimensional (3D) art, which includes much more than sculpture.


Three-dimensional media occupies space defined through the dimensions of height, width, and depth. It includes sculpture, installation and performance art, craft, and product design.


Two processes are responsible for all three-dimensional art: additive, in which material is built up to create form, or subtractive, where the material is removed from an existing mass, such as a chunk of stone, wood, or clay. The different categories we'll examine here are not necessarily exclusive from each other, and we will look at some examples of three-dimensional art that arguably cross over between categories. First, let's look at the different types of sculpture and the methods used to create them to understand the important characteristics of each one.


Sculpture is any artwork made by manipulating materials resulting in a three-dimensional object. The sculpted figure of the Venus of Berekhat Ram, discovered in the Middle East in 1981, dates to 230,000 BCE. It is the oldest example of artwork known. The crudely carved stone figure will fit in the palm of your hand. Its name derives from the similarity in form with so-called female fertility figures found throughout Europe, some of which date to 25,000 years ago.

For example, The form of the Venus of Willendorf shows remarkable skill in its carving, including arms draped over exaggerated breasts, an extended abdomen, and elaborate patterning on the head, indicating either a braided hairstyle or a type of woven cap. Just as remarkable, the figure has no facial detail to indicate identity. The meaning behind these figures is difficult to put into context because of the lack of any written record about them or other supporting materials.

'Venus of Willendorf', c.25,000 BCE. Natural History Museum, Vienna

Venus of Willendorf, c.25,000 BCE. Natural History Museum, Vienna

These earliest images are indicative of most of the cultural record in sculpture for thousands of years; singular figurative objects made within an iconographic context of myth, ritual, or ceremony. It was not until the Old Kingdom period of Egyptian sculpture, between 3100 and 2180 BCE, that we started to see sculptures that reflected a resemblance of specific figures.

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Source: Christopher Gildow,
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Last modified: Wednesday, February 14, 2024, 4:06 PM