Sculptures are three-dimensional objects. They have height, width, and depth. They cast shadows. Sculptures occupy space, just as you occupy space. To see a sculpture in full, you will have to walk around the work, looking at all sides as you move around it. An exception may be with relief sculptures, which project from a two-dimensional background and are often part of an architectural structure.
How do you look at sculpture?
- Is the surface smooth or textured? Shiny or dull? Translucent or opaque? Reflective or not?
- Is the sculpture painted or do you see the raw material(s)? If the sculpture was originally painted but little or no color is left, try to imagine how the work would have looked. Would your experience of the sculpture be different? Why or why not?
- How has the artist used the material’s unique characteristics and strengths?
- What kinds of shapes, spaces, and silhouettes do you see?
- Is the sculpture primarily geometric and angular, or is it more rounded?
- Did the sculptor emphasize lines or volume?
- Does the sculpture seem light or heavy? Delicate or sturdy? Dynamic or stable? How so?
- How do light and shadow help to define form?
- Is the sculpture detailed or simplified? Abstract or figurative?
- What technique(s) did the sculptor use to create the work?
- If the sculpture has multiple parts and/or incorporates multiple materials, how do all of the parts and/or materials fit together?
- Can you see all sides of the work?
- How does your experience and/or impression of the sculpture change, if at all?
- Do you feel like there is an ideal or intended point of view? Why do you think this?
- How does the sculpture interact with you (the viewer) and/or relate to the surrounding space?
- How is the sculpture displayed in the museum? Is it on a pedestal or in an enclosed vitrine? Is it on the floor or mounted to the wall?
- How was the sculpture originally displayed? Would viewers have seen it at the same eye-level and/or angle as you see it? Try to look at the sculpture like it would have originally been seen. How do you think your view of the sculpture compares to that of the originally intended viewers?
- What is the sculpture’s subject?
- What was its original purpose and function? Who was the originally intended audience?
- Who commissioned the work and why?
- What beliefs does the sculpture embody or convey?
- Was the sculpture part of a larger group, or was it created to stand alone? If it was part of a group, how did the work become separated? How did the work interact with the other sculptures? How do you think your experience of the sculpture would have been different if the work was still part of a group?
- If the work is figurative, does it look realistic or idealized? Why do you think this is?
- Are any features exaggerated or visually emphasized? How does this affect your experience of the work?
- How does the sculpture make you feel physically and emotionally? Why do you think this is?
Want to know more?
Related “How Do You Look?” Guides
Exhibitions at the Nasher Museum
The Collection Galleries (ongoing)
Material Legacy: The Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection of Contemporary Art (Feb. 18-June 26, 2016)
Loans from the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection (Aug. 27, 2014-Sept. 14, 2015)
Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy (Feb. 16-June 17, 2012)
Jaume Plensa: Glückauf? And The Heart of Trees (July 22-Dec. 4, 2011)
Blühm, Andreas, ed. The Colour of Sculpture, 1840–1910. Zwolle: Waanders, 1996.
Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period. A Handbook. London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Classical Period. A Handbook. London: Thames & Hudson, 1987.
Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Late Classical Period and Sculpture in Colonies and Overseas. A Handbook. London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.
Boström, Antonia, ed. The Encyclopedia of Sculpture. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004.
Boucher, Bruce. Italian Baroque Sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.
Collins, Judith. Sculpture Today. London: Phaidon Press, 2007.
Curtis, Penelope. Sculpture 1900-1945: After Rodin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Dempsey, Amy. Destination Art: Land Art, Site-Specific Art, Sculpture Parks. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011.
Elderfield, John, ed. Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at the Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2004.
Fricke, Beate. Fallen Idols, Risen Saints: Sainte Foy of Conques and the Revival of Monumental Sculpture in Medieval Art. Translated by Andrew Griebeler. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015.
Friedland, Elise A., and Melanie Grunow Sobocinski, eds., with Elaine K. Gazda. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Getsy, David. Body Doubles: Sculpture in Britain, 1877-1905. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Getsy, David. Display and Displacement: Sculpture and the Pedestal from Renaissance to Post-Modern. London: Courtauld Institute of Art, 2007.
Giménez, Carmen, and Steven A. Nash. A Century of Sculpture: The Nasher Collection. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1996.
Greenberg, Clement. “The New Sculpture.” In Art and Culture: Critical Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.
Harper, Glen, and Twylene Moyer, eds. A Sculpture Reader: Contemporary Sculpture since 1980. Hamilton, NJ: ISC Press, 2010.
Haskell, Francis. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
Janson, H. W. 19th-Century Sculpture. New York: Abrams, 1985.
Krauss, Rosalind. “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” October 8 (Spring 1979): 30-44.
Krauss, Rosalind. Passages in Modern Sculpture. New York: Viking Press, 1977.
Looking at Sculpture. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Junior Museum, 1981.
Marshall, Christopher R. Sculpture and the Museum. Burlington: Ashgate, 2011.
Molesworth, Helen. Part Object Part Sculpture. State College: Penn State University Press, 2005.
Panofsky, Erwin. Tomb Sculpture: Four Lectures on its Changing Aspects from Ancient Egypt to Bernini. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1992.
Phillips, Tom. African Goldweights: Miniature Sculptures from Ghana 1400-1900. London: Thames & Hudson, 2010.
Potts, Alex. The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Read, Herbert. Modern Sculpture: A Concise History. London: Thames & Hudson, 1964.
Saatchi Gallery. Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009.
Schapiro, Meyer. Romanesque Architectural Sculpture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Smith, R. R. R. Hellenistic Sculpture: A Handbook. London: Thames & Hudson, 1991.
Tucker, William. The Language of Sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1977.
Winckelmann, Johann Joachim. Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks. London: Routledge, 1999. (Originally published in 1768.)