Sculpture diagram

This is the first post, a visual diagram of my understanding of the medium of sculpture, for English 742 Media Culture at UWM. These class-related posts can be found in the “ENG742” category.

I should note that I know very little about sculpture, but am interested in the physicality and multimedia possibilities offered through what I understand of the medium. The diagram and notes below make the assumption of what I might refer to as “fine art” sculpture: expensive and displayed primarily at large institutions. Of course, there are many varieties of sculpture, from cars buried in the desert to roadside dinosaurs made of welded and rusted metal scrap.


three-dimensional, tactile, visual. can incorporate other media (Kryptos). can be readymade. metal, wood, wax, granite, marble, anything pliable or malleable.

viewer must occupy same time/space as sculpture (read), but usually the sculptor (write) does not occupy same space as viewer.

sculpture can be displayed in/outside, usually housed by institution (cultural, commercial)

expensive to own

can be protest/subversive (street art, readymade)

Image credits (all via Flickr): Laocoon (sethschoen); Kryptos (wanderingYew2); I.M. Pei Louvre (Nelson Minar), Paik (C-Monster), Banksy (Ben Gunn Baker). Duchamp’s Fountain via Wikipedia.

5 thoughts on “Sculpture diagram

  1. Deedee Rongstad

    Hi Jay —

    You and I were in another of Anne’s classes (709) together. Now, we’re in this here class together.

    Um, this is very cool — both its design and artistry and its content. I found the “interaction mediated by the institution of display” quite noteworthy. I hadn’t thought about “display” of art/sculpture as being an “institution” (which I think it is, now that you mention it) or as institutionalized practice. I guess that thought — the mediation influenced by display/institution — makes me think about the distancing between the artist (and therefore his/her place in the world that influenced the creation of the art) and the viewer that any display of his/her art causes. To display art, it is moved into physical places other than the place it was created and therefore its meaning and effect is altered. (I’m not an art theorist, that’s for certain.) The idea that many of these physical places into which art is moved also happen to be institutional is a bit depressing, actually. Besides altering the art itself, those “institutions” are filled with problems even if their purpose is to get the art out to the viewers: They are often limiting and inaccessible and judgmental and elitist and driven by money (white man’s money.) But it seems we like to rely upon or we seem to find some comfort in systematic ways of doing things. So, this behavior of ours — our interaction with art and the artist as mediated by the institution of display — makes sense.

    See you around this class,
    Deedee Rongstad

  2. Adam Pacton

    As Deedee points out, this is really well done both in terms of visual appeal and content. I personally know next to nothing about sculpture, but your post has got me thinking: can we demarcate what is sculpture and what is not? Can a sculpture be purely digital? It’s like that frustrating question in rhet-comp: what is a “composition?” I have a feeling this is an issue that will keep popping up over the course of the semeter.

  3. Rachael Sullivan

    Jay, what a beautifully conceived diagram. On an aesthetic level, I love how you use images to suggest additional layers of meaning on top of the words. The chain link fence emphasizes (at least, to me) the nature of art and how it so often has to be “validated” by an institution before it becomes “art” (unless you’re Banksy and you can make art out of a phone booth in the street!). When you say that the “institutional display” mediates the sculpture, I wonder if that is always the case. Of course Banksy’s street art is exceptional and super-unique, but what about street art that is more common – public sculptures in parks and campuses etc. – are these works really “mediated” by an “institutional display”? The repeated image of the Duchamp urinal is a nice touch, too.

    1. jay Post author

      @Deedee I am really fascinated by your reading of the diagram, which has encouraged me to interpret its potential meaning in an alternate way, specifically the “institution of display” term. I originally thought of it as the displaying institution; it seems you think of it as the practice of display as an institution. I really like your take, in that the practices and protocols of how art is displayed become an institution of sorts themselves, whereas I was thinking of institution is physical space. I think both takes are relevant in thinking about how the relationship between sculptor & viewer, since the artifact/sculpture is usually produced in one space and displayed in another, is negotiated.

      I, too, admittedly know very little about sculpture, but am interested in it for some of the questions you ask—specifically what is/not sculpture. I think sculpture can certainy have digital elements (such as the hidden Nam June Paik television humanoid under the left circle) and some require digital tools for some form of interpretation of/interaction with the work (such as Kryptos, which is a 3D cypher/puzzle at the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA). Along the same lines of your questions, I wonder if there is a meaningful distinction between “installation” and “sculpture”?

      Thanks! Mucking around in Photoshop and Illustrator is one of my favorite ways to explore. I’m excited you saw the chain link allusion in he same manner I did; it is actually not a fence, but the trellice of IM Pei’s Pyramid, with the main Louvre building seen through the glass! But, yeah, I was shooting for the distancing of art through validation of economics and cultural hegemony.

      To the (great) question about more readily experienced street art or public outdoor sculpture (such as on a public university campus or in a public park), i agree that street art might not be directly mediated through the fine art institution. I think, however, that some street art might be in coversation with that institutional mediation, but through an act of subverting those practices and protocols. To me, public art is still somewhat potentially influenced by institutional mediation, as a university or civic entity must approve of the placement of sculpture—and certain aspects of the institution, like high cost and artist reputation, formed through institutional validation, still seem to figure heavily in what is approved for our public spaces. In other words, I doubt UWM would let me cement a Speak-N-Spell with altered, mismatched keys to the side of Curtin. 🙂

  4. Kim Baker

    Hello Jay,

    The comments of our fellow classmates made me think of the process involved in creating art. If a person is trying to define sculpture (or another form), does how the art is created help include or eliminate it?

    For some artists, Banksy may be among them, the conception process, planning, and the subversive methods of execution are an essential part of making the art. The application or arrangement of materials is the final step of production. An artists’ explanation of the composition or redefinition of the materials and their relationship to the viewer are part of the interaction the artist is trying to create.

    I like your choices of thought-provoking pieces of art to include in a diagram about defining a medium.


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