We often hear the terms sculpture, plastic art and plaster cast. And usually, they are even considered as synonyms. But what do these terms mean?
The term plastic arts (French: plastique = art of designing) is the generic term used to describe three-dimensional art, for example:
- plastic arts
and represents a branch of figurative art.
The art theorist EDUARD TRIER formulated the difference between sculpture and plastic arts:
“The sculptor takes away; the plastic artist adds on.”
However, this is only a very rough definition, not valid if we consider the new manufacturing techniques.
The term “sculpture” comes from the Latin word ” sculpere” which means to cut or remove pieces with a stone. It is a three-dimensional artwork created by taking away materials from the initial form of rock, wood, and metal. This is done following the block-principle.
Did you know?
MICHELANGELO’s David was carved out of a column-like marble block. The marble block dictated the pose of the figure and the physical structure. The marble was too fragile due to certain imperfections in the stone. That is why Michelangelo could only create a David in a relaxed posture, with a slightly inclined foot. MICHELANGELO could not make David any more physical, e.g. he couldn´t have wider shoulders, because the material did not permit it. For the same reason, he was unable to portray David with outstretched or skyward arms. In spite of all the limitations MICHELANGELO had to face, he succeeded in conveying to the viewer the feeling that the David is in motion by using the ancient sculptural scheme of the “Contrapposto” (Italian for “opposite), in which the standing human figure is poised such that the weight rests on one leg (called the engaged leg), freeing the other leg, which is bent at the knee. The sculpture cannot be appreciated from only a single viewpoint but must be circled and explored.
The term plastic arts derives from the Greek “plassein” (to form). In contrast to the sculpture, here the material is added, constructed and modeled. Pliable materials such as clay, wax, and gypsum are ideal.
Sometimes also single artworks are defined as plastic arts. However, there is a difference between free-standing sculpture and relief.
As you can see, there is a variety of terms that ultimately suggest a similar result. For the sake of completeness, we would like to explain the term plaster cast.
In our Academy, we mainly use the term cast. A cast represents a mechanical transfer of a sculpture from one material to another. This transition is done through a direct imprint on the original sculpture. This imprint is called a mould. The material used is the plaster, better known as the plaster of Paris, because its main ingredient, gypsum, is found abundantly in Paris. It is a white powder that forms a paste when it is mixed with water and then hardens into a solid.
In this post, we have talked about the differences between sculpture, plastic arts, and plaster cast. Find out more posts like this one here.
“Arbeitsvorgang Abtragen”. [Internet]. Berlin: Bibliographic Institute GmbH. As of 2010. [quoted on 15.06.2018]. In: www.lernhelfer.de. Online publication: https://www.lernhelfer.de/schuelerlexikon/kunst/artikel/arbeitsvorgang-abtragen. Visited on June 15th, 2018
“Begriff Plastik”. [Internet]. Berlin: Bibliographic Institute GmbH. As of 2010. [quoted on 15.06.2018]. In: www.lernhelfer.de. Online publication: https://www.lernhelfer.de/schuelerlexikon/kunst/artikel/begriff-plastik. Visited on June 15th, 2018
Source: From National Gallery of Art., Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47611309. Visited on June 15th, 2018
Source: By Jörg Bittner Unna – Eigenes Werk, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46495986. Visited on June 15th, 2018