Mediums: what do they mean?

After researching the history of sculpture, alongside other artists who use sculpture within their work I realised just how important different mediums can be in terms of conveying a particular message.

Vik Muniz created work from a wide range of mediums such as sugar, chocolate, string, wire and many more. In each of his individual works, such as his portraits of sugar plantation workers from Saint Kitts, the medium used to create the work adds an extra layer of depth to the work, telling more of the narrative than the work could do if created in a different medium.

Greek sculpture that I have looked at heavily featured bronze and marble as they were the materials that were available at the time and also the materials that were best to create detailed and lasting works that were somewhat resistant to the elements in the longterm.

However, in today’s world there is a wealth of different mediums that all have different connotations in terms of perception.

Marble and bronze have carried down their perceptions since the Greek era of sculpture, when statues and sculptures were reserved for people in high power or of high importance. These materials suggest that the subject created from them should be regarded in high standards, this is backed up by the fact that marble can be an expensive material to use and acquire. Both of these materials are solid which reflects the idea of immortalising a scene or person in history, once carved it is hard to make any alterations to the final product.

Cement is also used to create sculptures although it is usually poured into a cast rather than sculpted after setting. Cement carries less important connotations as it is a cheap and easy material to use, and it is seen in everyday scenarios such as architecture, building and road making meaning that seeing it does not stir up the same reaction in a person that a rarer and more expensive material like marble would. Cement is also a substance that is solid when set, although it can be broken it is not a flexible medium physically, once it has set it is solid and unchanging, reflecting the notion that things set in cement are permanent.

Stone is a naturally occurring substance and was used to create the first works that we consider sculptures. Due to this, and due to its natural formation stone tends to convey a more natural and historic feeling. There are many different types of stone but the general view of stone is that it is inflexible, permanent and can seemingly only be changed with strong tools or a variety of weather conditions.

Wood is also a naturally occurring substance however is it generally more flexible than stone. By heating wood it is able to be bent and shaped, it is also easily cut and easily carved making it the medium of choice within carpentry and furniture making. Due to it being a naturally forming material it conveys a natural and ‘pure’ kind of feeling. It’s flexibility and it’s ability to be reused in different ways by being taken apart means that it conveys a strong but flexible feeling.

Metal is a particularly popular medium in terms of modern society. It is used in many different ways and it particularly useful as it can be recycled, meaning it can be melted down and reformed as another object. This juxtaposition of a solid material that can be made flexible means that there are many ways to use the medium. Metal is generally a cold material which gives it a lifeless feeling, in comparison with wood that seems to retain heat better than metal and feels more full of life as it is natural.

Glass is an interesting material as during creation it is extremely flexible but once it is set it becomes solid, unchangeable and fragile. Glass generally conveys the feeling of fragility and the idea that it must be handled with care. However due to glass’s transparency it also portrays the idea of clarity. Glass is also able to be recycled so although the substance itself is not flexible when set it is flexible in terms of being able to be reused.

Plastic is also a common material in terms of general use. We use it to create solid substances as well as flexible ones, for example hard hats and plastic bags. Due to the nature of plastic it is possible to create solid and flexible varieties of plastic depending on the chemical structure. Plastic is seen as very modern as it has not been around as long as some other mediums have been, and it can be used in a wide variety of ways. It is used in a greta deal of items that we use daily so there isn’t one specific feeling that the material itself conveys. The ability to constantly change plastic by heating and shaping and recycling it makes it seem flexible and constantly able to change.

Plaster is a medium that if often used to cast. For example it is commonly used in hospitals to create a solid cast around a bone that needs to set, it is known for its solid form that is not able to bend, but instead can be broken. It is originally created in a liquid form that sets meaning it can be used to cast positive casts from negative moulds. This can be useful in terms of sculpture, creating an instant type of bas relief in some cases. Plaster is a solid substance than can be sanded and shaped slightly once set but can be fragile in terms of how easily it can break if knocked or dropped. Plaster conveys the idea through it’s frequent use of casting of being a permanent and non-reusable material that holds shape well over time. It conveys the feeling of solidity and although it is not natural due to the detail it can capture it can seem lifelike, which is why it is often used to do casts of human features.

Clay is a malleable material that is often used in sculpting as it is easy to shape and remains flexible until it is air-hardened or fired in a kiln. The flexibility of clay means that it conveys a changeable nature, but when set it resembles a cement like substance that cannot be reshaped. It’s permanence is why it’s often used to sculpt, the finished product is final and cannot be changed in terms of shape.

Paint is a very common medium used in the art world as it has been used historically to capture portraits before photography existed. It was deemed to be the easiest way of creating a life like replication of a person or scene as colours of paint are able to be mixed to create shades that are life like. Before photography important people such as people amongst the Monarchy had their portraits painted, historically painting has been restricted to those who can afford the materials as it has not always been affordable. This is also because painting a portrait often took hours if not days, which not everybody had time for. In today’s time painting is a lot more affordable to the masses meaning that the medium itself it easier to acquire. Painting is flexible in terms of being able to mix colours and creature textures, it is also flexible in terms of corrections being easy to make by painting over an existing error or painting. Paint conveys an artistic and time consuming feeling as it it used primarily in the art industry.

Paper is a widely used material in terms of its wide variety of uses. It can be used to write or draw on, it can also be used to build structures and create a variety of objects such as greeting cards, signs and prints. It is not a particularly strong medium as it can be ripped and scrunched up, however it can also be cut and shaped/folded meaning that despite its fragility it can be used in a range of creative ways. Paper is made from wood meaning that it also has natural connotations, but it is seen as a common medium as it is used widely in modern society.

Although this is not a list of every single possible medium out there I have chosen the mediums I have access to use within the university facilities. I feel that using one of these mediums would work within creating my piece as I am set on the piece being 3D and all of these mediums are able to be used to create a 3D structure.

I will be exploring these mediums further as I go through my project as I will decide further on which medium will be best to convey the type of feeling and message I want to portray.


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