What should sculpture be?

Hi all!

I have been making some sculpture. I am having a bit of trouble
wrapping my head around what it should BE. When i make jewelry, i
can make anything i want as long as it can be WORN. It intrinsically
has its function, and i am comfortable making jewelry that may have
no “meaning” per say except that it is interesting, attractive,
well-made, different than what others make, fun for me to make.

Sculpture on the other hand…does it have to say something? can it
just be pretty? should it tell a story? how do i give it a title? i
am really really enjoying making this stuff, i love using the skills
i have and being able to put things together in a larger format,
using various materials i don’t use in my jewelry, using imagery and
ideas in this new format, but i am worried that i am not being a
“real artist” (whatever that means!) or that this work is immature.
it IS immature for me, as i am not experienced at making sculpture
and in the sense that i am unsure about what i am doing, but that
part of it is ok in my mind. the part that is not ok in my mind is
how it will be received by others…does it come across as
immature because my mind is not totally wrapped around the idea of
what sculpture should be?

any thoughts or ideas on this would be much appreciated as food for

joanna gollberg

Ars longa vita brevis

do what you want to abstract is abstract…realism realism,love is
hot but truth molten! i’ve seen and bought your work/book…immature -
i think not…you are just scared by bigger… it seemed as though you
had a concept with your request for hundreds of prong settings last
week…what happened…? at one time i made mardi gras floats for a
living ( gold leafing for weeks! and fist sized hand fabricated prong
settings), and did some of the River Guard and mer-people, Neptune
and his consorts and gigantic strings of pearls- sculptures for the
1984 world’s fair in New Orleans— bigger shows more details, but
usually has to be viewed from a distance. Last week at the mountain
arts fair there were a bunch of young kids doing metal sculpture, I
remember this 19 yr old girl that was from asheville, and had great
metal pieces, but titles even more better! I’ll find the link and
send it later…you may be interested…So don’t worry about your
artistic maturity…you are published, your stuff sells, you teach and
are nationally known…did you ever decide to go to clasp?..maybe
this is your rationalizatiion for the expenditure- timely breakdown
with questioning yourself,no?..that exploring your muse advertising
got you?..anyway…create…art lives life is short…

Sculpture should be: interesting, or rhythmical, or contrasting, or
linear, or challenging, amusing, offensive, cute, uplifting,
political, narrative, soothing, frightening, massive, delicate…or
whatever you make it to be. I think that if you make it and call it
sculpture, then it is sculpture. Maybe really bad sculpture, maybe a
masterpiece, maybe good for decorating a home. If it also holds a
bouquet of flowers, it may not be sculpture, but rather, a
sculptural vase. IMHO, naturally.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA

Hi Joanna,

I sculpt in clay and stone. I think you must write like your mind is
going and I enjoyed the way you put it on paper. A master sculpter
once told me that the secret to a sculpted piece needs to make people
stop and look and lead them into their own story about the piece. As
long as it itself starts the process. Just like a good book those
first few sentences either draw you in or turn you off. Do not
attempt to conclude the story. That makes it a boring piece. It can
be pretty, and we all have a different definition of pretty. The
saying “Art is in the eye of the beholder” very true. Do not worry
about the end result, let your inner self, the artist in you come out
and create and let the clay or stone guide you. As you work, a title
may come, or it may take days of just sitting back and looking at it.
Some people have a little more left brain than right and will want
more control over their sculpture, I think you are more right brain
from the way you write. Sculpturing is a wonderous thing, it releases
and helps with the everyday stress of life. Go for it girl and don’t
worry about the end result, it will evolve for itself.


Sculpture on the other hand....does it have to say something? can
it just be pretty? should it tell a story? how do i give it a
title? i am really really enjoying making this stuff, i love using
the skills 

Joanna, you could ask the same questions of your jewelry.


Why doesn’t anybody ever ask deep questions around here? What’s a
torch, what’s sculpture?..LOL I’m not even going to touch the main
question, much. You ask the age-old form/function question. One
reason many people make teapots, knives, lamps and all other manner
things in very fantastical ways is because it answers your question.
It gives the piece some function (ANY function) for the form to wrap
around. If you feel something is missing, you might think about that.
A two ton piece of bronze with a lamp tucked into some spot qualifies
as a night-light. The second question of what to sculpt: When one
makes jewelry to another person’s spec, that pretty much makes them a
“commercial artist.” Your last paragraph was about “Will people like
it, what do they want?” Will they like it is normal, what do they
want? is commercial, and then it’s the same question as always -
this product move, where do we place it, etc.” If it is “Fine Art”,
and you have a drive to sculpt, what do you care? It’s not an
either/or situation, and only you can decide those things.
Sculpture’s one tough gig, though. And you probably are immature,
artistically, from what you say. Like all things, they better you are
at it, the more people will respond to it. Aside from Botticelli, my
favorite sculptor is Rodin, by the way…


Sculpture on the other hand....does it have to say something? can
it just be pretty? should it tell a story? how do i give it a

You’re the artist. You like it. It is an aesthetic expression
something within you. If it is abstract or non-objective, why not
just title it “Conversation Piece”? Leave it to the viewers to decide
what they think it is. That lets you off the hook and leads to
animated discussion about it. If you do more of the same, just call
them Conversation Piece II, III, IV, etc. Have fun.



I’m sure you will get tons of responses to this - - it is an
interesting question - - but one of those which will get 100
different answers from 100 different people.

To me, and this is probably very simplistic, sculpture can be
anything you want it to be. Think of all the sculpture you have seen
in your life. Some of it tells a story, or sends a message, evokes a
feeling, has a function, or is just interesting looking or is pretty
looking, etc.

I have no real experience with it save this one: I once took a class
in art therapy (to see if I wanted to go into that field.) One
assignment was to “sculpt” a piece of soapstone or alabaster into
whatever we wanted. I chose alabaster because I liked the colors in
it. It is a small piece, about the size of a fist. Anyway, I didn’t
have a clear plan or thing I wanted to make out of it. I felt sort
of scared and didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just took the
tools the teacher gave us to work with and started smoothing a
little from here, a little from there, etc. Eventually it just
became a shape that was pleasing to me - like a small mountain peak.
It now sits on my dresser with my perfume bottles and I just like it

    • it is pretty to me, it feels good to handle it. It makes me feel
      peaceful. Is it great art or sculpture? I’m sure not. But if I like
      it, probably someone else will like it too.

That’s how I think of sculpture, jewelry and probably most works of
art. If you are making it, and you like it, and you would buy it or
display it in your house or wear it… then go for it. Probably there
will be others who like similar things and you just have to find
them and they will buy it.

Have fun with it too!


Sculpture is one of those hard to define disciplines because its
contemporary context is more encompassing then the classical 3d work
made using additive or subtractive processes in the creation of non
utilitarian object. (which is not a whole definition but I think a
good simplified one). As a sculptor I run across defining sculpture
alot because it has become more ambiguous. So I think sculpture could
be classified as an art object that deals with physical space. This
encompasses installation work, video, sound installations,
performance art and a variety of other “interdisciplinary” ways of
art making. There have even been conceptual works that fall into this
umbrella that take no physical form as they are just purely
idea…but that’s another thing to get into.

I think the most important and exciting thing for me as an artist is
that I can use what every technique, method or discipline I need to
in expressing the ideas I want to convey. That is why I choose to get
my degree as a sculptor because it encompasses and promotes
interdisciplinary thinking, and leaves you free to seek out the
techniques to realize your ideas. That’s what sculpture should be.

-Zoe Hardisty B.F.A/ Sculpture Major.

Hi Joanna,

I had to do a double-take when I read your posting. You are the
author of one of my favorite books (Making Metal Jewelry - Using Cold
Connections)! My main focus is sculpture (bronze, copper), and
recently diversifying by going into sculptural jewelry-- which your
book has provided a great deal of inspiration. Thank you for
producing such a wonderful book.

Just as in jewelry, there are many different subjects and styles in
sculpture. Clearly, your jewelry is nothing less than sculpture
already, only on a small scale! It is not the traditional style, like
Greek sculpture or Rodin, but your style is what is called “Abstract
sculpture,” similar to that of Mondrian; some of your work also has
many implications of being “Kinetic Sculpture” (sculpture that

You already have a direction and a solid body of work, from what it
looks like. Unless you’re bored with the style you’ve developed, all
you need to do (IMHO) is to blow up your work on a larger scale–
using other materials which will allow you to go larger such as sheet
metals: stainless steel, copper, sheet bronze, aluminum; you can even
venture into using glass, wood, stone, etc.

For example, imagine the following pieces of yours (seen on your
website) transformed onto a larger scale:

  1. “Off Cross Dangle Pendant”-- I can see this piece totally watching
    over an elegant garden, mounted in the ground, towering at over
    8-10ft, and with high grade steel tubing for structure, and patina
    copper sheet dangles in warm and/or cool colors, with copper sphere
    finials. It would make light dance off and around your garden, and
    the wind would chime random notes through the copper dangles, which
    give a peaceful ambiance in the garden environment. Here is an
    link to illustrate:


  1. “Hinged Sway Collar” – becomes public art sculpture, a gathering
    place for people at over 100ft in diameter and proportional height to
    your piece. Large slabs of stone make a monolithic base, with
    stainless steel rising up supporting cross beams which bronze plates
    upon (they resonate when music is played in the center of the
    structure), and the open areas are entryways for people to gather in
    the center. I can imagine it beautifully lit at night, too-- “Stone
    Hinge.” Hehehe. Think big, be big. Here is a link to Architectural
    Sculpture (notice horizontal wooden slats):


  1. “Stacked Snake Earrings” Another possible garden sculpture. Maybe
    morph them into “Guardian Earth Worms.” Possibilities are endless.

If you can’t visualize your pieces on a larger scale, meet them
halfway firstly by making smaller mock-ups. This stage is required
for making large public works such as Stone Hinge would require. A
successful mock-up model can make you millions if your proposal is
accepted. If that was my design, I would personally do it in my
backyard as well because I love it so much.

The next challenge would be: how do you use abstract sculpture to
tell a story or to say something-- if you so choose that it should?
It is very possible to do so, and I’ll leave that up to you to
explore. Sculpture at its core SHOULD in SOME way communicate to
people. Visual appeal is part of successful communication; I believe
they are inseparable. A piece could be horrific in appearance, and
still successfully communicate. But if your piece is a static and
uninteresting, without thought, without a hint of meaning, I could
safely assume it will fail as “art”-- unless achieving such a piece
was your very intention and it was made obvious. Abstract art can
often does) get away with saying nothing. However, I still believe if
you have an intention of communicating SOMETHING, it will be far more
successful; be it as simple as taking advantage of a force in nature
(wind, rain, gravity, light, shadow), geometry, a feature in nature,
etc-- it is all up to your intentions.

About Titles for your Work

Successful titles most often ALLUDE TO the subject or description of
an action, but DO NOT outright state the subject or describe the

For example: A sculpture of a horse is in running posture. An
unsuccessful title would be, “Running Horse” in comparison to, “Wind
through Her Mane.”

Since your work is abstract, you can allude to emotions through your
titles. Abstract work lends itself very well to emotions, since
emotions are also abstract. Don’t come out and say “Happiness,” but
instead use something like, “Delicately Delightful” for some
light-hearted sculpture.

The elliptical ovular shapes you use in your jewelry designs could be
meaningless (I really doubt that), and could just look great to you;
but you can also give them a new identity, which often takes a lot of
time through the journey of your body of work to discover what that
identity is. For instance, those oval shapes could represent people:
groups of people, chaotic people, peaceful people, family people,
etc. That would then lend an opportunity to giving your work more
meaningful titles rather than just describing what each piece is
(i.e. your piece is MORE than a “dangle,” so that shouldn’t always be
IN the title, but rather in the description of the piece.).

The only time I would title a piece based upon subject is if it is a
STUDY. I don’t think studies qualify as art more than being a
beautiful object or drawing, but I won’t say they can’t evolve into a
work of art. But, then again, many artists have marketed their
by simply giving them creative names.

OK I’ve rambled enough for now I think… Hope this is good food for
thought! Keep us updated.


wow, thanks for the responses! a few of you have floored me with
your compliments, and i appreciate that so much! i am so glad to
hear that my book(s) have been helpful and inspiring, i couldn’t ask
for any bigger compliment!

i think it is interesting to hear what others think about sculpture.
from what i am hearing, it can be anything! i think the reason i am
so moved right now to make something different than jewelry is that
i feel a constant need to explore and challenge myself. somehow,
this has come out in making things larger than jewelry, in a totally
different way than i would normally put materials together.

though i am attaracted to the idea of making the same forms i
already make in a larger format, there is not much that is exciting
about that to me except learning how to put larger pieces of metal

what is most attractive to me about making anything, be it jewelry
or sculpture, is the process. i am not sure that i really do have
much to say through my work to other people. i never went to “art
school”, i went to technical school, and i feel somehow that i have
missed some learning or knowledge about figuring out how to “say”
something to people. i feel there is some language i am not
understanding or listening to that is possible to use in the format
of making things, and i am not sure how to incorporate this language
into my work. for me, making things is personal, it is not really
about sharing my thoughts per se, it is about the process of making,
exploring techniques, using skills i have, challenging myself
technically and design wise. this seems a little hollow to me, and
though i feel good about my work, including the small sculptures i
have been making, i want to feel that my work is more complete in
all areas.

i realize now after making jewelry for some 15 years that the
process of work becoming whole and mature is a very slow one. i
never really realized this until about a year ago. defining your
personal style and continuity of a body of work that can be
ever-changing is not an easy thing to do if you want to be able to
grow within that definition. it is both delightful and frustrating
to me to see how far i have to come, how much i have to learn and
experiment to get where i want to be in my personal emotions about
my work.

because i spend the majority of my time making things, i need the
things i make to feel worthwhile to me in more ways than just making
money. although i definitely need to make money too! this is why i
have asked the question about what sculpture should be. i am seeking
some reassurance for myself that i am spending my time doing
something worthwhile…and though in some senses i know i am, in
others i just have to question myself.

thanks, all for your thoughts. if you are interested in checking out
some of the things i have been working on, look at my website under
the “various” tab www.joannagollberg.com. more pics coming soon as


much to say through my work to other people. i never went to "art
school", i went to technical school, and i feel somehow that i
have missed some learning or knowledge about figuring out how to
"say" something to people. i feel there is some language i am not 

Eh. It’s overrated. You’ll be okay. Buy Tim McCreight’s new
illustrated version of Design Language. It’s awesome and practically
an art school education in itself. It’s called Design Language
Interpretive Edition.


Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

i never went to "art school", i went to technical school, and i
feel somehow that i have missed some learning or knowledge about
figuring out how to "say" something to people. 

Same here…I never went to “technical school”, I went to art
school, and I feel somehow that I have missed some learning or
knowledge about figuring out how to “say” something to

Lisa, (17 year old cat looked pretty rocky last night, then got up,
meowed like hell until I fed him. Name:“Tortilla Peach” aka: Torty)
Topanga, CA USA

into my work. for me, making things is personal, it is not really
about sharing my thoughts per se, it is about the process of making,
exploring techniques, using skills i have, challenging myself
technically and design wise. this seems a little hollow to me

I was in Italy lately, talking to a very accomplished, classically
trained clarinetist. She said very much the same things you aRe: “How
do I break out of the technique - the “canned” music, and make my own
music - How Can I Play JAZZ - improvisation??” Music is a great
example. At first you learn notes, harmony- key signatures, scales,
modes, chords. It’s all very dry and technical and boring (scales!
Over and over and over and over…). Little by little you learn that
you have a language. Some people are content to play other people’s
works - there’s a great joy in that. But that language can be used
for your own personal expression, too. The real point is that there
is no place where that happens - there’s no switch to throw where all
of a sudden, you’re there. It just all congeals over time, and then
all of a sudden you think one day, “Hey, you know what, I’m pretty
good at this!”.