Comparing Mobile & Traditional Sculpture

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  • 0:03 Sculpture
  • 0:36 Traditional Sculpture
  • 1:35 Mobiles
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Sculpture is a very old art form, but there is always room for new innovation. Explore the differences between traditional and mobile sculpture, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.


What is sculpture? At its most basic definition, it is art that is constructed in 3 dimensions. A painting represents something on a flat surface. A sculpture has physical depth, not just the illusion of depth. And right now you're thinking, well duh. Sculpture seems pretty basic, right? I mean, by this point how much sculpture have you seen throughout art history? Is there really anything left to say? Actually, yes.

Traditional Sculpture

Now, before we get to that new idea about sculpture, let's recap on some of the key elements of traditional sculpture. Look at these images.

Two types of sculptures

Urinal modern sculpture

They are from different times and places, and are different sizes and materials. Some are realistic, some are abstract, some are urinals flipped on their sides. Yeah, that last one was literally a urinal on its side. But what do all of these have in common? Well, they're pretty solid. Sculpture is traditionally static art, meaning individual parts of it do not move. A traditional sculpture is made to be a single, stable, non-moving piece. Some statues have an implied sense of movement, but are completely still. Most larger statues feel very rooted to the ground, building up towards the sky. Realistic, abstract, ancient, modern, natural or colorful, most traditional sculptures share these basic elements.


So, how do we do something new with that? It seems like sculpture has been pretty well established over the last, I don't know, 40,000 years since humans first started carving little portable stone figures. Well, let's ask this guy. This is Alexander Calder, 20th-century American sculptor.

Alexander Calder

Calder was fascinated by the idea of capturing life in motion. There was a precedent for this in kinetic sculpture, sculpture which had some physical motion or parts that moved. While these sculptures could have moving parts, they remained very solid, both physically and aesthetically. Calder, who had a knack for mechanical engineering, began experimenting not with solid, grounded shapes but with those suspended from wires and strings. The result was the mobile.

A mobile, by definition, is a kinetic sculpture that combines abstract geometric, organic forms and motion through balance. See how the parts of this mobile balance each other?

A mobile requires careful design to ensure it maintains its balance
Mobile statue

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