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Teachers Notes

Looking at Sculpture

1. Learning Aims 

Sculpture trails give children the opportunity to:

  • develop an appreciation of three-dimensional art through observation and discussion
  • express creativity and imagination
  • recognise visual and tactile qualities
  • learn about a range of materials and techniques used in the making of sculpture
  • explore meanings and interpretation of art works
  • develop a vocabulary relating to the description, understanding and appreciation of sculpture
  • learn about the role of art in the enrichment of social environments

2. What is sculpture?

Before the children visit it may be helpful to talk with them around these topics:

  • Definition

    Discuss ideas of what the term ‘sculpture’ can include: figures, animals, shapes and forms. Explain that it is a very wide range.  How do sculptures differ from paintings? Discuss two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. 
  • Materials

    Discuss materials used in sculpture such as clay, metal, plastic, wood and stone.  What are the different qualities of these materials?  Some are flexible and can be moulded with your hands, some can only be worked using tools.  
  • Scale

    Sculptures vary in scale.  Some, like the Angel of the North are much larger than any human.  Some, like Japanese netsuke, are very small. 
  • Techniques

    The skills and processes used in making sculpture may involve tools, the artist’s hands, the labour of others, machinery and industrial processes.  Sculpture can be made by using tools to carve out a shape from a material, or it can be modeled by adding more material. It can even be made by using found objects and fixing them together to make a new form.
  • Vocabulary

    Explore a vocabulary appropriate to the age group which allows the children to describe and discuss three dimensional works.  Consider such things as the names and descriptions of different materials, textures, shapes and practical processes.


3. Looking at Works of Art                                                 

These notes provide a format through which children can be assisted in approaching, investigating and responding to works of art. The four elements in this process also embrace the learning aims and the main objectives specified in the National Curriculum recommendations. 

  • Observation

    Encourage the children to examine works carefully and verbalise their reactions, finding the vocabulary to describe what they see in terms of size, shape, texture and colour.  
  • Interpretation 

    Discuss possible ideas, meanings and references contained in the work.  Ask the children to say what it conveys to them or of what it reminds them; what ideas or feelings it evokes. How are these conveyed? Does the title of the work help to understand it? What alternative titles might be suggested?  
  • Techniques 

    Consider the materials and working methods used by the artist.  What equipment would have been needed?  What signs are there of the tools and techniques used? Would the artist have made the work himself or herself? Would help have been needed or might it have been made completely by others?  How would the artist have planned the work before construction began?  Would they have used drawings and/or models (maquettes)? What might these models be made from and why?  How would the artist test different arrangements of individual pieces?  
  • Environment 

    Look at the setting for the work and consider why it was placed there.  What does it contribute to the environment?  How might people who work or live nearby regard it?  Where else might this sculpture look good?  


These guidelines should be adapted by teachers as they think fit, interpreting them in a way that best accords with the age, needs and prior experience of particular groups of children.  Sketching, note-taking and photography are all useful activities to augment follow-up work in the classroom.