What are the Different Types of Three Dimensional Art?

Anish Kapoor – Leviathan, 2011, Grand Palais, Paris for Monumenta 2011 | Source: publicdelivery.org

Three-dimensional art pieces, presented in the dimensions of height, width, and depth, occupy physical space and can be perceived from all sides and angles. On the other hand, two-dimensional works of art, which are created on flat surfaces, can only be observed in terms of height and width. Traditional types of three-dimensional media, like sculptures and reliefs, have been around since the beginning of human history as evidence of people’s’ need for artistic expression.

Sculptures have been predominant 3D art forms for centuries, evolving continually throughout different periods of art history. However, progressive art movements that boomed in the 20th century challenged the traditional perception of fine art, introducing unconventional art mediums to express their aesthetic and principles. This process resulted in the appearance of installation art and performance art as the contemporary variants of 3D media.

This article will present the evolution of these three-dimensional media throughout history, focusing on different art mediums and techniques used in creating 3D artworks worldwide.

[Left to Right] Bust of Fon Priestess (from Abomey, Republic of Benin), Yombe Power Figure (from Republic of Congo), Akan Ancestral Head (from Ghana) from Christie’s Paris in 2018 | Source: robbreport.com

The Traditional 3d Art Forms

In the beginning, people created statues out of stone and wood. The first preserved art object was a small, stone-carved female figurine that dates back to 230,000 years B.C. There was an array of similar figurines found all over Europe. It is believed that these statues symbolized female fertility and played significant roles in various rituals and ceremonies. These roughly carved art pieces presented our ancestors’ first attempts to use natural materials to translate their beliefs into a physical shape. Traditional three-dimensional types of sculpture derived from these basic art pieces are:

  • A free-standing sculpture

This is a dominant 3Dart form that has been evolving since ancient times. As the name states, it is an independent art object that usually represents people, animals, or abstract motives. Artists use stone, wood, or metal to create statues, and the choice of the right art medium depends on the size and complexity of the artwork.

  • Reliefs

As opposed to free-standing statues, relief sculptures emerge from the background as elements of a larger piece of art. We can recognize several different types of reliefs. Bas reliefs represent three-dimensional compositions with statues slightly standing out against a background. On the other hand, we have high relief artforms with statues projecting dominantly from the base. Sunk-relief is an art type commonly related to ancient Egypt, and it represented figures carved into the base.

Different Techniques Applied in Creating 3d Art

Artists have applied various techniques to manipulate stone, wood, metal, or clay and transform them into desired art objects. The choice of art medium depends on the kind of statue you want to make. Typically, people use the following art techniques when creating three-dimensional art:

  1. Stone or wood carving is a process of cutting out pieces of material until you get the desired shape. This is one of the oldest art techniques that dates back to prehistoric times.
  2. Casting is an artistic method applied when working with metal as a chosen art medium. This creative process involves pouring hot metal into pre-prepared molds to create colossal statues or compositions. Cast bronze sculptures are common representatives of this creative method.
  3. Welding is a creative method of blending two metal pieces to create a sculpture element. This technique is common in constructing three-dimensional pieces combining different elements.
  4. Glass art techniques involve handling hot, warm, or cold glass to shape and model this medium. There are various techniques applied in this creative process, including glass blowing, casting, and sculpting. Common cold glass techniques are engraving, rubbing, sandblasting, and acid etching.
The Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza | Source: medium.com

Sculpture in Ancient Times

We will offer a short recapitulation of the development of sculpture as an art form, and we will start with the ancient civilizations that first developed a distinctive artistic style.

Ancient Egyptian Art

Sculptors in ancient Egypt were remarkably consistent in presenting feet, legs, and the head, accompanied by a frontal presentation of the torso and an eye. This seemed to be the most convenient way for them to finish every piece. Another typical Egyptian sculpture is a seated statue, and these were typically placed in the tombs of royalty and other respectable people. These luxurious royal statues were usually accompanied by a number of smaller modest sculptures that represented the servants who needed to help their masters in another life. These smaller figures were also intricately sculpted.

The statue of the Sphinx is the most famous Egyptian landmark, and it stands to guard the entrance of the pyramids at Giza. With the body and head of a lion and a human face, this is one of the most monumental statues of the ancient world.

The Classical Ideal of Greek Sculpture

Ancient Greeks were the first to introduce the idea of beauty and proportion into art, thus setting the foundations for traditional Western art. They tended to cultivate the artistic style of heroic realism, presenting people in a naturalistic way that required excellent skills. Ancient Greeks worshiped human beauty and created nude statues to celebrate it. These nudes are among the greatest achievements of classical art.

Building and decorating the Parthenon marked the peak of classical Greek sculpture. The statues and reliefs for this ancient temple were finished within ten years, involving an array of skilled sculptors. The tradition of using reliefs and statues as ornaments stems from this period, and it went on to dominate the medieval European styles.

Indian Sculpture

Indian art dates back to the third centuryB.C. when the first Indian dynasty ruled. Sculptors created reliefs that depicted stories from the most prominent Indian religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. The presentation of characters is mainly frontal as if they are facing a camera. The most staggering motif in Indian sculpture of that time is that of a full-breasted woman captured in most unusual poses.

Michelangelo’s David at Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy | Photo by Fernando Tavoraon Unsplash

History of European Sculpture from The Middle Ages to Modern Times

Medieval Sculpture

The most significant medieval European styles are Romanesque and Gothic. These styles are commonly related to architectural sculpture, where three-dimensional pieces of art decorated the church columns. Medieval sculptors let their imagination run wild when decorating these columns with vivid Biblical scenes and grotesque monsters. This was often met with strong disapproval of the church establishment. Gothic is another recognizable artistic style that originates from the 12th century. Typical gothic sculptures are elongated and very thin, standing on narrow pedestals, their bodies covered in robes and their faces beaming with serenity.


After the Middle Ages, the Renaissance came as a long-awaited period of liberation and reformation. This was one of the most significant and most fruitful periods in art history. When we talk about sculpture, everything revolves around Italy and great Italian masters who embraced the Greek ideal of beauty and proportion and incorporated it in their works of art.

Mikelangelo stands out among others with his extraordinary genius and vision of sculpture. The author of David set the bar high, creating a timeless masterpiece from a single marble block that another sculptor had discarded. David is an example of an intricately detailed sculpture, and the facial expression perfectly depicts the mood.


This 18th-century artistic style, warmly welcomed by the Roman church, nourished excessive decoration and over-the-top details. This artistic style represented all the things Protestants despised -opulence, style, and detailed presentation of Biblical scenes.


Coming after the over-accentuated Baroque period, Neoclassicism came as the age of sobriety and returning to the values of classic art. Sculptors went back to worshipping the human body and creating sculptures with immaculate details.

Niki de Saint-Phalle, L’arbre-serpents, a sculpture-fountain, resin and polyurethane paint, 1992, exhibited on the terrace of the Musée des Beaux -Arts of Angers. | Source: Pinterest

Contemporary 3d Art Forms

The 20th century brought liberation from the dominant influence of classic art. Rodin and some other 19th-century sculptors inspired this shift with their works of art. Finally, sculptors started seeking other role models. African sculpture and Aztec masks had a significant impact on three-dimensional artists.

This century also marked the rise of glass art as a 3D art form. Artists started recognizing favorable features of glass that allowed shaping and modeling. Nowadays, there are significant glass art pieces, like sculptures and installations.

The art scene also witnessed the birth of installation and performance as innovative 3D art forms. Artists decided to challenge sculpture as a dominant form and turned to creating large-scale installations using unconventional materials. In this way, they wanted to emphasize the issues they cared about and make them accessible to a broader audience.

Performance artists use their bodies as the medium to express their artistic visions and principles. Performance art projects may involve an array of participants or just the author. These may be multimedia events with light effects or video projections, or they may rely on the author’s interaction with the audience. Evidently, performance art allows authors to choose the perfect way to express themselves, and this is one of the most significant advantages of this artform.

Final Words

This concludes our account of the wide variety of three-dimensional art forms, following the development of three-dimensional media, from stone-carved prehistoric figurines to raw, improvisational and innovative art performances. This evolution process of contemporary art will continue, especially with the help of advanced technologies like 3D printing that have a significant impact on the world of art.


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