Sculpture: A Mirror or a Hammer?

The Hakone Open Air Museum

We can see sculpture as a mirror that witnessed everything in its time and space. What it reflects varies according to society’s problems. We can decode meanings behind a sculpture by looking at them closely. In this article we will be examining the sculpture as a mirror which reflects society and happenings or as a hammer which molds society and pushes it to act.


Defining art is not an objective act. Since Plato thinks that art represents a representation, it is also something destructive for the human mind. 

He advocates that there are different realms. One is the Realm of Ideas, and the other one is the physical realm, which consists of the visible world around us. The Realm of Ideas is the ultimate reality, while the physical world is a reflection of that realm. Nature is a representation that doesn’t reflect the truth; instead, it is only a fragmented reflection of the representation. Due to his thinking, Plato banishes the poet and the artist from his “idealized” Republic while accusing them of corrupting the human mind.

The School of Athens, Raphael. Sculpture.

The School of Athens is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael.

However, Aristotle gives us a different perception. Indeed, art is mimetic, but at the same time, he doesn’t agree with art being an illusion of truth. According to Aristotle, art is about “what may have happened.” He says that art is universal, and it’s an attempt to grasp universal truths in individual happenstances. 

Besides them, we see different artists have argued about art in many different ways, from Shakespeare’s expression as “a mirror held up to reflect nature” to Brecht’s words “hammer that shapes and molds society.” 

Like a mirror, art shows the socioeconomic, political, and cultural structure of society. That mirror can turn into a hammer for the community since it gives the reason for an act. 

For instance, the sculpture can be the bearer of these meanings. This text will examine the effects of citizenship on sculpture as a mirror and a hammer. Also, we will observe the impact of globalization on sculpture.

Sculpture as a mirror

We can see sculpture as a mirror that witnessed everything in its time and place. Since what it reflects varies according to society’s problems, we can decode meanings behind a sculpture by looking at them. 

For example, American sculptor Kate Raudenbush’s sculpt named “Future’s Past” embodies a statement of “voracious overconsumption with greed and technological advancement.” Her work represents the relationship between technology and the environment with a tree growing outward.

Kate Raudenbush’s sculpture named “Future’s Past”

In Japan, there are many sculpture gardens such as The Hakone Open Air Museum, which covers 70,000 square meters, and the Kirishima Open-Air Museum covers an area of 20 hectares. The colorful, lively, and large sculptures in these gardens show that the Japanese interest in big gardens and large sculptures have continued since ancient times.

Ossip Zadkine’s sculpture, named “the Destroyed City,” is also a document that reveals World War II violence. When Nazi Party bombed Rotterdam, Holland, in 1940, the fire affected approximately 2,6 km2 of Rotterdam’s center, destroying property, stores, and landmarks while leaving many survivors homeless. Zadkine created a statue to represent the physical and psychological trauma of the citizens. It’s a sculpture that looks as though it is running in terror and has a large hole in its chest, which symbolizes the city’s destruction.

The Destroyed City by Ossip Zadkine, 2007

Ossip Zadkine’s sculpture, named “the Destroyed City

“Art is not a mirror for reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

Sculpture as a hammer

Brecht believed that the stage should not let the audience escape into an illusion. His quote suggests that art is a way of expressing feelings and emotions and create academic performance. In short, Brecht believed that art should show what the world could and should be. Also, Brecht didn’t give names to his characters in his plays to avoid the audience having an emotional attachment to the characters. He wanted to remind them that they watched a theatre play by deliberately postponing and not giving the cathartic satisfaction to the audience.

Like that idea, Lorenzo Quinn’s “The Force of Nature” sculpts in Qatar show the destructive power of nature and the “false sense of security.” Nazar Bilyk’s Raindrop in Ukraine a man’s interrogation in search of senses, unanswered lifetime questions. That’s why the man is holding his head up. The raindrop is a symbol of the dialogue which connects a man with a whole diversity of life forms.” Like Brecht’s plays, it drops a question by concreting the problems but doesn’t give a solution. The bearer of the eye has to think of a solution. In this sense, artwork can also be about humanity’s problems such as global warming, refugees, complicated human relations, capitalism, and more.

Globalization and Visual Art

In a globalized world, art is becoming like any other commodity. Rapid developments in technology have increased the speed at which information and images circulate, expanding our access to artworks, exhibitions, platforms, and cultural dialogues. 

Artists seek an international audience to show their works. Also, spreading global trends through social media affects their art. We can see the influence of the post-minimalist movement, which supports conceptualization in art. From German sculptor Otto Piene’s “Ghost” to American sculptor Richard Serra’s “TTI London,” the effects of post-minimalism is evident everywhere. The impact of communication through digital media, and the accessibility of travel, has allowed artists and curators to collaborate and influence each other more easily.

Richard Serra, TTI London

Richard Serra, Sculpture: TTI London

On the other hand, Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture, named “Angel Unawares,” attracts refugees and their problems. Globalization causes trends to spread worldwide; however, it also causes tragic events such as war, hunger, poverty.

Angels Unawares sculpture by Timothy Schmalz, 2019


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