While visiting Florence in 1998 I ran into an art student standing in front of this bronze sculpture of David by Donatello. As we stood there discussing the differences between this and the infamous David by Michelangelo, we came onto the topic of open form vs. closed form. She explained to me that the open form, as it related to sculpture, meant that the sculpture is not a solid mass, but rather has openings in it. The negative space being a vitally important part of the sculpture. It was my understanding that you literally had to have an enclosed hole through the sculpture to qualify it in the category of open form. Technically speaking the techniques used to achieve that shape are more difficult than if you are just doing a surface carving, even in the round, as a typical bust would be.
Artsy.net explains it similarly to my friend in Italy, but expands that definition even further to include pieces where lines and planes often replace solid volumes or enclosing surfaces. It also sites “Pablo Picasso‘s Guitar assemblages of 1912 were arguably the beginning of this type of sculpture (even though with these works, the artist was attempting to move outside of sculpture altogether). In the later part of the 20th century, Picasso, Alexander Calder, and Julio Gonzalez all pioneered a highly simplified open-form sculpture using wire.”
WikiAnswers explains the differentiation more on a conceptual and compositional level. Stating that closed form is “a self-contained or explicitly limited form; having a resolved balance of tensions, a sense of calm completeness implying a totality within itself;” and open form is “a form whose contour is irregular or broken, having a sense of growth, change, or unresolved tension; form in a state of becoming.”
The humanities department at Miami Dade College define the two terms as they relate to the visual impact of the sculpture. Explaining that when the lines of the sculpture direct the eye through the piece and then off into space, it is considered open form, but if the eye is directed continually back into the form, it is a closed form. This concept is reinforced by the South African ArcyArt, quite eloquently explaining how “space invades open forms” in paintings and in sculpture where the contour is broken. Using the visual example of the human figure, with arms flung outwards, as an open form.
When I speak about the open form, I am typically referring to the process where I actually have bored, drilled, or cut a hole through a log, creating a gateway through the heart of the tree. It is as much a visual and conceptual manipulation as it is a technical exploration of the medium. I try to incorporate this technique in most of my pieces, as it creates a more dynamic shape and adds visual interest and complexity to the form. Many of my sculptures rely on the negative space to tell a story. Examples would be:
Technically speaking, when building metal sculptures, negative space is rather easy to create as I weld elements together. However, when working with subtractive hardwood sculptures–carved in the round–creating these holes and negative space can prove to be rather challenging. I am not only battling the hardness and density of the material, but the grain and tension of the wood as well. Conceptually, the circular shapes, rings, and loops in my pieces represent the cycle of life, the cyclical nature of things in general, and the feminine.