In many ways, sculptures are the art of the people. More so than paintings. More than literature.
Sculptures of great military figures in the parks of many cities are meant to inspire pride and patriotism in ones country. Sculptures of great religious figures found in churches are meant to create a sense of spiritual awe. Sculptures of great political leaders are meant to inspire people to achieve greatness. The sculptures of a society, because they often reside in accessible public places are seen by millions of people every day. They reflect society like no other type of art.
Sculpture like most forms of art is created with the idea of expressing a view. That view can be personal, political, religious, or other in nature. Invariably the view is meant to also meant to trigger an emotion in the heart and head of the viewer.
Determining the quality of a sculpture is very difficult and is subjective as best. Artists as well as artist styles go in and out of vogue. But generally, any sculpture which can cause an emotion whether it is bringing tears to your eyes or joy to your heart can safely be considered art by most people.
A sculpture, even if not particularly distinctive in and of itself, can also be considered art if has influenced other major artist or art pieces. Paintings and sculptures also seem to attain "art" status as they survive the passage of time. That is why prehistoric drawings that you see in museums are treated as art even though they would not pass muster if an art student painted them today.
Sculpture is a unique form of art - related to but separate from painting, music, poetry, and writing. Unlike the others, a sculpture is a three dimensional work of art. From its very beginnings, a sculpture was meant to last. Sculpture pieces were created using materials that themselves had passed the test of time - stone and marble, hard metals such as gold and silver, and wood.
One reason art is so hard to define is that artists, especially the creative ones, are often attempting to break the mold, to create something new. They want to create something unlike anything else around. And many times when that happens, the people of that time aren't willing to accept the work as art. It's just too far ahead of its time. Then later, if it lasts, people gradually begin to see the layers of complexity in it. They begin to understand and appreciate its meanings and nuances.
Early and even some later Pablo Picasso sculptures are a perfect example of this. I remember when Picasso's 50 foot high untitled sculpture was first placed in Chicago's Civic Center Plaza. Many considered it a monstrosity. Some newspapers panned it. And now, what was once so controversial, has become an undisputed landmark for the city of Chicago.
Sculpture is truly the art of the common man.
Wendy Hermann is a writer and blogger for Iniut Art and Native Art at http://NativeArtTraders.com, a site specializing in Inuit sculptures and paintings.