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    Key Concepts

    One of the basic artistic choices for any creation is the material from which it will be made and so should be an area for careful attention in our analysis of any artwork. Deliberate choices can also involve the pointed spurning of rich resources in favor of humbler stuff, as in the robe created by Do Ho Su, and less refined surfaces, such as cardboard or burlap for paintings; things that are only more recently available than those traditionally used, like plastics for sculpture, titanium for architecture; and the technologically evolved media that move into the realms of the physically immaterial. Choices and implications have expanded exponentially, and our examination of them should be broad, deep, and careful.

    Test Yourself

    1. Discuss the differences between materials that are intrinsically precious, and those that are made more valuable by the processes or creative ideas in works of art, by considering specific examples.
    2. Consider the use of spolia in at least three specific examples and discuss how they changed the significance of the art work to which they were applied.
    3. Review and describe a specific process for creating artwork that involved procedures for combining diverse materials into the product.
    4. Considering such common materials as clay or wood, discuss the ways in which an artist might use it for making an object of much greater value than the inherent worth, and what factors, other than the creation process, might lead people to value it highly.


    Codex: the book form in which pages (or leaves) of material such as parchment, vellum, or paper, are gathered into bundles and bound together—initially by sewing, now usually by glueing— and then provided with a cover to protect the sheets. Its ancestor was the scroll, in which the sheets were joined into a long continuous roll that was opened out from one side, rolled up at the other, for viewing the contents.

    Cultural value: the perceived quality or merit of the work: what it is worth according to that culture’s standards of artistic importance or excellence.

    Earthenware, or objects made from clay: such as vessels that are formed for specific uses and hardened either by drying in the air or by baking in high heat. Often, earthenware goods are distinguished from more refined clay-based objects that are creating with additional processing of the material or different/more complex firing methods. See porcelain

    Gold leaf: 22K gold pounded into extremely thin sheets, to be applied selectively to areas of 2-d or 3-d objects.

    Handbuilt: clay objects that are shaped by hand, often by wrapping and smoothing coils of clay into the desired form. These are distinguished from wheel-thrown or mold-made goods.

    Illumination: literally, given light, specifically through the use of gold or silver for letting of illustrative touches in a manuscript. The term is also sometime used to describe manuscripts that have images added to them, as opposed to simply including lettered text

    Manuscript: literally, hand-written presentation of script and/or images. The form was supplanted by books produced with a printing press, although the term is still used for a singular copy of a written work.

    Mausolea, plural of mausoleum: a building designed to house one or more tombs, usually for an important person. These were most often centrally-planned, with a design that pivoted around the burial site. In Christian usage, these were sometimes attached to a larger, congregational structure, but sometimes stood alone. They might house more than one tomb.

    Monetary value: the worth of materials or objects, in terms of “market value.” This might be determined by the value of the materials use or of the finished art object, considered differently from the cost of the materials.

    Parchment: sheepskin, prepared for use in manuscripts—less refined than vellum, used for finer and more expensive works.

    Polychrome: painted in several colors.

    Porcelain: highly refined ceramic ware, initially produced in China, with select materials like petuntse and kaolin, to create semi-translucent material, with elegant shapes, and glass-like, intricately decorated surfaces, and high-temp fired for hardened finishes.

    Potter’s wheel, wheel-thrown: pottery made with the use of a potter’s wheel, a device for turning the clay body on a rotating platform for a more uniform shape. These were first turned by hand, knee, or pedal motion, later electrified.

    Putti plural of putto: a small winged baby angel, a cherub.

    Spolia: bounty taken from and original context, as in the “spoils of war.” Often, items of spolia were re-used in later works to imply the conquest (and superiority) of the new owner over the original.

    Vellum: calfskin, prepared for use in luxury manuscripts, more highly prized than the rougher, less expensive parchment.

    3.9: BEFORE YOU MOVE ON is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Pamela Sachant, Peggy Blood, Jeffery LeMieux, & Rita Tekippe.

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