Sculpture is the art of manipulating materials to create three-dimensional forms. Such a simple definition fails, however, to convey the vast range of human creation that the discipline encompasses. The terra cotta army of the Qin Dynasty, the enigmatic figures of Easter Island, the Venus de Milo, Michelangelo's David, Rodin's The Thinker, the Statue of Liberty—these are but a sampling of well-known sculptures representing just one traditional subject: the human form.
Through most of history, sculpture comprised three main techniques: modeling (as with clay), carving (as with wood or stone), and casting (as with plaster or bronze). It was not until the early 20th century that sculptors began to use direct construction techniques, such as welding.
Although one might think of sculpture as a practice limited to the world of art expression, the first sculptures might have been created as icons, or representations of the supreme being(s) that were worshipped: for instance the statues at Easter Island and the Sphinx in Egypt.
Since then, scuplture has remained both a practical necessity and a school of art. In early civilizations (and some modern ones as well) such necessities as jars, vases, jugs, and bowls were sculpted from clay and mud for use in transportation of raw materials, water, and crops. Many of these jugs and vases were adorned with decorative paintings or carvings that illustrated a story or an event in history: the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians were particularly known for this due to their legacy of myths and legends that were born out of their beliefs in polytheism.
Many tribal nations in Africa still practice sculpture as a way of life due to a lesser degree of modern civilization.
Although sculpture as an art was limited to natural materials in its infancy, advancements in materials science have allowed artists to create their work out of stones, metals, woods, and even every-day items such as trash, recycled material, industrial materials (glass, steel, diamonds). A lot of "modern sculpture" is even made from non-convential material: glue, paper, wire, plastic, fruit.