Exploring Human Experience Through Ceramic Sculpture


Untitled III, from Men in the Cities by Robert Longo

Image source: LiveArt.io

Objective: This ceramics project aims to delve into complex human emotions such as isolation, anxiety, confusion, and dissatisfaction through the medium of ceramic sculpture. Drawing inspiration from the works of artist Richard Longo and the writings of Franz Kafka, students will create sculptures that evoke the intricacies of the human experience.


  • Clay
  • Sculpting tools
  • Glazes
  • Kiln


The “human experience” encompasses the entirety of what it means to be human, including the thoughts, feelings, actions, interactions, and perceptions that shape individual lives and collective societies. It encompasses a vast array of dimensions, ranging from the most mundane daily routines to profound moments of joy, sorrow, love, and everything in between.

At its core, the human experience encompasses:

  1. Emotions and Feelings: Humans experience a wide spectrum of emotions, from happiness and love to sadness, anger, and fear. Emotions color our perceptions and influence our behaviors, shaping our responses to the world around us.
  2. Relationships and Connections: Human beings are inherently social creatures, forming intricate networks of relationships with family, friends, romantic partners, colleagues, and communities. These relationships contribute to our sense of belonging, identity, and well-being.
  3. Identity and Self-Discovery: Throughout life, individuals grapple with questions of identity, seeking to understand who they are, what they believe, and where they fit within the broader tapestry of humanity. This journey of self-discovery involves exploring personal values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses.
  4. Struggles and Triumphs: The human experience is marked by both challenges and achievements. Individuals confront obstacles, setbacks, and adversity, yet also demonstrate resilience, perseverance, and the capacity for growth. These struggles and triumphs shape our character and resilience.
  5. Existential Questions and Meaning-Making: Humans possess a unique capacity for introspection and contemplation, leading to the exploration of profound existential questions about the nature of existence, purpose, mortality, and the search for meaning in life. This quest for meaning often drives philosophical, spiritual, and creative endeavors.
  6. Cultural and Societal Context: The human experience is deeply influenced by cultural norms, societal structures, historical events, and broader contextual factors. These influences shape individuals’ perspectives, values, and behaviors, contributing to the diversity and complexity of human experiences across different societies and periods.

Ultimately, the human experience is a rich and multifaceted tapestry, woven together by the threads of individual stories, shared histories, and universal aspirations for connection, understanding, and fulfillment. It is through our collective exploration and celebration of the human experience that we deepen our empathy, compassion, and appreciation for the beauty and complexity of life.

Two artists that I think are worth talking about for this topic are Richard Longo (USA, 1953) and  Franz Kafka (Chezolovakia 1883-1924).
  • Franz Kafka’s work is a profound exploration of the human psyche and the complexities of existence, often characterized by surreal, nightmarish scenarios that resonate with themes of alienation, bureaucracy, and existential angst. Through his distinctive narrative style and haunting imagery, Kafka delves into the innermost recesses of the human condition, illuminating the absurdity and futility of modern life. His iconic works, such as “The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial,” and “The Castle,” confront readers with enigmatic protagonists trapped in Kafkaesque labyrinths of societal expectations and existential dread. Kafka’s writing transcends mere storytelling; it serves as a mirror reflecting the disquieting realities of the human experience, challenging readers to confront their own fears, uncertainties, and desires for autonomy and meaning in a bewildering world.
  • Richard Longo is renowned for his captivating exploration of the human figure, a theme that permeates his diverse body of work. Through his masterful use of drawing, painting, and sculpture, Longo imbues the human form with a sense of mystery, emotion, and introspection. His figures often appear elongated and ethereal, their gestures and expressions hinting at deeper layers of meaning. Longo’s distinctive style combines elements of realism and abstraction, creating compositions that evoke a sense of both familiarity and otherworldliness. Whether depicting solitary figures in contemplative repose or groups engaged in enigmatic interactions, Longo’s art invites viewers to ponder the complexities of human existence and the enigmatic nature of the self. His use of the human figure serves as a conduit for exploring universal themes of identity, mortality, and the interconnectedness of humanity, inviting viewers to embark on a journey of self-discovery and introspection.

Rick, from: Men in the Cities by Robert Longo

Image source www.printed-editions.com

More of Longo’s work from this series”Men in the Cities,” 1979–83,

The Project:

In this Project, I will be asking you to produce a 3D ceramic sculpture that represents your take/understanding/idea on ‘What it is to be Human’ as you leave the comforts of childhood and enter the age of adulthood. Some of you have already experienced lots of pain and anxiety- use your understanding to inform your artwork.

  • Each one of you will work with a realistic human form and through the contortion or positioning of the body create some kind of emotion/feeling. 
  • I will teach you a method of body construction to help ensure you get the body proportions to be realistic. 
  • Each sculpture will have a flat base or background in which your sculpture will be positioned.


  1. Research and Reflection:
    • We will have some dedicated time to research the works of Richard Longo and the writings of Franz Kafka, paying attention to how they communicate emotions through their art and literature.
  2. Brainstorming and Conceptualization:
    • Get to work brainstorming ideas for your sculptures based on the emotions of isolation, anxiety, confusion, and dissatisfaction. Please consider how you can use the human form to convey these emotions effectively.
    • Background, Objects, Scene??? Yes, you are welcome to further the meaning through the use of a scene in the background, or through simple prompts.
  3. Sketching and Planning:
    • Sketch your initial ideas and develop a plan for your sculptures. Think about the pose, expression, and composition of their sculptures to best convey their chosen emotions.
  4. When you have a great Idea, please draw a 4×7″ good copy draft in 3d so I can take a look.
  5. A short paragraph about your intended meaning will also be needed.
  6. Sculpting Process:
    • Once your draft has been checked off you may begin working with clay and sculpting tools, to bring your ideas to life. Please experiment with different techniques and textures to enhance the emotional impact of your sculptures.
  7. Glazing and Finishing:
    • Once the sculptures are complete, carefully glaze your pieces, selecting colors that enhance the emotional resonance of their sculptures. Emphasize the importance of surface treatment in conveying mood and atmosphere.
  8. Critique and Reflection:
    • Once everyone has completed their project let’s have a class critique where students will present their sculptures and discuss how they effectively communicate emotions. Giving constructive feedback and reflection on the creative process will be the goal of this presentation.

Robert Longo Artworks for Sale | Composition Gallery

Image source: composition.gallery.com

In conclusion:

By embracing the complexity and depth of the human form in their ceramic sculptures, you will embark on an exciting journey of exploration into the rich tapestry of human emotions. Through this creative endeavor, you will not only refine your skills in sculpting but also gain a profound insight into the intricate nuances of the human experience. Each stroke of clay becomes a brushstroke of understanding, allowing students to delve deeper into the complexities of joy, sorrow, love, and resilience that define us as individuals. As they mold and shape their sculptures, students unlock the power of artistic expression to convey the depths of human emotion, fostering empathy and connection with others. Through this transformative process, students discover the transformative potential of art to illuminate the beauty and complexity of the human spirit.


Project Criteria:

  • Page of sketches.
  • A 4×7″ good copy draft
  • Short paragraph about the intended meaning.
  • Realistic human figure around 6″ in height.
  • All figures must be ‘set’ into a frame, of some kind- see examples.
  • Glazed, glass, glass tiles
  • A polished paragraph of writing talking about what your sculpture is trying to suggest, talk about, the body position you have put your sculpture in.

How to make a 3D human?

Understanding Human proportions is Key! Please see our in-class demo.


image source medium.com