Andy Goldsworthy

What a strange guy. :-k


Personal philosophy:

Movement, change, light growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. I want to get under the surface. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just that material itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue.

The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and the space within. The weather—rain, sun, snow, hail, calm—is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings and the way it sits tells how it came to be there. In an effort to understand why that rock is there and where it is going, I must work with it in the area in which I found it.

I have become aware of raw nature is in a state of change and how that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Often I can only follow a train of thought while a particular weather condition persists. When a change comes, the idea must alter or it will, and often does, fail. I am sometimes left stranded by a change in the weather with half-understood feelings that have to travel with me until conditions are right for them to appear. All forms are to be found in nature, and there are many qualities within any material. By exploring them I hope to understand the whole. My work needs to include the loose and disordered within the nature of material as well as the tight and regular.

At its most successful, my ‘touch’ looks into the heart of nature; most days I don’t even get close. These things are all part of the transient process that I cannot understand unless my touch is also transient—only in this way can the cycle remain unbroken and the process complete. I cannot explain the importance to me of being part of the place, its seasons and changes. Fourteen years ago I made a line of stones in Morecambe Bay. It is still there, buried under the sand, unseen. All my work still exists in some form. … sophy.html

Some interpretations of his work:

Because he works outdoors with natural materials, Goldsworthy is sometimes portrayed as a modern Druid; really, he is much closer to a latter-day Impressionist. Like those 19th-century painters, he is obsessed with the way sunlight falls and flickers, especially on stone, water and leaves. Monet—whose painting of a sunrise gave the Impressionist movement its name—used oil paint to reveal light’s transformative power in his series of canvases of haystacks, the Rouen Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament. Goldsworthy is equally transfixed with the magical effect of natural light. Only he has discovered another, more elemental way to explore it…

Throughout the 20th century, artists struggled with the dilemma of Modernism: how to convey an experience of the real world while acknowledging the immediate physical reality of the materials—the two-dimensional canvas, the viscous paint—being used in the representation. Goldsworthy has cut his way clear. By using the landscape as his material, he can illustrate aspects of the natural world—its color, mutability, energy—without resorting to mimicry. … orthy.html

Goldsworthy’s difficulties with society lead him to anthropomorphize nature instead. He clearly needs to be in direct contact with his materials, and feels that he is taking his cue from them rather than vice versa. He goes further and speaks of “shaking hands with nature” once he has begun a piece. His stone cones have the feeling to him of guardians, standing and protecting. And “the sea has taken the work and made of it more than I could have.” Nature has become a sentient force almost like another artist with whom he co-works…

Goldsworthy’s difficulty in understanding the development of historical human processes, his withdrawal from what one might call modern civilization in his artistic activities, and his attempt to attribute human dilemmas to the elemental forces of the natural world are symptomatic not merely of personal issues. These choices indicate a retreat from society and its problems beginning in the mid-1970s in Britain and elsewhere as the radicalization of the 1960s came to an end. They are also a response to the deterioration of the social and intellectual environment under current conditions. By turning all forms of labor, including the artistic, into commodities, capitalism attempts to make art a source of material wealth, which it is not, and undermines its spiritual qualities (see The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx, Mikhail Lifshitz, Critics Group Series No. 7 (translated by Ralph Winn; New York 1938), pp. 78-80).

Goldsworthy struggles to overcome this by going out of his way, whether consciously or not, to create art that literally can’t be owned, but only experienced—and even at that, only partially—through the medium of photographs or film. To own a book or even an original print of his photographs is not to own a Goldsworthy, and the pieces that find themselves displayed in galleries are patently dry and lifeless out of their natural context.

One can admire the unique bargain Goldsworthy has struck. He has found a way to pursue his largely solitary and ephemeral researches, while still functioning within an art world of markets and commissions. But there is a deep loneliness at the heart of the work, and the solution that he has found applies only for himself. It allows little way forward for other artists, because it does not challenge the art world so much as circumvent it. The most progressive aspect of his work is the use of film, which can reach beyond the monopoly of galleries and exhibits; in Goldsworthy’s case, ironically, this does not compromise what he is doing, the way a digital reproduction of a painting does. … -m30.shtml

Criticisms (and contradictions?)

Artworld insiders and some British critics are less enthusiastic, and the Tate Gallery, despite Goldsworthy’s widespread recognition, has yet to acquire any of his work. One of the charges sometimes made against Goldsworthy is that his work is too closely related to craft. In fact, one detractor I spoke to went so far as to describe Goldsworthy as “not an artist at all,” dismissing his working methods as “fiddling about with nature.”

A second complaint about Goldsworthy is that he falls to address wider issues, especially those pertaining to public art. And indeed, the artist refuses to be drawn into the debate around his work–as is evident in statements like: “My work comes first, reasons for it follow.” This taciturnity probably feeds his image as a Northern outsider, determined at all costs to ignore certain contradictions within his own practice.

If Goldsworthy has generally avoided discussion of the wider social and political issues raised by public art, a close reading of his writings indicates that he is sufficiently self-critical to comprehend and confront the distinctions between large-scale international commissions (which now take up much of his time) and the kind of solitary outdoor pieces that he began with and still holds dear. He deals with the contradictions of his career by, as he says, “keeping the approaches to both kinds of work distinct,” even though this “feels sometimes like being two artists, arguing with each other.” Given Goldsworthy’s stated dedication to “knowing” materials by working closely with them on a daily basis in his home environment, and his current interest in far-flung projects (Nevada, Australia, Japan, Missouri, France, California, New York City, Pennsylvania), one can see the occasion for such arguments. On the one hand he asserts his dislike of “gigantism for its own sake,” yet he also believes that “small works must grow into large.” Thus he is willing to employ assistants and heavy equipment when undertaking what he calls “social events” like the quarter-mile-long Lambton Earthwork constructed in 1988 in England’s County Durham.

The term “social event” is Goldsworthy’s neat shorthand for a creative process that can sometimes involve a team of assistants, but it also encapsulates the inevitable ramifications of the artist’s site-specific work. In Herd of Arches, the vicissitudes of commerce were engaged; in the Lambton piece, the snaking mound of earth conjured up for local inhabitants the “Lambton Worm,” a dragon of regional folklore. (The resemblance was accidental: Goldsworthy, who had never heard of the “Lambton Worm,” was using a serpentine shape that had appeared previously in his work.)

In the end, though, however grand some of his works become, Goldsworthy remains true to the character of his early practice. “Ephemeral work,” he insists, “made outside, for and about a day, lies at the core of my art and its making must be kept private.”

The skepticism of the art establishment seems to be based on, as much as anything, a kind of big-city prejudice against work so free from urban angst. I must confess to having shared some of that prejudice, and tiny shreds of it linger still, mostly when I look at photographs of Goldsworthy’s “throws” (the artist snapped tossing sand or mud into the air) in the Australian outback or other exotic locations, or of his exploits at the North Pole (where he went in 1989, spending a month’s “apprenticeship to the ice” with the Inuit before three days of sculpting). … ntent;col1

Ironically for an artist whose work is so rooted in the landscape and a sense of place, he is constantly traveling around for commissions. As well as a long-standing collaboration with the Storm King Art Center sculpture park in upstate New York, the Scotland-based artist has made works in Cumbria in England, Nova Scotia, Colorado, Washington D.C. and New York City in the last few years.

And, in a sign of his increasing stature in the art world, he is currently holding his largest ever exhibition, in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England. The show celebrates the 30th anniversary of the park and is also the largest exhibition ever held there.

It is something of a return home for Goldsworthy, who was an artist-in-residence at the park in 1987. “It’s always very interesting to go back to a place you’ve worked in before,” he says. “I think I can get more from a place by returning many times – I feel like I’m digging deeper and getting to know the place better and that I draw more from it.” … 63,00.html

I like his art, in general. Nice movie.

In what way?

His artpieces were constructed to be destroyed by forces of nature but when it happened without his ‘blessing’ (prematurely), he quickly became frustrated and upset (such as when his beach stone sculpture collapesed and when his hanging stick spiderweb got torn). Why become so upset? He claims that he is working with nature in cooperation (give and take, a dialogue), but when nature steps in to do its part on its own terms he gets upset; even though the art (claimed process) still fulfills its general purpose. I thought his reaction, considering the philosophy behind his art, was strange and somewhat contradictory.
If the nature wants to take it, then let it. Isn’t that what his art is about? This makes me think that it is not so much about give-and-take as it is to just give on his own terms; and it is really not a ‘cooperation’ but rather a fullfillment of his need. If it really were about a so-called cooperation wtih forces of nature then he would just let go of the piece when it first fell. So I think it is some sort of therapy for him; an imposition of his own will onto something he has no power over, or a way to deal with his feelings of powerlessness. He lets nature take it, but not before he is finished with it. There is a persistent element of imposition of his own will and on his won terms in this process. That was my first impression.

Interestingly, and on the side note, he was also compared to a Druid, and I do see some similarities in his style with Wiccan rituals. I am not a wiccan expert or anything like that, but I know there are some wiccan rituals (spells) that include basically the same process: to tranfer one’s intent or emotions onto a physical object and then surrender it to forces of nature (such as writing a problem or a wish on a piece of paper and burning it, or inscribing something on a stone and throwing it into a lake); or a way of asking nature and letting nature speak back. The psychological effect of this ritual is therapeutic, and I am even willing to bet that long time before the existence of professionals like Freud and Sartre, people dealed with many of their existential problems in a similar, ritualistic way. I can see a person going to a witch doctor or shaman with his dilemmas of existence or trying to get over a loss of a loved one, and I can see the shaman prescribing similar contemplative rituals. So, there is definately a pagan aspect to his work. I do not want to say that he is ‘mental’ but I think that his work serves him as a form of self-therapy; except in his case, he made it into an art.

Fascinating viewpoint. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

In hindsight, maybe suggesting that he was ‘mental’ was a bit too harsh and some people might even be offended by it, but that’s the general vibe I got from him; and I don’t mean from his art itself so much as from watching him creating it. Usually one comes across a finished product and disregards the intricacies of the process that leads to it, and I know that if I came across just his photographs I propably would have never made such an observation and subsequent conclusion. Of course one can simply write if off as a an artistic temparement and I admit I haven’t really had an opportunity to watch many artists at work to see how they approach their work. I do think, however, that you can gain quite a bit of insight into the art by observing the artist in the process of creation, where it really comes from, as it unfolds. In contrast to artistic creation of artists like, say, Bob Ross, whose approach is carefree and casual, the process of Goldsworthy appeared to me to be a struggle, although in principle it is suppsed to flow with. It could be that I am simply misunderstanding his work (although I think he is also trying to understand it), but that’s the general impression that I had.

He’s probably struggling to flow with.


I was a little bit surprised by him too. I thought he seemed a bit fussy. It made me see how much his sculptures are kind of fussy. It’s obvious once you see it, but there’s also this natural flowing quality to his art. And theoretically it’s about the nature of impermanence (i.e. accepting it), etc. So there’s some conflicting things going on that you picked up on. That said, when it comes right down to it, I simply like his art and don’t think about it all that much. And I liked the movie.

A new documentary is out by Andy Goldsworthy, titled “Leaning Into the Wind”.
[youtube][/youtube] … rce=images

I went to see it the other day, but I’m not quite sure where to start. I wouldn’t recommend paying to see it in theater, unless you’re feeling especially conceptually and abstractly psycho-analytic (and well-caffeinated) that day, which unfortunately I wasn’t. To be honest, the film is rather tedious and heavy (the soundtrack being a perfect fit for it). I still get a sense that he has not really changed and his work still has that strong feel of art as personal psychotherapy. There is still that sense of inconsolable loss and grieving about him. Andy wasn’t able to provide a clear explanation or vision for some of his work, which made me think that this is more like therapy for him. It’s like he and work were merged or something.

There were a few funny moments where audience actually laughed, but there really was this sadness behind it because you knew that even if he made a fool of himself in front of he audience, he was dead serious about it. It just felt wrong to laugh. I’m pretty sure a shrink with a notepad would probably have had a field day with this kind of material. But this is officially art.

There are a few of his ideas that I got out of it though. There is one consistently repeating theme in the film and that is the apparent desire to merge with he environment, to be (perhaps an indistinguishable?) part of it. In one instance, he carves a grave in the ground out of rock to lie in, and in the other, he stands up in a tree like he’s part of it.

He also mentions a real attachment to a physical place. In one of his pieces he wraps colored leaves around the tree trunk of a fallen tree in a place that he frequently visited throughout his life. He described a sense of it being part of his life and during his major life events and expressed a great degree of pain when the tree, which was part of the place, was blown down.
I think many people can identify with such a place, like a tree that they used to play by in the childhood and the sadness of finding that tree cut down or gone after visiting it many years later. For most people this would be a sad event, especially if they had really good memories of that time. But life goes on, and people usually move on being preoccupied with other things. Andy however, seems to be stuck in this mourning process, he makes it a full blown funerary ritual, and a lot of his work has that kind of feel about it.

There is another impressive piece, which I’d call a split wall, in which he takes giant round boulders, about half the size of a man, carefully splits them in half, and creates a passageway out of halves, like a split wall, through which you can walk through. He didn’t really give a detailed explanation of it, but he did say that he sees a man as a wall, and maybe by splitting it in half and walking through it was his way of merging into the environment. But that’s just my guess. In any case, you can tell that this particular piece took a lot of physical effort: you had to dig out the boulders, then transport them, then cut them, and carefully assemble them, and the film shows this kind of labor intensiveness of his work in detail, so one can see how it’s created, and how much work went into it.

His view still seems a little over the top for me, as if Andy lives in a completely other inner world. But whatever it is, I don’t think he’s very comfortable with it, as it seems to be an object of his non-ending obsession. He definitely seems to have a strong personal bond with the physical environment, and some type of uneasiness or anxiety with unpredictable changes. If someone can get a better explanation of his mindset or what is driving his behavior/work I’d be interested in hearing it. I think a psychological approach would be more suitable here, because the world itself has not really changed that much if you think about it, but maybe it is people that have in their own perception of the world.

I just read my original view, and it looks like I haven’t really changed my view of him that much!

I mentioned struggle, yes, he still has that struggle inside of him.

I love Andy’s finished works and have not looked into his process. Exploring an artist’s process can be interesting, but if definitely mars how the finished product is viewed. It’s akin to being on the set of the making of a movie, then not being able to enjoy the movie without recollecting all the behind the scenes goings on. I’ve met many artists and I have yet to meet one who is not a control freak concerning their process.