The Real Work is the Change
‘Art is a form of nourishment to me’ (Andy Goldsworthy)
For those who are unfamiliar with his work, Andy Goldsworthy is a site specific Environmental and Land Artist who works on and in the land creating ephemeral work that is part of the landscape/environment. It is both breathtakingly beautiful and beautifully crafted. Over time the work becomes part of the landscape either because nature grows in and around it, or because it is absorbed by the elements, or because it is ultimately destroyed by the elements. It is in the tradition of Tibetan and Native American sand art that is made and then erased by the wind.
Andy Goldsworthy's approach is far more akin to the idea of art as a way of connecting to something that is greater than the 'I' and greater than the human species. Indeed, it has many points of contact with the Aboriginal perspective on making art as a direct way of locating ourselves in history and to place.
It also seems eminently relevant to remind ourselves of the thinking behind his work at this point in time, when we are slowly waking up to the the environmental disasters that our lifestyle has been creating for the last 200 years.
There's a documentary film about his work called 'Rivers and Tides,' that records the artist at work in places all over the world in all weathers, whether it be the icy Nova Scotia coast in the depths of winter or his Scottish home town, Penpont, in a thunderstorm, or summer in New York State. It is visually stunning, but what makes it so inspirational is hearing his lucid articulations about his process - what he is doing; why he is doing it; how it is affecting him personally.
He talks of arriving in a new place that is strange to him and ‘shaking hands with it.'
‘I want to understand the energy and the life that is flowing through me and through the land.’
He sees a link between the redness of the iron stones that he finds in the river in Penpont and the redness of the blood in his veins: ‘Colour and energy flowing through all things.' He makes the observation, ‘Spring doesn’t begin on the surface – it begins below,’ and ‘What is below the surface affects the surface,’ and finally, ‘The real work is the change.'
He sees a link between the redness of the iron stones that he finds in the river in Penpont and the redness of the blood in his veins: ‘Colour and energy flowing through all things.' He makes the observation, ‘Spring doesn’t begin on the surface – it begins below,’ and ‘What is below the surface affects the surface,’ and finally, ‘The real work is the change.'lace. That’s a way of understanding. Seeing something that was always there but you were blind to it.’
That statement in itself is an answer to the question that many would ask: ‘What is the point of making art that isn’t going to last for any length of time? Is it art at all?’ This is a question that is born out of our western understanding of what an artist does – namely, the business of making work, where the emphasis is more about the end product than about the artist’s process. In other words, a mindset that sees art as a commodity, and this brings me neatly back to the environmental issues of the day, that have been largely caused by the way we have commodified everything, and alienated ourselves from the natural world in the process .
Andy Goldworthy's art ask us to question that.
Indeed, there are many profound lessons for us here, on so many levels – lessons that have relevance to our daily lives, to the broader situation in the world today, to our joyful souls that no longer wonder as they did when we were children. But if all you want is a beautiful visual experience and a brief return to the wonder we were able to enjoy as children when we watched a leaf flow down a stream, please watch this film.
It nourishes the soul.
‘Rivers and Tides’, directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer, https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/andy-goldsworthys-rivers-tides/