Patterns and STEAM Learning for the October 18 NHAEA Conference – Examples Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy’s work (Part 2 of 4)

Andy Goldsworthy’s work is a beacon for art educators who truly care about STEAM exploration and collaborative art making in general. Actual interaction with the amazing materials of the natural world is central to projects inspired by Goldsworthy’s craft.

We would start introducing folks to Goldsworthy’s oeuvre by explaining that he is one of many recent artists whose work embodies new ways of understanding the significance of art and the role of the artist. These practitioners recognize that “art” is not something that is limited to collectible commodities that are bought and sold on the art market, painted on canvases, forged out of bronze, or displayed in museums. The everyday materials of the natural world (living, non-living, fluid, or concrete) can be coordinated by artists into profoundly expressive compositions and worthwhile experiences (not mere entertainments) for viewers interacting with the art directly or though photographs that document its form before it disappears. Goldsworthy’s art emerges from the environmental art movements of the second half of the twentieth century including land art and ‘arte povera.” It expands upon the idea of installations, performance art, and ‘social sculpture’ with a strong focus on human interaction with the abiding and yet transforming materials of the natural world.

I’ve found it most effective to begin projects related to Goldsworthy’s work by allowing the children and (sometimes) adults to first immerse themselves in the imagery of several of the marvelous books that showcase his art.

As they turn the pages, I call students’ attention to Mr. Goldsworthy’s selection of materials and to aspects of texture, color, and design. I suggest that they study his arrangements and look for features that are linear, symmetrical, or random, for elements that are rhythmic, or that diminish and crescendo, for aggregations that are complex or simple, for the role of shadow, temperature, or moving air, and for 3 dimensional versus 2 dimensional qualities. I ask them what they think and feel about the artwork.

Eventually, I might emphasize that environmental art not only sensitizes us to the beauties and intricacies of the natural world, but it also encourages us to not be too attached to the persistence of the artwork itself. Part of of our reality is that all creations are constantly changing, perhaps being blown by the wind, scattered by chipmunks or rain, melting in the sunlight, or being replaced by the activities of a subsequent class of builders. Things change. This art of Andy Goldsworthy alerts us to the fact that change is constant, a wonderful paradox not only in Art but in Life. Being conscious of this reality, I recommend to the students that when they work on this project, they direct their attention towards enjoying the process of making the construction, with the clear understanding that even though it may be beautiful when it’s completed, it won’t stay the same forever. I ask them to try to use their memories to preserve their impressions of what they’re accomplished and what their friends have created. In their memories and in those of their classmates, the designs and this day will live on in a way. It’s a happy thought too to know that we will be able to use a digital camera to capture a few electronic images. We can share these with others who couldn’t be present. Indeed, we might be able to view these little mementos / records / documentations of what was created long after the leaves, sticks, and stones themselves have returned to the soil; long after they’ve been transformed into new plants, and animals, etc.

We also make it clear to the youngsters that at the end of the construction period, there will be an art walk or tour of the various creations. They will have an opportunity to show the entire class what they’ve designed! They”ll also be expected to talk about what they’ve built, and they should be prepared to answer questions from their audience.

Usually, the youngsters look through these pictures for a while and add comments and questions which the entire group considers. After these clarifying discussions, they’re eager to go outside and create!

Projects of this kind offer ample opportunities for individuals or groups to assemble original projects in congenial, non-stressful, sociable ways. In my experience, there have been remarkably few conflicts associated with these projects, and most participants have been quickly absorbed and enchanted by the process. Perhaps the conviviality is a function of being outside, and seeing , hearing, smelling, and touching so many interesting things, including once living beings. (We do make it a rule that no living plants or animals can be damaged or broken to contribute parts to the sculptures.) The peaceful atmosphere could also be a byproduct of the fact that if disagreements do occur, youngsters can easily go to other groups or work on their own (unlike the situation during some indoor group poster projects where conflicts are sometimes a distraction). Some youngsters enjoy collecting materials, others seemed more engaged in arranging them, and others take an almost managerial role. Some friends seem to be simply working together in a very serious and pleasant egalitarian sort of way. This project cultivates youngsters social graces! They need to be responding and interacting with each another even as they engage with the materials and their personal visions for the work.

Here are some samples from these Andy Goldsworthy inspired activities conducted by students aged 7 to 12

This project cultivates an informed, thoughtful and appreciative attitude towards the material world. As children really interact in a creative way with nature, they begin to develop perspectives and capacities that will serve them well when they begin more formal, objectified studies of this complex planet which is our home.