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Tips for Teaching Arts

COLLABORATION WITH NATURE

 

by John Caddy, with quotes from Andy Goldsworthy

 

In contemporary art, a new/old kind of art form has emerged, which is called collaboration with nature.

• See the Artist/Naturalist pages for Andy Goldsworthy for photographs of this kind of art..

Artful arrangements of natural materials have gained a new respect and following. I called it new/old because everyone who has made a snowman has already collaborated with nature to make art. Everyone who has carefully arranged a vase of flowers has done the same. So has every child who has made a dandelion chain.

What makes these results art? The crucial ingredient is human arrangement of natural materials. What is important is that the materials are filtered through the artist’s eye, which changes their forms and gives them new meaning.

Having children do nature collaborations validates what they already know, and casts their play skills into a new light. I was practicing to be an artist!

Ephemeral Art or Transient Art

Ephemera are things which last or live only a short time. The word comes from the Greek word for Mayfly.

Most artistic traditions around the world stress permanence; we carve stone, we cast bronze, and so forth. We think of art as making objects.

However, we have always honored art which was essentially brief-lived: a dance, a dramatic performance, a story told, a song sung, a symphony performed. Even today, when we are capable of preserving such art with film, sound recording, video, we usually don’t or can’t. Picasso enjoyed drawing in the sand on the ocean beach near his home, then enjoyed watching the waves swallow his creations. It is OK when the art does not last—it still was made, it still happened, it still created responses within an audience. 

Nature collaborations are usually ephemeral art—they are not intended to last—and sometimes their decay or transformation is part of the collaboration.

Collaboration With Nature Takes Many  Forms.

1) Earth materials arranged by the Artist in a powerful way

• The technique is called assemblage

2) Earth materials that nature has arranged in powerful ways

• A kind of found art—driftwood on a beach?

3) A piece or pattern of Earth whose intricacy of design or beauty speaks powerfully by itself without human intervention.

• Another kind of found art—reeds reflected in the still lake? A milkweed pod? A milkweed seed? Seashells?

4) Earth forces as well as objects can be used to make assemblages.

• Wind reshapes materials, water flows and transforms.

• Nature’s sounds and rhythms can be arranged into art.

Sharing Collaborations with Nature

• display it in an exhibit or in the natural place where it happened.

 • photograph it in the actual natural location (see Andy Goldsworthy pages). Display the photograph.

• Create it or perform it in the presence of an audience.

Quotes from Artist Andy Goldsworthy

Nature goes beyond countryside—everything comes from the earth.

On Working Outside:

Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins.

The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather—rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, 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.

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.

On Technique:

I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and ‘found’ tools—a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns.

I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches.

I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. Returning to one place makes me more aware of change.

I want to get under the surface. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just that material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue.

On Change:

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.

Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather.

Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit.

Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature.

On Form:

All forms are 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.

The ball, patch, line, arch and spire are recurring forms in my work. If I step into deep water, these forms are familiar rocks I can always put a foot on.

 The hole is an important element in my work. Looking into a deep hole unnerves me. My concept of stability is questioned and I am made aware of the potent energies within the earth. The black is that energy made visible.

Quotes from Andy Goldsworthy, A Collaboration With Nature ( Abrams, 1990)