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Artists That Inspire Me: Andy Goldsworthy

His work is breathtaking yet intentionally temporary, and considering this time of environmental awareness, I find him even more relevant than before.

Andy Goldsworthy

Hopefully you already know who Andy Goldsworthy is, but if not, consider this your introduction to a profound and unique artist who was a source of inspiration to just about every artist friend I ever met in college. His work is breathtaking yet intentionally temporary, and considering this time of environmental awareness, I find him even more relevant than before.

I am pulling the cover blurb of his book Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature (because I’m sure I cannot do a better job of summing him up):

Andy Goldsworthy is an extraordinary, innovative British artist whose collaboration with nature produces uniquely personal and intense artworks. Using a seemingly endless range of natural materials – snow, ice, leaves, bark, rock, clay, stones, feathers, petals, twigs – he creates outdoor sculpture that manifests, however fleetingly, a sympathetic contact with the natural world. Before they disappear, or as they disappear…

…He deliberately explores the tension of working in the area where he finds his materials, and is undeterred by changes in the weather which may melt a spectacular ice arch or wash away a delicate structure of grasses. The artist’s intention is not to “make his mark” on the landscape, but rather to work with it instinctively, so that a delicate screen of bamboo or massive snow rings or a circle of leaves floating in a pool create a new perception and an ever-growing understanding of the land.

There are so many things that speak to me in what he does.

First of all, the idea of playing with found objects in nature to create something beautiful that you know you cannot keep, is reminiscent of the way in which children experience the natural world. Think of all of those sandcastles we built as kids. Despite the knowledge that the tides would take them after we went home, we still put painstaking work into getting them just right. I can clearly remember the feeling of discovery during that process. I even remember watching the tide come in at times before I was done, and washing away the fruits of my labor. But that was riveting too, because once the waves rolled back from the shore, that fact that the sand was again undisturbed was like some sort of magic trick.

Goldsworthy extrapolates this concept: His work is very complex in structure, execution and artistry (nothing like my sandcastles…not matter what I’d like to believe), but is still underpinned by the same idea of being in the moment, experimenting with what’s on hand and then releasing it to time. This is a very powerful, difficult position for an artist. The emotional (and sometimes physical) energy it takes to create, makes it painful to let our work out of our control. It’s like giving a piece of ourselves away. Yet this is the premise of all his work, which makes it even more beautiful, and the generosity all of it more profound.

Secondly, his work is very surprising….back to that concept of discovery again. In the same surprising way children invent their own uses for things, Goldsworthy rearranges the things we dismissively crunch beneath our shoes, into spectacular arrangements that showcase their beauty. When you see his work you feel like you’ve been missing a lot of obvious things around you…which you have. I am posting a numbers of photos below (with descriptions for many) so you can see for yourself.

And finally, I think there is a very big lesson for all of us in Goldsworthy’s world view. His beautiful work, done on a very localized scale, is meant to vanish, the proof of its existence provided only by his photography.

We live in a world where until recently, the goal was always to create things of permanence. It’s a hard paradigm shift that the human consciousness is now trying to make. We like to keep ‘things’ for a long time. And we often give no thought to their ultimate fate. We are voracious consumers, but most of what we consume is spewed back in a foreign form into the natural world which cannot wash, melt or blow it away. We’re super concerned that we may face inconvenience if our ‘things’ are meant to be temporary from the start. What I love about Goldsworthy is that he embraces this as the reality of his work.


Rowan leaves laid around hole
collecting the last few leaves
nearly finished
dog ran into hole
started again
made in the shade on a windy, sunny day
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton – 25 October, 1987

Pebbles around a hole
Kiinagashima-Cho, Japan – 7 December, 1978

newly flowered
none as yet turned to seed
undamaged by the wind or rain
a grass verge between dual carriageways
Neat West Bretton, Yorkshire – 28 April, 1987

Bright sunny morning
frozen snow
cut slab
scraped snow away with a stick
just short of breaking through
Izumi-Mura, Japan – 19 December, 1987

Sweet chestnut green horn
continuous spiral
each leaf laid in the fold of another
stitched with thorns
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton – 9 August 1987

Ice arch
left to freeze overnight
before supporting pile of stones removed
(made in a field with cows – a tense wait)
pissed on stones too frozen to come out
fourth attempt successful
other three arches collapsed or melted
Brough, Cumbria – 1-2 December, 1982

Touching North
Photography – Julian Calder
North Pole – 24 April, 1989

Yellow elm leaves
laid over a rock
low water
Scaur Water, Dumfreisshire, Scotland – 15 October, 1991

Iris blades pinned together with thorns
filled in five sections with rowan berries
fish attacking from below
difficult to keep all the berries in
nibbled at by ducks
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton – 29 August, 1987


Japanese maple
leaves stitched together to make a floating chain (not shown)
the next day it became a hole
supported underneath by a woven briar ring
Ouchiyama-Mura, Japan – 21-22 November, 1987

thick ends dipped in snow then water
held until frozen together
occasionally using forked sticks as support until stuck
a tense moment when taking them away
breathing on the stick first to release it
Scaur Water, Dumfriesshire, Scotland – 12 January 1987

I’d highly recommend adding Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature to your library!

Susan Isaacs

Susan’s a multitask-er who prides herself on the vast number of things (read: loose papers and coffee cups) on her desk at any one time, and yet she still manages to keep an eye on all the moving parts at Paragon.


8 thoughts on “Artists That Inspire Me: Andy Goldsworthy

  1. Gizelle says:

    I really want to know the meaning of his artworks

    1. David says:

      there is no meaning – just looks cool – the ephemeral pieces, ice, snow, leaves, sticks symbolize the impermanence of things while the stone and rock installations make just the opposite statement – somethings are created for the ages.

  2. ArtCritic says:

    It is good that you have told us what the art work is made out of, but you should explain it in detail, and give the meaning of the artwork, otherwise it is no use to studies.

  3. ArtCritic says:

    I would appreciate it very much do if somebody replied to my comment and explained the meaning of the ‘Sweet Chesnut Green Horn’ I am doing a project on it, and I am rather stuck. Thankyou.

    1. Phil says:

      His art is subjective so I don’t know if there is an explanation as much as a mood or feel of the piece. The “impermanence” as David speaks of above does seem fitting in this work as both the leaves and thorns that stitch them together will wilt and return to the earth.

      A horn is a symbol of strength so a connection could be drawn to power or life which, much like this piece, is present and beautiful but will eventual fade away.

      Just a thought.

    2. Cherry says:

      Instead of asking ‘what did he mean’ ask yourself ‘how does it make me feel? What does it remind me of? How does it fit into the landscape? How does it fit amongst others works by this artist?’

    3. Charles says:

      I find it ironic that your handle is ArtCritic and you are asking in a forum what the meaning of a piece of art is. The least you should understand is that meaning does not reside in pieces of art. Meaning is something that exists only in the human brain. As such meaning vetoes dramatically from one culture to another. While a horn may represent source of life in one cloture it can represent death in another culture. You should instead ask different questions: What is the purpose of the are? Why was it created? What does it say about the culture within which it was created? Does the artwork transcend culture and time?

  4. Joanna Vera says:

    whats the icicle with the spikes? what’s it called?

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