rock sculpture

Are you tired of showing the same artists and paintings in your class? Look no further than the great outdoors for some spectacular artists and their works. Land artists, also known as Earthworks artists, use the natural landscape as their canvas and create massive sculptures and installations that blend seamlessly into the environment. From spiral mounds to earthen dams, these pieces will leave your students wondering, “How on earth (pun intended) were they created?!”

rock sculpture

Keep reading to explore the world of land art and its benefits:

  • Encourages critical thinking about the environment.
    Artists who use the landscape as their medium show the beauty and fragility of our world. Expose students to land artists to develop a deeper understanding of their environment and their relationship to it.
  • Refines creativity and problem-solving skills.
    Artists often have to be innovative in their use of natural materials to create these works. Land art refines creativity and problem-solving skills when students explore new ways of working with nature and the environment.
  • Introduces interactive and immersive learning.
    Rather than confined to a gallery or museum, land art invites the viewer to engage with the work on a deeper level; one can usually walk through it and touch it. This movement helps develop a more interactive and immersive approach to learning.
  • Promotes teamwork and collaboration.
    Many land art projects involve working with a team to create and install the work. When students tackle large installations at their school, it teaches them collaboration skills.
  • Helps students develop a sense of place.
    Many land art projects are site-specific, meaning they are created for and located within a specific place. As students explore the unique characteristics of their environment, they consider how their art can be a reflection.

Discover some incredible land art pieces and the artists behind them, plus how to add to them your curriculum!

Note: Be sure to review all resources and preview all artists before determining if they are appropriate to share with your students.

1. Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist. He is known for his ephemeral works made from natural materials. Bring him into your curriculum and have students create temporary sculptures. Use natural materials like leaves, twigs, and rocks from your local environment. Check out “Nature’s Stained Glass” and “Preserving Ephemeral Art” in FLEX Curriculum for more applications.

ebenezer
https://andygoldsworthystudio.com/ebenezer/

2. Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson was an American artist known for his large-scale site-specific works, including Spiral Jetty in Utah. Share with students how Smithson used the landscape as a canvas. Students create a large-scale collaborative project on the school’s campus or in the local community.

spiral jetty
https://holtsmithsonfoundation.org/spiral-jetty

3. Richard Long

Richard Long is a British sculptor and photographer known for his walks. He documented them through photographs, maps, and text. Show students how Long used walking to create art. Students make their own walking-based art and document it with photographs or drawings. Students can also use exercise apps to record the shape and direction of their walks.

daydreaming line
http://www.richardlong.org/Sculptures/2020/DAYDREAMING_LINE.html

4. Agnes Denes

Agnes Denes is a Hungarian-born American artist known for her environmentally-themed works, including Wheatfield – A Confrontation. She planted a two-acre field of wheat in downtown Manhattan. Students explore Denes’s use of agriculture as a medium for artistic expression. Then, they create their own environmentally-themed artworks. If possible, collaborate with the horticulture department for more connections.

wheatfield
http://www.agnesdenesstudio.com/works7-WFStatue.html

5. Walter De Maria

Walter De Maria was an American artist known for large-scale installations, including The Lightning Field in New Mexico. Students learn about De Maria’s use of minimalism and repetition. Next, they create their own large-scale installations around campus. Parents and community members can take part in a sculpture walk around the school. For more information, check out the “Site-Specific Installations” lesson in FLEX Curriculum.

the lightning field
https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2021/07/12/essay-light-lightning-wonder-reactions-walter-de-marias-lightning-field/

6. Chris Drury

Chris Drury is a British artist known for his environmental sculptures and land art, including Destroying Angel Nevada. Explore Drury’s use of natural materials and how his work reflects on current events. Research how he collaborates with scientists and technicians from a wide range of disciplines to show students the connecting power of art.

destroying angel nevada
https://chrisdrury.co.uk/project/destroying-angel-nevada/

7. Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were European artists known for their large-scale environmental installations, including The Gates in New York City’s Central Park. Students learn about Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s use of fabric and landscape. Students create their own installations using fibers, textiles, and natural objects to highlight features on school grounds. Students can also wrap small objects with textiles to work on a smaller scale and examine the element of form. 

the gates
https://christojeanneclaude.net/artworks/the-gates/

8. Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-born American artist known for her earth-body sculptures and performances. Introduce advanced secondary students to Mendieta’s use of the body and landscape to create art. Take an existing figure drawing unit to the next level and tie in this three-dimensional artmaking opportunity. Students construct their own earth-body sculptures or performances. Use photography to document the experience for an added layer of depth.

silueta series
https://www.anamendietaartist.com/work/67f45e26-9b6f-4358-92d8-01f3c4091410-xsyhr-lgr36/67f45e26-9b6f-4358-92d8-01f3c4091410-xsyhr-lgr36/67f45e26-9b6f-4358-92d8-01f3c4091410-xsyhr-lgr36

9. James Turrell

James Turrell is an American artist known for installations that explore the perception of light and space. Students create their own installations using natural materials and light. Students can also create small-scale models of specific spaces so they have more control over their light source. For a lesson on nature, light, and shadows, download “Playing with Nature’s Shadow” in FLEX Curriculum.

pullen
https://jamesturrell.com/work/pullen-white/

10. Marjetica Potrč

Marjetica Potrč is a Slovenian artist known for her socially and environmentally-conscious artworks. Explore Potrč’s use of art to raise awareness about social and environmental issues. Students ideate and make their own socially and environmentally-conscious artworks. Prompt students to consider how their chosen natural material enhances their environmental stance. This can be a tricky topic to cover, so get step-by-step instructions and detailed resources in FLEX Collection’s Illustrating Social Issues.

the house of agreement between humans and earth
https://nordenhake.com/artists/marjetica-potrc

Land art is an important genre. It highlights the connections between art and the natural world as well as broader disciplines like science and technology. Land art encourages a more immersive and interactive viewing experience. It also gets students out in the fresh air, looking at their surroundings in a new light. Show your students one of the artists above, and then take them outdoors to start creating!

Which artist will you share with your students this spring?

What are your best tips for tackling a site-specific, land art, or installation unit with your students?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.

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