The Reluctant Formalist: Andy Goldsworthy


After watching the documentary Rivers and Tides, I really fell in love with the work of Andy Goldsworthy. His work is beautiful in its simplicity and love of nature. He becomes one with his landscape and gives each work to nature as a gift. He works only with his hands no matter the temperatures he encounters. His works range in materials such as flowers, twigs, stone, leaves, ice and many other mediums. This is interesting to note because his work is always in a new site with materials used from only the area he is working with that day. He also learns a lot about a place from observing it and reacting to it through art. Below I have answered some questions in regards to the film and his work as a whole.
Why does Goldsworthy resist the label of Greenbergian Formalism? On what basis, if any, might Clement Greenberg resist Goldsworthy’s work?
I think that Goldsworthy resists the label of Formalist because he sees himself as one with nature, not someone who works with strict artistic rules. I believe he is not a formalist, rather a land artist with formalist ideas. Meaning that he works within nature, but does have rules that he holds himself to while working. When making a work, he must only use materials found in that landscape and once finished the land will destroy it in such a way that it adds to the piece. I think that Clement Greenberg would absolutely resist Goldsworthy’s work because while his work has rules it is not work that can be seen regularly by the public to view. Greenberg believes that work should be viewed by the public to learn from, not be an intimate conversation between artist and nature, where photographs are the only evidence it exists.
Assuming Greenberg is not the most sympathetic to Goldsworthy, which among other Formalist traditions would be a better match, if any: a Kantian-Hegelian pre-Modern viewpoint, a Bellian early-Modern “significant form” criterion, or a Structuralist post-Greenbergian analysis? Defend your choice through comparison.
I think that Goldsworthy would fit much better into the category of Structuralist post-Greenberg. This is due to the fact that Goldsworthy uses the structures of nature to create his works while celebrating nature as a whole. He uses his land art to point to greater issues that can lead to conversations about nature. Joel Shapiro is a structuralist like Goldsworthy except for the fact that he works with manmade materials. They both use raw materials and push it to its absolute limits. Even Agnes Martin is like Goldsworthy in a way with her differences to other painters in her field. Goldsworthy is really like no other and can be hard to pin point others like him in the artworld.  

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Joanna Nawn

Welcome to my blog! My name is Joanna Nawn and I have a deep passion for art and animation. This blog was started in order to share my journey through art with the hopes of becoming an animator someday! Animation is a major part of my life and I am always looking for ways to improve. I keep up to date with viewing animated shorts and films in order to understand the standards I should uphold in my own work. Please feel free to contact me and/or follow me on social media!

3 thoughts on “The Reluctant Formalist: Andy Goldsworthy”

  1. I wouldn’t say “absolutely” resist Greenberg’s lame idea of art but rather “mess” around it. I can agree Goldsworthy and Greenberg don’t feel sympathetic towards each other but I think there is some connection between the two. Goldsworthy takes a piece of “unmodified” object and puts them together as for Greenberg who thinks a “unmodified” object itself a work of art.

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  2. Joanna, I really appreciated how you expressed your love for Goldsworthy’s works. You really went into detail about how he works, what he stands for and I could feel his passion for art through your words. I agree with your thoughts on how Greenberg would feel about Goldsworthy. For me, Greenberg has his own strict ways for what art can and cannot be, but it blows my mind that he wouldn’t like the works of Goldsworthy just for the simple fact that it cannot be seen on a general basis. Goldsworthy’s works are beautiful and created with a set of rules that just adds more beauty to his “one with nature” aspect of art. Top notch job with this one girl! Keep up the good work. 🙂

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  3. I really like your module because we share a similar view of Goldsworthy’s work. After viewing Rivers and Tides, I feel like I learned so much from Goldsworthy’s work and find it very inspiring. I also believe Greenberg and Goldsworthy would not agree with each other’s work. Greenberg’s focus on just the form would take away so much meaning behind Goldsworthy’s pieces. I am interested that you believed Goldsworthy’s work would fit much better in Structuralist post-Greenberg criterion. The structure of his pieces is completely comprised of natural elements and really embody and embrace nature entirely. Even though this is not the criterion I chose, I think it is an excellent fit.

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