Giving Thanks Through Sculpture: Andy Goldsworthy

In the days leading up to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, the crew here at Transpositions are going to reflect on various ways that works of art can be a form of giving thanks.  All art making, at a very fundamental level, revels in and draws attention to the ‘givenness’ of its materials, and so reminds us that gratitude is the human being’s basic response to the world.  Happy Thanksgiving!

This still life by Roelant Savery  (1576-1639) supposedly contains 44 different species of animals and 63 different species of flowers.  That such a dense concentration of life could ever come together in a single place is, of course, impossible.  This is an image of overwhelming abundance in which time and space are condensed in a single, intricate image.  Christians have often used images like this one to remind themselves that they await a time of great abundance: the time when creation will be transformed into its ultimate fulfillment as the new creation.
The contemporary sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is one of my favorite artists, and his works often seem to do the same kind of think that Savery’s still life does.  For Goldsworthy, the world is a playground full of possibilities that he realizes and explores in ever new and exciting ways.  One of the most striking features of his work is its capacity to uncover or reveal a dynamism in the world that previously had laid dormant.  Goldsworthy brings together disparate elements in the landscape to produce an image of remarkable contrast and energy.  These images remind us that we have much to be thankful for in the here and now, but they also point toward a time of ultimate fulfillment when God’s creation will overflow in abundance.
Goldsworthy’s creative practice has an epistemic goal: he hopes to discover something about his materials. In an interview, Goldsworthy emphasizes the exploratory nature of his creative practice:

I have an art that teaches me very important things about nature, my nature, the land and my relationship to it. I don’t mean that I learn in an academic sense; like getting a book and learning the names of plants, but something through which I try to understand the processes of growth and decay, of life in nature. Although it is often a practical and physical art, it is also an intensely spiritual affair that I have with nature: a relationship.

Goldsworthy’s creative practice is an act of discovery, but this is qualified by the statement that he is not trying to “learn in an academic sense.” Instead, Goldsworthy’s exploration of the landscape takes place within the intimacy of a committed relationship. He chooses to fully immerse himself in the physical terrain, and thereby gather a kind of “working” knowledge of the world as a whole.  See more of Andy’s work at his digital archive.

Goldsworthy’s creative practice reminds us that knowing our world involves both knowing it as it is, and knowing it as it is supposed to be.  While his work reminds us of the importance of immersing ourselves in the world as it is, it also points towards the world in its fullness or fulfillment.  In showing us the world in its abundance, Goldsworthy’s creative practice might be said to be a form of giving thanks for the riches of the present world, and for the abundance of the world that is to come.

Image credits: edge of the plank and naturalismo


  • Jim Watkins is the assistant editor and a regular contributor at Transpositions. Originally, Jim is from southern California and southeastern Texas, but sometimes he feels most at home in the landscape and coffee shops of the Pacific Northwest. He met his wife Emily at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he studied Studio Art (concentration in painting). For his PhD research, he is examining the relationship between divine and human creativity from the perspective of divine kenosis.

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