Time works so differently for children, and they have such long, busy days. Each school day is an eternity of tedious lessons and tasteless fishsticks, and when they’re finally released from their daily captivity — still in mid-afternoon — there’s time yet for naps, time for cartoons, time to mount an expedition into the wilds of the backyard, to dig deep grooves in the soil, fill them with piles of crunchy leaves, run the garden hose for hours and see what happens. In a child’s day, there is time enough to build your own little world out of the puddles and rocks and twigs that most adults step over, barely noticing, as they rush through days that can seem like they’re over before they’ve begun.
Artist Andy Goldsworthy looks at puddles and rocks and twigs with a child’s imagination and sense of possibilities, but he brings to his work a patience and precision that is profoundly adult. German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheime’s 2001 documentary follows Goldsworthy as he trumps through his native Scotland making art of the world. Goldsworthy lavishes hours on his creations, briefly bending nature to his will as he connects icicles into an intricate, abstract sculpture, twists twigs into a mesmerizing web, or otherwise commits what certain bumper stickers would aptly describe as senseless acts of beauty. Sometimes nature cooperates, allowing Goldsworthy time to work his magic. Other times nature harshly reasserts herself before the artist is through, and his hard work is swept away by the mercilessly tide, blown to bits by the unthinking winds, or it just plain flops over and melts. If Goldsworthy is lucky, he’s managed to take some beautiful photographs before his creation descends back into the muck from which it came. Otherwise, he just starts all over again, piling stone upon stone, twig upon twig.
Even those who dismiss all abstract art with a sneer of “my kid could draw that” usually can’t help being fascinated by Goldsworthy’s rock piles or icicle works. His ideas speak to the yearning primitive within us all, to that first ape who impressed his handprint into the wet earth outside his cave one prehistoric morning and then stood back to wonder at what he’d done.
If you’ve never seen Goldsworthy’s work, it’s hard to do it justice with words – he sounds like some hippie weirdo who makes piles of stones on the beach. And, let’s be honest, that’s kind of what he is. But he is also a truly brilliant artist. And a kid with time on his hands.