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Earthworks Field Activity


Coastal Carolina University



Course Level


Conversation points for instructors


Ben Gilliam’s Earthworks project, South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and

Art appreciation, 3-D Design, Intro to Sculpture; Online, in-person, hybrid.

This activity pushes students to think about the use of non-traditional materials and provides a hands on approach to understanding the creative process of making and Earthwork art as a genre itself. This field activity can be completed as an in-class activity, an out-of-class project assignment, or a distance learning participation activity. 


Within my art appreciation course, this assignment is introduced to my students after a Place: On Site Interventions, Monuments, and Community lecture. When presented to my ARTS104 (3-D Design course) or Art Appreciation course, the lecture always includes the history of earthworks, ways to see and/or experience this medium, ways artists present and/or document their work, and where the field is today. 

Activity objectives include:
- To have students engage in forms of artistic expression in the fine arts.
- Consider how the passing of time impacts their completed earthwork. Is that an
important factor in their work? (*optional for students)
- Document their project through the use of photos, video, drawing(s), etc in a way that
best captures their composition and concept.
- Students are expected to reference at least one to three other earthwork artists’
documentation techniques, and explain its influence within their written summary.
- Due to the nature of online courses, an in-person viewing of the student’s work is not
necessarily applicable. Emphasis is placed on the importance of how their work is
documented and presented to their fellow classmates. Make sure to emphasize
cropping and editing their images, taking multiple images to select from for
assignment submission, and detail images.
- In-person and online students are to submit with their images a 300-500 written
summary explaining their concept, process, artistic reference(s), materials used. The
use of formal analysis skills is expected, using elements and principles of design to
explain their work. For my students in art appreciation, they are asked to include their
perspective about earthwork art after completing the assignment.
- If this activity is posted as a forum discussion board where students are able to share
their work, students are expected to respond/ critique to at least two other
classmates' works. Each response post needs to be at least 200-300 words.
ARTS104 presents their work in class via a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation.



Project Prompt / Challenge

Now that you have learned about Earthwork Art, you are going to try your own hand at making an Earthworks sculpture. You will be able to select the location and materials. Consider the various options discussed in the Earthworks lecture to document your work. Photographs, video, drawings, etc are welcomed. Keep in mind what would be the best way to record your concept and the overall composition.  Remember, land artists may use natural materials, artificial materials, or a combination of materials, to emphasize nature and/or human's impact/mark on the land. You are also more than welcome to experiment with the performative aspects Earthworks sometimes include.



[ Note: Keeping in mind the current pandemic, these instructions are adapted from my Spring 2020 Art Appreciation course. ]


If you are able to go outside without putting yourself at risk, still able to practice social distancing, and not break any local ordinances/laws, GO FORTH AND MAKE YOUR EARTHWORKS OUTSIDE!!! If you are unable to go outside due to any of these, or other conditions, you may make an indoor Earthworks composition. It might take a little bit more creativity and thinking about what materials and spaces are available inside, but it is very possible for you to make a small earthwork piece indoors. Below are some examples of indoor earthwork art. These are large scale works, and of course, I do not expect you to make something this big. The goal of these images, for those of you who must work indoors, is to get the creative process started.

No matter where you are working, outside or indoors, take some time to look around your chosen site to see what you have available. Remember what we discussed in the lecture: land artists use natural materials, artificial materials, or a combination of these, to emphasize nature and/or people's impact, or mark, on the land. 

... You could also look into Richard Long's Low Water Circle Walk and his other walking series works for inspiration on performative or theoretical compositions.

Make sure to make plenty of photos and/or video footage from different angles. This will allow you to select the best images to post for your assignment. Consider composition, orientation, lighting, angle, etc., to best visually capture your artwork. Also consider how other Earthworks artists use photography and video to record their work. You are also encouraged to document yourself while making your work.

Once you have thoroughly documented your earthwork composition (including 2-5 well-composed photos showing different angles), provide a short 300-500 word summary about your experience. In your written response, include your perspective on earthwork art after participating in this artmaking activity. Also share your intended concept and describe your artmaking process. Also reference one to three Earthwork artists, along with the titles of their works, that inspired your composition. To continue practicing your formal analysis skills, also use elements and principles of design to explain/describe your work. Post your images and written response as one PDF file. One image per page.


There are no material restrictions. Students are asked to consider what is available to them based on the location they have chosen for their earthwork sculpture. They are welcomed to use natural, artificial, or a combination of materials.


Students in my art appreciation course are usually provided one to two weeks to complete this activity. My ARTS104 (3-D design course) is allotted about 2-3 weeks outside of class to complete their work, but an in-progress critique is scheduled halfway through so students may share their progress with classmates. One-on-one student-teacher dialog and progress checks continue throughout.


Online / Video Resources:

Andy Goldsworthy Documentary Rivers and Tides


Why sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is tearing down walls- and then rebuilding them


Debora Mesa Molina’s TedTalk- Stunning buildings made from raw, imperfect materials



  • Hans Haacke, Grass Grows, 1967-69

  • Michael Heizer

Fragment A, 2016

Levitated Mass, 2012

  • Robert Smithson

A Nonsite (Franklin, New Jersey), 1968

Spiral Jetty, 1970

  • Beverly Buchanan, Untitled (Slab Works 1), circa 1978–80

  • Molly Gochman, The Red Sand Project

  • Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, 1973-76

  • Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1977

  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude

The Umbrellas, 1991

Surrounded Islands, 1983

 Over the River, 2009 (rest in peace)

  • Urs Fischer, Interior Land Art

  • Richard Long

A Line Made by Walking, 1967

A Ten Mile Walk England, 1968

Low Water Cirle Walk: Dusseldorf, 1980

  • Patrick Dougherty

Cell Division

Just Around the Corner

  • Andy Goldsworthy, past and present portfolio samples used

  • Anton Garcia-Abril and Debora Mesa Molina

Additional Tips: 

Email me if you have any questions. I am more than happy to share further information about teaching this assignment in-person, online, or hybrid. Hurricanes, and now Covid-19, have made this activity one of my bread-and-butters. It’s also nice to see student morale go up when they try their hand at this humble art form, but also be given an opportunity to go outside to make art. - Daphne Cuadrado

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