books for creative kids
  • Contemporary Art in the Classroom: Land Art
  • Sarah Heffernan
  • exploration
Contemporary Art in the Classroom: Land Art

This time of year elicits landscape contemplation from children and adults alike. The leaves rapidly transform from green to red to brown to vanished, hills are lit with foliage then doused in crisp snow, animals scurry and prep for the winter ahead. Taking part of the metamorphosis is as fun as it is unavoidable- walking to school or the library means crunching leaves underfoot and creating a shower of browned fragments, breath becoming visible in the early morning, creating footpaths through frost and fresh snow.

The artists on this list work with nature in myriad ways. They take part in the evolution of landscapes by altering them in some way, without harming the ecosystem. Introduce your little one to the the ways these artists work with the environment to draw attention to it, shift your perspective in looking at it, and create something beautiful both from and with it.

Maya Lin, Storm King Wavefield, 2007-2008

Maya Lin’s wavefields create literal waves in massive fields. At the Storm King location in the Hudson Valley, Lin repurposed a field previously used to store gravel, turning the space into a grassy ocean where visitors can get lost in the green waves. Lin’s work explores the intersections between art and architecture, creation and environmentalism.


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970

At the Rozel Point peninsula of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty can still be explored when the water levels fall below about 4,195 feet. The Spiral Jetty was constructed using several thousand tons of basalt rock, salt crystals, earth, and water. This massive installation, built in 1970, is not only composed entirely of materials gathered in the area but is also dependent on the water and weather for visibility. With the change of tide and season comes a visual shift as well.


Olafur Eliasson, Riverbed, 2014

Olafur Eliasson brought the outdoors indoors in his show Riverbed, creating a riverbed complete with pebbles, rocks, dirt, and water in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Visitors are encouraged to walk over the riverbed and interact with the space. Eliasson’s riverbed contrasted the bare walls of the traditional museum space with a veritable outdoor landscape, challenging tradition notions of space and of observer versus participant.


Christo and Jeane-Claude, Surrounded Islands, 1983

Christo and Jeane-Claude created large scale environmental art pieces that, according to them, have no deeper meaning than the joy they bring to viewers and the opportunity to observe a familiar landscape through a new perspective. Their installations were all temporary, embracing ephemerality as a key component of their work. Surrounded Islands, up for just two weeks, featured eleven islands off the coast of Miami surrounded by a pink polypropylene floating fabric. The bright pink fabric contrasted with the dark green of the islands, creating a visually stunning seascape visible from land, sky, and sea.


Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, 1967

A Line Made by Walking, is, literally, a photograph taken by Richard Long of a line of grass trampled by his steps. The piece explores the transience of action in nature and the potential for permanence photography responds with as a medium. The piece was widely celebrated as revolutionary for its time, and inspired Long to continue documenting his ephemeral imprint on the Earth by photographing lines he treads and small sculptures he builds along the way.


Simon English, All England Sculpture, 1971

Simon English engaged with England’s landscape in a conceptual and sentimental way. During his work to create All England Sculpture, he traveled to 75 points from Cumbria to the South of England that cumulatively spelled out “ENGLAND” in paper or in the imagination. He took photographs, collected plant samples, and talked to locals at each location. In England Revisited, he returned to these spots in order to see how the area had changed in the forty years since his original venture.


Nils Udo, Willow Nest, 1994

Nils Udo, The Nest, 1978

Bavarian artist Nils-Udo works with nature with deliberate intentions and cautious actions- he seeks to create beauty with the Earth while disturbing it as little as possible. His visually stunning creations stem from a deep understanding of the phenology of the places he creates. He returns often to the image (and sometimes literal and massive creation) of a nest, representative of life and birth.


Introduce your little one to the endless possibilities of creation available to us when we consider the Earth both a canvas and a collaborator.

  • Sarah Heffernan
  • exploration

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