Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Land Art
Take your pick:
Land Art

Land Art

Author: Ian McConnell

Determine specific characteristics found in land art movement.

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

37 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

299 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 32 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Video Transcription

Download PDF

[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about land art. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the influences on the development of land art, and identify examples of land art.

Key terms as always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is land art, an art movement where the work is characterized by the use of natural materials and qualities of existing landscapes. Earth art, a term that describes art made through techniques that alter the environment. And ephemeral, a term that means temporary.

And the big idea for today is that the socio-political climate in the 1960s and the environmental movement were major influences on the development of land art.

So the land art that we're going to be looking at today dates from between 1970 and 1977.

Today we'll be visiting Rozel Point on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, home of the Spiral Jetty, Overton, Nevada, the location of Double Negative, Rifle State Park in Colorado and Western New Mexico where the Lightning Field installation is located.

So land art in a nut shell is where the medium is the earth and nature itself. It's often ephemeral and often site specific.

So the 1960s have become synonymous with social revolution and counterculture and for very good reason. There were major socio-political movements that took place during this time, including the African American civil rights movement, the Hispanic movement, and the gay rights movement just to name a few. Along with this came greater attention and support of the environmental movement in America that can trace its roots back to John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was highly influential in the development of land art during the 1970s, because there was this desire to bring a greater amount of attention and focus to environmental issues.

The Spiral Jetty was one of the first of these works of art, built in 1970 near Rozel Point on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. It's a counter clockwise spiral that connects to the shore of the lake. Depending upon the current water level, it's either exposed or submerged. And its status has become something of a point of contention among people in terms of whether it should or shouldn't be preserved given that the artist Smithson alluded to the ephemeral quality of the work.

This ephemeral quality is present in another work of art by the married artistic duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, called, A Six Ton Curtain Billows Across Rifle Canyon. It was exactly that, a giant curtain connected across the canyon. Now Spiral Jetty is drawing attention to the fleeting nature of land art in terms of years, Six Ton Curtain was exploring the idea of disintegration and succumbing to the elements in terms of hours. It was literally ripped to shreds by gale force winds the day after it was raised.

Double Negative is located about an hour northeast of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. Its name refers to the fact that it's a 1,500 foot empty trench crossing the empty space of Nevada desert, hence the double negative term. And so it was as much about what isn't there than what is there. Like the two works of art we've seen before, just before this, the artists intended for it to eventually be erased by the erosive effects of winds and time. Now this brings up an important point about the influence of previous movements, such as minimalism and conceptualism on land art and how the idea behind the work of art is often more important than the work of art itself. Heizer's earth art questions the idea of art itself and in this work, how it can't be completely appreciated as a whole in person. It's just simply too big.

Now examples of land art like Spiral Jetty, Double Negative, and Lightning Field, a form of installment art, are located in and integrated into the landscapes of the deserts of the American West. For this reason, they are site specific, in that to change their location if at all possible would likely change their meaning or at least the idea behind them. Lightning Field was completed in 1977. It is a one-mile square grid array of 400 steel poles rising some 20 feet high give or take. It's a form of immersion art. As people walk among the grid, weather permitting of course, the varying heights of the poles can supposedly cause a disorienting effect when looking at people in the distance. Now because the poles function as lightning rods, it's also meant to be experienced from a safe distance during cooperating weather when the work of art literally harnesses the power of nature to achieve its effect.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seem the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the influences on the development of land art? And can you identify examples of land art?

Once again, the big idea for today. Socio-political climate of the 1960s and the environmental movement were major influences on the development of land art.

There you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Terms to Know
Earth Art

A term that describes art made through techniques that alter the environment.


A term that means temporary.

Land Art

An art movement where the work is characterized by the use of natural materials and qualities of existing landscapes.