By Riley M.

Small Gestures

This assignment follows a viewing of the film “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time” and precedes the assignment Grand Gesture.

Mark Robert Barry
UH 210 – Studioless Art & Creative Process
The University of Alabama


In response to the film Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, use found materials to create three small visual gifts for the public.


  • Creatively improvise with limited resources.
  • Recognize the aesthetic potential of ordinary objects.
  • Recontextualize nature and litter into art.
  • Practice public art.


Required Tools and Materials:

  • objects found outdoors (Students may not use any material or tool they did not find outdoors.)
  • camera


  • 60-90 minutes


  • Explore the outdoors.
  • Find and collect interesting materials, both natural and unnatural.
  • Find strategic outdoor locations that would be optimal for displaying gifts.
  • At three separate sites, create small visual gifts by altering and/or rearranging the collected materials.
  • Photo-document each gift immediately after its installation.
  • Leave the gifts unattended for consumption by the public and natural forces.


Each gift should require 20-30 minutes worth of work. These artworks should be small gestures, not grand gestures. Do not over-complicate or belabor them. Think, plan, and execute simply.
Display each gift strategically. Think about what you will create, but also where you will create. Consider things like visibility, exposure to elements, and pedestrian traffic. The gift and its location should be interdependent.

Take advantage of the weather. This may mean not wasting a warm sunny day, or it may mean employing the rain to accomplish creative tasks for you.

These artworks should emphasize vision and aesthetics, not concepts. Think back to our sensory reset walk, when simply beholding light, color, and texture felt like a joyful gift.

Thoroughly photo-document each gift. These photographs will be used in class for critique. Make sure your photographs are clear and uncluttered (no backpacks or Wal-Mart sacks). Also, take multiple photographs of each artwork from various distances (up-close, far away) and angles (above, eye-level, ground-level). Try to provide a good sense of the artwork’s site.

Do not damage University property. As “gifts”, these gestures should be generous, not destructive. It’s okay to pick some generic berries or leaves, but destroying a bush is not. Don’t cause any damage to University landscaping or create extra work for the grounds crew.

Do not create anything permanent. Consider designing your artworks so that, within a few hours or days, they will be naturally blown or washed away, or trampled to pieces by passersby. If any of your artworks survive longer than three days, please dismantle them yourself.

Do not invest your artworks with overt concepts; rather, create aesthetic gifts. For example, don’t arrange litter to read ‘Save the Planet’. Don’t use text, and avoid symbols like hearts, smiley faces, and peace signs. Cliche symbols can and will cause conceptual distractions from your aesthetic purposes.


Students are evaluated with consideration to craftsmanship and effort, following directions, and quality participation during critique.

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Featured image by Riley M.
This assignment is based on one originally designed by Stephen Watson. Used and altered with permission.