About cookies

The NCETM site uses cookies. Read more about our privacy policy

Please agree to accept our cookies. If you continue to use the site, we'll assume you're happy to accept them.


Personal Learning Login

Sign Up | Forgotten password?
Register with the NCETM

Primary Magazine - Issue 17: The Art of Mathematics

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 30 October 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 17 November 2009 by ncetm_administrator

Primary Magazine Issue 17Stone River by Andy Goldsworthy - photograph by godutchbaby

The Art of Mathematics 
Andy Goldsworthy (1956 - )

Roof by Andy Goldsworthy photograph by Nicholas SmaleAndy Goldsworthy was born in Cheshire on 26 July 1956. From around 13 years old he worked as a farm labourer. He was brought up in Yorkshire and studied fine art at both Bradford College and Preston Polytechnic. When he left college, he lived in Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Due to a variety of circumstances he gradually drifted northwards to Dumfriesshire. He married in 1982 and has four children. Since separating from his wife, he met Tina Fiske, an art historian who came to work with him. They now live together in Penpont in Dumfriesshire.

Andy Goldsworthy uses the materials at hand in the remote, open air area he chooses to work in – stones, mud, flowers, pinecones, leaves, twigs, reeds, thorns, snow and ice. He has commented:

“I can’t edit the materials I work with. My remit is to work with nature as a whole.”
“Each work grows, stays and decays.”

His workplaces have ranged from The North Pole to Japan, the Yorkshire Dales to the Australian outback, via Canada, the Lake District, St Louis and more. He uses only his own hands, teeth and found tools to prepare and arrange the materials in site-specific sculpture and land art. His work is usually short lived but demonstrates an extraordinary sense of place and play, drawing out the character of the local environment. All his work is recorded through photographs. These help him to show each work “at its heights, marking the moment when the work is most alive”; he believes “process and decay are implicit”.

Goldsworthy frequently publishes a book showing how the work was produced – each book is a work of art in itself. Some of his more recent sculptures have been made from stone. He has begun to use machine tools and to work with others, including an assistant and five dry-stone wallers, who were used to help make sure some of his structures were at least semi-permanent. Some have been moved to locations far from their origin, others are placed indoors at his studio in Dumfriesshire in an attempt to preserve them.

De Young by Andy Goldsworthy - photograph by Marshall AstorOne of his most recent commissions is a piece called ‘Drawn Stone’ for the entrance to San Francisco’s De Young Museum. Drawn Stone echoes the frequent earthquakes and their effects on the area. The piece includes broken limestone, which can be used for benches, and a giant crack in the pavement that branches into smaller cracks. He created the smaller cracks with a hammer, deliberately adding unpredictability to the work.

The outdoor environment is a powerful learning medium and a rich resource for mathematical exploration. Margaret McMillan, pioneer of nursery schools, said: “The best classrooms are roofed by the sky.” Andy Goldsworthy certainly encourages us to use the outdoors for mathematical and artistic exploration, no matter where we are.

Back to top

All ages

Show the children the selection of Andy Goldsworthy art. These can be viewed as a PDF. Discuss what is the same about each piece? What is different? Look at the variety of materials used. How many of these are available locally? What else could you use to create the same effect?

pebble, leaf, twig

Back to top

Foundation Stage

  • spot shapes in the environment. Take a small group of children for a walk around your setting. Take photographs and put them together into an ‘Our Shape Walk’ book for the children to enjoy. Repeat with other groups – you will be surprised at what one group will notice and others will miss. Once the book is complete, ask pairs of children where a particular photograph was taken. Can they tell you how to get there? Let them take you there and find where the photograph was taken from
  • have a collection of pebbles in a basket in the outdoor area. Encourage children to use them to make their own sculpture. Photograph each sculpture and display alongside a picture of one of the stone sculptures above. When the display is complete, talk about what is the same and different about all the sculptures.

triangle of twigs and square of stones

Back to top

Key Stages 1 and 2

  • having looked at Andy Goldsworthy’s art above, challenge the children to make an outdoor work of art focusing on a triangle or square. Discuss what they might use and where they might find the materials they need. You could obtain some suitable materials from your local garden centre or have some collecting walks for items such as conkers, twigs, leaves and pine cones beforehand. Photograph the work for display. You could also section off the area and invite parents and other classes to view your outdoor art gallery. If, at some other time in the year, it snows, remind the children of this activity and take them outside to have a go
  • challenge the children to make geometric designs and structures using natural materials. Set up an interactive display in the classroom with a range of materials for children to explore. Take photographs before tidying and display near the table to inspire others to have a go
  • look at and discuss Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Iris Leaves with Rowan Berries’. Show the children a set of pick-up sticks. Demonstrate how, to begin the game, the sticks are all held together and then dropped. What shapes can the children spot in between the sticks? How could they highlight those shapes? Do the children think this is how some of Andy’s work was created? Or were his materials deliberately placed? Give each pair of children a set of pick-up sticks or some straws, long leaves or lolly sticks to experiment with. Take photographs or stick down straws or lolly sticks to make a more permanent piece of artwork. Pick out geometric shapes with a contrasting material.

Striding Arch by Andy Goldsworthy - photograph by Artic Foxarch made of two books and a sheet of paper

Key Stage 2 (and perhaps older Key Stage 1)
children could also explore Andy Goldsworthy’s arches and create one of their own. These could be small scale, over a wooden train track or small world play fences, or larger depending on the materials available.

You can find more information on these websites:

For some Andy Goldsworthy-inspired children's artwork:

 View this issue in PDF format
 Visit the Primary Magazine Archive
 About Magazine feeds
 Previous page
Next page 
Back to top



Primary Magazine Issue 17 - download as a PDF
View the Primary Magazine Archive - click here
Visit the Primary Forum
Magazine Feed - keep informed of forthcoming issues
Contact us - share your ideas and comments 

Comment on this item  
Add to your NCETM favourites
Remove from your NCETM favourites
Add a note on this item
Recommend to a friend
Comment on this item
Send to printer
Request a reminder of this item
Cancel a reminder of this item



18 February 2010 10:15
This is a great activity for children and something which allows them to use their imagination without being limited by resources.
By paulstone
         Alert us about this comment  
Only registered users may comment. Log in to comment