Tag Archives: Michelangelo Antonioni

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE PART 48 “BLOW UP” by Michelangelo Antonioni makes Philosophic Statement (Feature on artist Nancy Holt)


Francis Schaeffer pictured below:


I have included the 27 minute  episode THE AGE OF NONREASON by Francis Schaeffer. In that video Schaeffer noted,  ” Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…for a time it became the rallying cry for young people throughout the world. It expressed the essence of their lives, thoughts and their feelings.”

Francis Schaeffer – How Should We then Live – 07.The Age of Non Reason

from CaptanFunkyFresh6 years ago



Modernism and Post-Modernism | An Analysis of Blow-Up

Published on Apr 24, 2014

My video essay analyzing the 1966 film Blow-Up. A full list of sources are available in the credits.

Questions and criticism are welcome in the comments.

BLOW-UP (1966) Movie Review (non-spoiler)

Published on Sep 25, 2015

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Francis Schaeffer Trilogy Blog Pt. 3

     In the last blog I wrote about how the breakdown in the concept of truth moved from the philosophies into the world of art. Van Gogh is just one example of an artist who hoped to find ultimate meaning through human artistic expression, but fell short. In the end, the Dada-ists chose randomness and created art which had at its heart the goal of propagating their chaotic and destructive worldview.

 Schaeffer next turns to music and general culture. The decay of a cohesive approach to truth through absolutes and healthy logic (antithesis) is becoming pervasive. The musique concretemovement presented its chaotic, deconstructive compositions as if to say, “All is relative, nothing is sure, nothing is fixed”.  With such a strong relativist sensibility being thrust forward “the possibility of finding any universal which could make sense of the particulars is denied”.

 Modern Cinema soon became a powerful avenue for widespread communication of modernity’s approach to truth. “The so-called ‘good’ pictures have almost all been developed by men holding the modern philosophy of no certain truth and no certain distinctions between right and wrong,” observes Schaeffer, and, “…the films they produce are tools for teaching their beliefs”. In the 1960’s Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up carried this tag-line: “Murder without guilt, love without meaning”.

     Schaeffer’s last example of the relativistic approach’s popular infiltration is The Beatles’Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rather than disconnected individual songs, this album, which expertly weaved together a conceptual whole, effectively communicated “psychedelic music, with open statements concerning drug-taking, [and] was knowingly presented as a religious answer”.


Scene from the film BLOW UP below:


Why am I doing this series FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE? John Fischer probably expressed it best when he noted:

Schaeffer was the closest thing to a “man of sorrows” I have seen. He could not allow himself to be happy when most of the world was desperately lost and he knew why. He was the first Christian I found who could embrace faith and the despair of a lost humanity all at the same time. Though he had been found, he still knew what it was to be lost.

Schaeffer was the first Christian leader who taught me to weep over the world instead of judging it. Schaeffer modeled a caring and thoughtful engagement in the history of philosophy and its influence through movies, novels, plays, music, and art. Here was Schaeffer, teaching at Wheaton College about the existential dilemma expressed in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blowup, when movies were still forbidden to students. He didn’t bat an eye. He ignored our legalism and went on teaching because he had been personally gripped by the desperation of such cultural statements.

Schaeffer taught his followers not to sneer at or dismiss the dissonance in modern art. He showed how these artists were merely expressing the outcome of the presuppositions of the modern era that did away with God and put all conclusions on a strictly human, rational level. Instead of shaking our heads at a depressing, dark, abstract work of art, the true Christian reaction should be to weep for the lost person who created it. Schaeffer was a rare Christian leader who advocated understanding and empathizing with non-Christians instead of taking issue with them.


Uploaded on Apr 23, 2009

The original trailer for the Michelangelo Antonioni film “Blow Up,” starring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, and Sarah Miles.

A reflection on ‘How Should We Then Live?’ by Francis Schaeffer

By: Russell Smith

  • Published: December 18, 2013
    Updated: December 18, 2013

“How should we then live?” Francis Schaeffer asks this question of his readers before his book is even opened. He tries to grab the reader’s attention as they respond, “As a result of knowing what?”

Schaeffer takes the reader through the history of western culture beginning in Roman Europe and ending in the Immoral States of America. He brings the reader through the major philosophical ideas of history beginning with the Self Deification of the Romans (particularly the emperors) and into today’s humanistic, apathetic anti-philosophy.

Given the vast knowledge that Schaeffer provides in his book, readers are left to draw our own conclusions to this question as he does not explicitly say how we should “then” live. Which in and of itself is a good thing, otherwise we would all be a bunch of little Schaeffers running around waiting for the Elite Society Members to take over the world and doom us all for one last time.

One thing in this book was particularly striking throughout Schaeffer’s discourse on the “rise and decline of western thought and culture.” The idea of using the cinema as a vehicle for philosophy was and still is a powerful mode of “infiltrating” the minds of the “westerners” with the ideas and ideals that the directors and producers have in mind.

Using “art” (and the word “art” is used here loosely) as a vehicle to show the viewer the “artist’s” worldview is not exactly a new concept. In the time before the cinema even existed, artists showed their worldview through their paintings, plays, music, tattoos and photography. With the evolution of technology, man is now able to use film (in the sense of movies) to let the world look in on how he perceives it.

The use of cinema for this purpose really took off in the 1960s. Before this, most films were more or less for entertainment purposes. (However, Schaeffer would contest that it is impossible for art to exist for sheer entertainment. Instead he would say that all art produced says something about the philosophy of the producer.) In the 1960s, though, men like Alain Resnais, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, and Michelangelo Antonioni popularized cinematic philosophy.

These directors were at no loss for viewers, as movies were, and still are, one of the most popular mediums for entertainment. This kind of popularity allowed for many to see and be “infiltrated” with the worldview of the directors. At this time, in the 1960s, the popular philosophy being expressed in the cinema was that of humanism and non-reason. These movies portrayed man as nothing more than a machine. They sought to extract any trace of emotion or humanity from the human being.

This idea is best noted in the movie “Blow Up” by Antonioni. ”Blow Up” is essentially a story about a photographer who thinks that he may have photographed a murder while casually snapping photos. He then “runs into” a mysterious woman who wants him to turn over the film to her. When he does not oblige, she shows up at his studio (without having known the address). The evidence (presumably of the murder) then disappears. The woman does a series of disappearing acts. The photographer returns to the park without his camera and finds the body, which then disappears itself. The film closes with a scene of mimes playing tennis.

Many people misunderstand the intentions of Antonioni in his making of this film. They perceive it to be an analysis of the fashion business in the 1960s. However, Antonioni’s purpose in making this film was to show to the world that everyone perceives reality in their own way and ultimately sees only what they want to see.

Directors pushing their worldview upon viewers are prevalent in today’s society as well. Many movies of today seem to say basically the same things as the movies of the 1960s, just less intelligently. Movies of today speak of guiltless crimes, sexual enjoyment without commitment, and senseless gross-out humor. Is this what our culture is? Do the leaders of media really believe this is where our culture is?

The answer is a resounding “yes” for both questions. This must be where our culture is – otherwise, movies like this would not be grossing upwards of $50 million on their opening three days. As we as a society even today (as in the 1960s) slip further into non-reason and self gratification, yet attempt to, at the same time, seek after optimism, we just slip further and further into the detachment of meaning from mankind.

As saddening as this might be to the Christian sector, there is little being done to counteract these worldviews. If cinema is used as a vehicle to express philosophies and worldviews, then why not try to harness it for the advancement of the Biblical worldview? A few people have put forth valiant efforts, yet none have really succeeded (save for Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ”, “Left Behind”, and “Facing the Giants”).

Maybe Christian producers lack the (monetary) resources to make “quality” films. This is not really the case however. Christian cinema lacks the following of the secular crowd. Why would the non-reasoning western culture want to see a movie that promotes morals, and a purpose for all of mankind? This would by no means be cool at all. Also, Christian movies are made, most of the time if not all of the time assuming that the viewer already has some sort of understanding of the basic principles of Christianity, which is not always the case. This leads to the question: Why are Christians making movies? Is the purpose merely to entertain ourselves? Or is it to evangelize the unsaved?

I would submit that if it were for the evangelizing of the unsaved, then we are doing a lousy job at it. How can we expect an unsaved person to understand something that is completely foreign to them?

Cinema as a vehicle for philosophy has been very successful. The films of today speak volumes about where society as a whole is today. This is troubling, and as long as humanist philosophy is played on the big screen, society will stay troubled. Society might not want to stay troubled though, if Christians can offer “quality” alternatives. These alternatives need not be preachy and evangelistic, but they can offer good morals and values with an appealing story.


Schaeffer, Francis A. “How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.” Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005.

Jawills. “A parable about the possible dehumanizing effects of photography.” IMDB. 19 May 2000. Accessed 2007.


Francis Schaeffer has written extensively on art and culture spanning the last 2000 years and here are some posts I have done on this subject before : Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 10 “Final Choices” episode 9 “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence”episode 8 “The Age of Fragmentation”episode 7 “The Age of Non-Reason” episode 6 “The Scientific Age” , episode 5 “The Revolutionary Age” episode 4 “The Reformation” episode 3 “The Renaissance”episode 2 “The Middle Ages,”, and  episode 1 “The Roman Age,” . My favorite episodes are number 7 and 8 since they deal with modern art and culture primarily.(Joe Carter rightly noted,Schaefferwho always claimed to be an evangelist and not a philosopher—was often criticized for the way his work oversimplified intellectual history and philosophy.” To those critics I say take a chill pill because Schaeffer was introducing millions into the fields of art and culture!!!! !!! More people need to read his works and blog about them because they show how people’s worldviews affect their lives!

J.I.PACKER WROTE OF SCHAEFFER, “His communicative style was not that of a cautious academic who labors for exhaustive coverage and dispassionate objectivity. It was rather that of an impassioned thinker who paints his vision of eternal truth in bold strokes and stark contrasts.Yet it is a fact that MANY YOUNG THINKERS AND ARTISTS…HAVE FOUND SCHAEFFER’S ANALYSES A LIFELINE TO SANITY WITHOUT WHICH THEY COULD NOT HAVE GONE ON LIVING.”

Francis Schaeffer’s works  are the basis for a large portion of my blog posts and they have stood the test of time. In fact, many people would say that many of the things he wrote in the 1960’s  were right on  in the sense he saw where our western society was heading and he knew that abortion, infanticide and youth enthansia were  moral boundaries we would be crossing  in the coming decades because of humanism and these are the discussions we are having now!)

There is evidence that points to the fact that the Bible is historically true as Schaeffer pointed out in episode 5 of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE HUMAN RACE? There is a basis then for faith in Christ alone for our eternal hope. This link shows how to do that.

Francis Schaeffer in Art and the Bible noted, “Many modern artists, it seems to me, have forgotten the value that art has in itself. Much modern art is far too intellectual to be great art. Many modern artists seem not to see the distinction between man and non-man, and it is a part of the lostness of modern man that they no longer see value in the work of art as a work of art.” 

Many modern artists are left in this point of desperation that Schaeffer points out and it reminds me of the despair that Solomon speaks of in Ecclesiastes.  Christian scholar Ravi Zacharias has noted, “The key to understanding the Book of Ecclesiastes is the term ‘under the sun.’ What that literally means is you lock God out of a closed system, and you are left with only this world of time plus chance plus matter.” THIS IS EXACT POINT SCHAEFFER SAYS SECULAR ARTISTS ARE PAINTING FROM TODAY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED ARE A RESULT OF MINDLESS CHANCE.


Francis Schaeffer below in his film series shows how this film was appealing to “nonreason” to answer our problems.

In the book HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? Schaeffer notes:

Especially in the sixties the major philosophic statements which received a wide hearing were made through films. These philosophic movies reached many more people than philosophic writings or even painting and literature. Among these films were THE LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD by Alain Resnais (1961), THE SILENCE by Ingmar Bergman (1967), JULIET OF THE SPIRITS by Federico Fellini (1965), BLOW UP by Michelangelo Antonioni (1966), BELLE DE JOUR by Luis Bunuel (1967), and THE HOUR OF THE WOLF by Ingmar Bergman (1967).

They showed pictorially (and with great force) what it is like if man is a machine and also what it is like if man tries to live in the area of non-reason. In the area of non-reason man is left without categories. He has no way to distinguish between right and wrong, or even between what is objectively true as opposed to illusion or fantasy….One could view these films a hundred times and there still would be no way to be sure what was portrayed as objectively true and what was part of a character’s imagination. if people begin only from themselves and really live in a universe in which there is no personal God to speak, they have no final way to be sure of the difference between reality and fantasy or illusion.

But Bergman (like Sartre, Camus, and all the rest) cannot really live with his own position. Therefore in The Silence the background music is Bach’s Goldberg Variations. When he was asked in the filmed interview about music, he said that there is a small holy part of the human being where music speaks. Bergman also said that while he was writing the script for the film SILENCE that he had the music of Bach’s Goldberg Variations playing in his home and the music interfered with that which was being set forth in that film.

A good example is Antonioni’s BLOW UP. The advertisement for the film read: “Murder without guilt, love without meaning.” Antonioni was portraying how, in the area non-reason, there are no certainties concerning moral values, and no human categories either. BLOW UP had no hero. Compare this with Michelangelo’s DAVID–that statement of humanist pride in the Renaissance. Man had set himself up as autonomous, but the end result was not Michelangelo’s DAVID, but Antonioni’s non-hero. All there is in the film is the camera which goes “click, click, click,” and the human has disappeared. The main character snaps pictures of individual things, particulars. One might point out, for example, the models he snaps: all their humanity and meaning are gone.

After a scene in which clowns play tennis without a ball, there is at the end of the film a reverse zoom shot in which the man who is the central character disappears entirely, and all that remains is the grass. Man is gone. Modern people, on their basis of reason, see themselves only as machines. but as they move into the area of non-reason and look for their optimism, they find themselves separated from reason and without any human or moral values (pp. 201-203)


Schaeffer noted:

How Do We Know We Know?
During the early stages of modern philosophy (as distinguished from medieval philosophy) – that is, around the seventeenth century in Europe – the question that was troubling philosophers was this: how do we know that we know?
The early modern scientists had made advances in the physical sciences by rejecting previous human authority. For example, they rejected much of what had been inherited from the science of the Middle Ages. At that time, investigation had been governed and restrained by the concepts of Aristotle. In the field of astronomy, this had meant that the Ptolemaic system held sway. Suddenly, observations were made which cast doubt on that entire system of understanding the heavenly bodies. The result was, of course, the Copernican revolution: the discovery that the sun does not move around the earth but, rather, the earth around the sun. Thus, a general attitude was developed toward the ideas which had prevailed till then. The scientists said, “We must not accept the ideas passed down to us or derived from various previous authorities. We must start from scratch and simply observe the world and see how it works. Otherwise, we may be hampered from seeing what is there.”
The early modern scientists did not, however, reject the knowledge that God gave in the Bible as they rejected previous human authority and opinion. For example. in Novum Organum (1620) Francis Bacon wrote: “To conclude, therefore, let no man out of weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill applied moderation, think or maintain that a man can search too far of be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works.”81 “The book of God’s word” is the Bible. “The book of God’s works” is the world which God has made.
Modern scientists in general lived, thought, and worked in the framework of rejecting human authority, while respecting what was taught in the Bible in regard to the cosmos – right up to the time of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The philosophers (and later the materialistic scientists) went further. Their error was to confuse the escape from past human authority (which was indeed confining) with putting man at the center and rejecting God’s authority as well. They wanted to reject all outside authority. They wanted to establish everything only on human observation. That was how the question of epistemology (how we know we know) became so important in modern philosophy. It has remained so right up to our own day.

The philosopher who first raised these questions was Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes wrote in Meditations on First Philosophy:
How often it happened to me that in the night I dreamt that I found myself on this particular place … whilst in reality I was lying on my bed! At this moment it does seem that it is with eyes awake that I am looking at this paper …. But in thinking over this I remind myself that on many occasions I have in sleep been deceived by similar illusions, and in dwelling carefully on this reflection I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep that I am lost in astonishment. And my astonishment is such that it is almost capable of persuading me that I now dream.82
Here is the modern epistemological problem expressed three centuries ago! All knowledge comes through the senses, but how can we rely on our own senses? Sometimes, as in dreaming, we seem to be experiencing things very really, yet the reality is only in our heads.

We are reminded of the 1966 film by Michelangelo Antonioni called Blow-Up, in which one of the central issues was this same question. A photographer had taken a picture of a murdered man in a park in London and then became uncertain whether this was, in fact, part of reality or an experience of fantasy similar to a drug trip. Within the humanist world-view there is no final way of telling. And Antonioni ends his film by making the point graphically. Tennis players play the game without a ball. The invisible “ball” goes back and forth and the spectators watch its “path” from side to side until finally the “ball” (which does not exist) goes out over the surrounding wire and “falls” at the photographer’s feet. He pauses for a moment, uncertain about what he should do. (Is observation simply a matter of the majority? Does the reality of things come from the general agreement in society and nothing more?) Then the photographer stoops down, picks up the “ball,” and throws it back onto the court. Here, depicted brilliantly, is the problem of any system which builds its epistemology on man alone. This film was a philosophic statement of the period in which we are living.

BLOW-UP (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966.) Tenis silencioso

Blow Up – Michelangelo Antonioni (Original Trailer)

Uploaded on Jul 7, 2008

Blow-up (1966)
Director:Michelangelo Antonioni
Writers:Michelangelo Antonioni (story)
and Julio Cortázar(short story)
Release Date:18 December 1966 (USA)
Brief Description: A mod London photographer believes that he has photographed a murder.

Julio Cortázar is an argentinian writer, of an incredible style, who made “Las babas del diablo”, from where the story was taken.

In this Film also The Yardbirds perform Stroll on, a stylish raging Mod song, a permited version of “Train Kept A-Rollin”. Originally, The Who were approached, but they declined, and then The In-Crowd had been planned but they were unable to attend the filming. The Yardbirds filled in at short notice, and the guitar that Beck smashes at the end of their set is a replica of Steve Howe’s instrument. Antonioni instructed Beck to smash his guitar in emulation of The Who’s Pete Townshend

In 1967 antonioni won the Golden Palm in Cannes for this film, and also the Critic’s Award in 1968 for Best Foreign Film.

The Cast:
Vanessa Redgrave – Jane
David Hemmings – Thomas
Sarah Miles – Patricia
John Castle – Bill
Jane Birkin – The Blonde
Gillian Hills – The Brunette
Peter Bowles – Ron
Veruschka von Lehndorff – Herself (as Verushka)
Julian Chagrin – Mime
Claude Chagrin – Mime

Bergman and Antonioni

Published on Aug 4, 2012

In this archived episode from the Movie Geeks United podcast, the hosts pay tribute to Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni days after their deaths on July 30, 2007 with guests Peter Burnett and NY Times writer Adam Bernstein.

For more information on Movie Geeks United, and to listen to our archive of over 600 filmmaker interviews, visit us at http://www.moviegeeksunited.net.

Blow-up – Antonioni (Yardbirds Scene)

Uploaded on Apr 26, 2009

Directed By Michelangelo Antonioni in (1966)

The Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) playing Stroll On 


I. Art As a Vehicle Of Modern Thought

A. Impressionism (Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas) and Post-Impressionism (Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat): appearance and reality.

1. Problem of reality in Impressionism: no universal.

2. Post-Impression seeks the universal behind appearances.

3. Painting expresses an idea in its own terms as a work of art; to discuss the idea in a painting is not to intellectualize art.

4. Parallel search for universal in art and philosophy; Cézanne.

B. Fragmentation.

1. Extremes of ultra-naturalism or abstraction: Wassily Kandinsky.

2. Picasso leads choice for abstraction: relevance of this choice.

3. Failure of Picasso (like Sartre, and for similar reasons) to be fully consistent with his choice.

C. Retreat to absurdity.

1. Dada , and Marcel Duchamp: art as absurd. (Dada gave birth to Surrealism).

2. Art followed philosophy but came sooner to logical end.

3. Chance in his art technique as an art theory impossible to practice: Pollock.

II. Music As a Vehicle of Modern Thought

A. Non-resolution and fragmentation: German and French streams.

1. Influence of Beethoven’s last Quartets.

2. Direction and influence of Debussy.

3. Schoenberg’s non-resolution; contrast with Bach.

4. Stockhausen: electronic music and concern with the element of change.

B. Cage: a case study in confusion.

1. Deliberate chance and confusion in Cage’s music.

2. Cage’s inability to live the philosophy of his music.

C. Contrast of music-by-chance and the world around us.

1. Inconsistency of indulging in expression of chaos when we acknowledge order for practical matters like airplane design.

2. Art as anti-art when it is mere intellectual statement, divorced from reality of who people are and the fullness of what the universe is.

III. General Culture As the Vehicle of Modern Thought

A. Propagation of idea of fragmentation in literature.

1. Effect of Eliot’s Wasteland and Picasso’s Demoiselles d’ Avignon

compared; the drift of general culture.

2. Eliot’s change in his form of writing when he became a Christian.

3. Philosophic popularization by novel: Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir.

B. Cinema as advanced medium of philosophy.

1. Cinema in the 1960s used to express Man’s destruction: e.g. Blow-up.

2. Cinema and the leap into fantasy:


The Hour of the WolfBelle de JourJuliet of the Spirits,

The Last Year at Marienbad and Blow Up. 

3. Bergman’s inability to live out his philosophy (see Cage):

Silence and The Hour of the Wolf.

IV. Only on Christian Base Can Reality Be Faced Squarely


Featured artist is Nancy Holt

Understanding contemporary art


Nancy Holt’s work is highlighted at the 9:30 point in the film above.

Nancy Holt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Nancy Holt
Born April 5, 1938 (age 75)
Worcester, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Field Sculpture, photography, film, writing
Movement Environmental art and land art

Nancy Holt visiting her work, Up and Under, in Nokia town in Finland

Nancy Holt (born April 1938) is an American artist famous for her public sculpture, installation art and land art. Throughout her career, Holt has also produced works in other mediums, including film, photography, and writing artist’s books.


Nancy Holt was born in Worchester, Massachusetts. She spent a great deal of her childhood in New Jersey.[1] She was educated at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.[1] Three years after graduating, she married fellow environmental artist Robert Smithson in 1963. Holt began her artistic career as a photographer and as a video artist. This involvement with photography and camera optics are thought to have influenced her later earthworks, which are “literally seeing devices, fixed points for tracking the positions of the sun, earth and stars.”[2] Today Holt is most widely known for her large-scale environmental works, Sun Tunnels and Dark Star Park. However, she has created site and time-specific environmental works in public places all over the world. Holt has contributed to various publications, which have featured both her written articles and photographs. She has also authored several books. Holt has received five National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, New York Creative Artist Fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.[1] Holt along with Beverly Pepper is a recipient of the International Sculpture Center‘s 2013 Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award. She currently works and resides in Galisteo, New Mexico.[3]

Artistic Style

The Land Art Tradition

Holt is associated with earthworks or land art. Land art emerged in the 1960s, coinciding with a growing ecology movement in the United States, which asked people to become more aware of the negative impact they can have on the natural environment. Land art changed the way people thought of art; it took art out of the gallery or museum and into the natural landscape, the product of which were huge works engaging elements of the environment. Unlike much of the commercialized art during this time period, land art could not be bought or sold on the art market. Thus, it shifted the perspective of how people all over the world viewed art.

Land art was typically created in remote, uninhabited regions of the country, particularly the Southwest. Some attribute this popular location for land art to artists’ need to escape the turmoil in the United States during the 1960s and 70s by turning to the open, uncorrupted land of the West.[2] Holt believes this artistic movement came about in the United States due to the vastness of the American landscape.[4] As a result of earthworks not being easily accessible to the public, documentation in photographs, videos, drawings became imperative to their being seen. The first exhibit of contemporary land art was at the Virginia Dwan Gallery in New York in 1968.[5] Other earth artists who emerged during this time include Robert Smithson, James Turrell, Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Dennis Oppenheim and Peter Hutchinson.

Perception of Time and Space

Holt’s works of art often deal with issues of how people perceive time and space. The various monumental works she has created blend with and complement their environment. Works such as Hydra’s Head do not merely sit in their environments, but are made of the land, stand on it and are created to be harmonious with the land. The pools in this work are at the top of concrete tubes imbedded in the ground. The land already at the site surrounds these pools. They reflect the natural landscape, while not disturbing it. Holt thinks about human scale in relation to the work she creates.[6] People can interact with the works and become more aware of space, of their own visual perception, and of the order of the universe.[6] Holt’s works incorporate the passage of time and also function to keep time. For example, Annual Ring functions so that when sunlight falls through the hole in the dome and fits perfectly into a ring on the ground, it is solar noon on the summer solstice.[6] At different times, the sun falls differently on the work and other holes in the dome align with celestial occurrences. Holt has said that she is concerned with making art that not only makes an impact visually, but is also functional and necessary in society,[7] as seen in works like Sky Mound, which serves a dual function as a sculpture and park and it also generates alternative energy.

In her works, Holt creates an intimate connection to nature and the stars, saying, “I feel that the need to look at the sky-at the moon and the stars-is very basic, and it is inside all of us. So when I say my work is an exteriorization of my own inner reality, I mean I am giving back to people through art what they already have in them.”[6] In other words, Holt is saying that people have within them a basic need to observe the sky and through her works she wants to highlight and make people aware of that need.


Collaboration with architects, engineers, construction crews, and the like is an essential part of creating land art. Solar Rotary is a work located on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. The work, consists of 20 ft (6.1 m). aluminum poles topped with a swirl of metal called a shadow caster, which casts a circle of light on a central seat when it is solar noon on the day of the summer solstice. On five days a year at different times, the shadow caster is designed to create a circle of light around plaques placed in the ground that mark important events in Florida’s history.[8] Thus, for Solar Rotary, Holt employed Dr. Jack Robinson, an archaeo-astronomer and professor to help her, among other things, to plot the sun’s coordinates for the work.[8] For almost all of Holt’s works, she has had some collaboration. For Dark Star Park, Holt coordinated with developer J.W. Kaempfer, Jr., of the Kaempfer Company, in integrating the design of his adjacent building, Park Place Office Building into her design for the park. She also worked in collaboration with an architect, landscape architect, engineers, and real estate developers on the work.[9] For Rock Rings, Holt searched far and wide to find the right masons to work on the piece and also had local stone called schist, which was 250-million-years old, quarried by hand for the work.[6] Despite all of the collaboration, Holt notes that she is always present for the construction of her artworks.[6] on June 2012, she completed Avignons Locators, her first site-specific work made in France on the basis of the Missoula Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed (1972). This work, currently under finishing process,[10] involved a team of academics, teachers and students, but also an astrophysist, a surveyor, a metalworker and an architect.[11]

Analysis of Major Works

Sun Tunnels

Sun Tunnels in Lucin, Utah.

Sun Tunnels is located in the Great Basin Desert outside of the ghost town of Lucin, Utah. The work is a product of Holt’s interest in the great variation of intensity of the sun in the desert compared to the sun in the city.[6] Holt searched for and found a site which was remote and empty.

“It is a very desolate area, but it is totally accessible, and it can be easily visited, making Sun Tunnels more accessible really than art in museums . . . A work like Sun Tunnels is always accessible . . . Eventually, as many people will see Sun Tunnels as would see many works in a city-in a museum anyway.”[6]

The work consists of four massive concrete tunnels (18 feet long and nine feet in diameter), which are arranged in an “X” configuration to total a length of 86 feet (26 m). Each tunnel reacts differently to the sun, aligned with the sunrise, sunset, of the summer or winter solstice. Someone visiting the site would see the tunnels immediately with their contrast to the fairly undifferentiated desert landscape. Approaching the work, which can be seen one to one-and-a-half miles away, the viewer’s perception of space is questioned as the tunnels change views as a product of their landscape.[12]

The tunnels not only provide a much-needed shelter from the sweltering desert sun, but once inside the dazzling effect of the play of light within the tunnels can be seen. The top of each tunnel has small holes, forming on each, the constellations of Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn, respectively.[6] The diameters of the holes differ in relation to the magnitude of the stars represented.[6] These holes cast spots of daylight in the dark interiors of the tunnels, which appear almost like stars. Holt has said of the tunnels, “It’s an inversion of the sky/ground relationship-bringing the sky down to the earth.”[6] This is a common theme in Holt’s work. She sometimes creates this relationship with reflecting pools and shadow patterns marked on the ground, like in her work Star Crossed.[6]

Dark Star Park in Rosslyn, Virginia.

Dark Star Park

Dark Star Park was commissioned by Arlington County, Virginia in 1979, in conjunction with an urban-renewal project.[7] Construction of the work began in 1984. Holt worked with an architect, landscape architect, engineers, and real estate developers on the project.[7] The artwork is at once a park and a sculpture. Built on two-thirds of an acre of land where a run-down, old gas station and warehouse once stood, Holt transformed the space.[7] The park consists of five spheres, two pools, four steel poles, a stairway, a large tunnel for passage, a smaller tunnel for viewing only and plantings of crown vetch, winter creeper, willow oak, and earth and grass.[13]

The forms stand in stark contrast to the busy and highly developed commercial area that surrounds the space. There are places to walk and sit within the park, giving a passersby a chance to escape from the urban environment. Dark Star Park is more socially interactive than Holt’s other works. Holt paid attention to how people both inside and outside the park would see the spheres. The work alters the viewer’s perception by using curvilinear forms, such as the walkways that mimic the curving roads surrounding the site. Walking in the park or driving by it, viewers may mistake spheres of different sizes to actually be the same size or one sphere may eclipse another. The tunneled passages into the park frame certain sculptural elements, as do the reflections in the pools. However, Holt has made sure not to alienate the park entirely from its surroundings. The spheres are made of gunite (a sprayable mixture of cement and sand), asphalt, precast concrete tunnels, steel poles and stone masonry.[7] These materials relate the park to the buildings located near the artwork.

The work explores the concept of time and our relationship to the universe. When approaching one of the spheres, a visitor to the park might be reminded of the lunar surface[13] or when glancing at the quiet pools of water around the spheres, may relate them to craters.[7] This is no coincidence. Holt has a fascination with solar eclipses, as well as in the shadows cast by the sun on the surface of the earth[13] and the name of the park is a reference to the astronomical appearance of the large spheres that are its most distinct features. In speaking about the name Holt has said, “It’s called Dark Star Park because in my imagination these spheres are like stars that have fallen to the ground-they no longer shine-so I think of the park/artwork in a somewhat celestial way.”[6] By engaging the viewer with these spheres and the other elements surrounding them in the park, Holt brings the vast scale of nature and the cosmos back to human scale. Time is also a major part of this work. Once a year on August 1 at 9:32 am, the shadows cast by two of the spheres and their four adjacent poles align with permanent asphalt shadow patterns outlined on the ground.[7] This date was selected by the artist to commemorate the day in 1860 when William Ross bought the land that today is Rosslyn, Virginia, where the park is situated.[7]

Holt took on the challenging task of playing many roles in the park’s creation, becoming at once an artist, landscape designer, and committee member for approving plans for a nearby building. To take on all three roles possibly had never been done before by an artist, thus the park and its designer remain important to the history of art.

“I was the landscape designer as well as the sculptor, so the whole park became a work of art. And I was on the committee to approve the architectural design of the building adjacent to the park. I don’t think either of these situations ever happened before for an artist, so that was unusual, and it broke new ground for public art.”[6]

The work was surveyed in June 1995. At that time “treatment was needed.”.[9] Thus, seven years later, when the park was finally restored in 2002 it was long overdue.

Sky Mound

Located in Northern New Jersey, Sky Mound sits where a 57-acre (230,000 m2), 100-foot (30 m)-high landfill once stood.[14] The state’s Hackensack Meadowland Development Commission (HMDC) asked Holt to reclaim the site in an effort to provide an environmentally safe spot for plant and animal life to reside and for humans to enjoy.[15]

Still unfinished in April 2008, the landfill is to be turned into an earth sculpture and public park. The landfill has been covered with grass. Ten mounds stand upon the site, as well as steel poles, plants, and a pond, designed for the approximately 250 species of migratory birds that visit the area seasonally.[15] There will eventually be wind indicators and gravel paths. On several astronomically significant dates each year, the work will provide its viewer with unique views of the sun, moon, and several stars.

In addition, a series of arcing pipes will go down into the landfill, recovering methane from the 10 million tons of garbage below.[14] This will provide an alternative source of energy for those in the community.

Sky Mound’s location makes it visible and accessible to many people. Holt believes the work will increase awareness of the complex problem of how we dispose of our waste and trash.[14] It also raises questions about the sun, as every ecosystem depends on the sun and its energy for survival.[16] In 1991, funding on Sky Mound was stopped to perform a technological study at the site; currently construction remains postponed.[17]


Holt has also made a number of films and videos since the late 1960s, including Mono Lake (1968) (also with artist Michael Heizer), East Coast, West Coast (1969), Swamp (1971) (in collaboration with her late husband Robert Smithson[18]) and Breaking ground: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill, a video “guided by Smithson’s film notes and drawings”[19] and completed forty years on. Points of View: Clocktower (1974) features conversations between Lucy Lippard and Richard Serra, Liza Bear and Klaus Kertess, Carl Andre and Ruth Kligman and Bruce Brice and Tina Girouard.[20] In 1978, she produced a 16mm color film documenting the seminal work Sun Tunnels.

Selected Artworks

  • Missoula Ranch Locators: Vision Encompassed (1972, dismantled), Missoula, Montana
  • Sun Tunnels (1973–76), Great Basin Desert, Utah
  • Hydra’s Head (1974), Artpark, Lewiston, New York
  • Rock Rings (1977–78), Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington

    Rock Rings in Bellingham, Washington.

  • 30 Below (1979), Lake Placid, New York
  • Wild Spot (1979–1980), Wellesley, Massachusetts
  • Star-Crossed (1979–81), Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
  • Dark Star Park (1979–1984), Rosslyn, Virginia
  • Annual Ring (1980–81), Federal Building, Saginaw, Michigan
  • Time Span (1981), Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas
  • Catch Basin (1982), St. James Park Toronto, Canada
  • Electrical System II (1982), Bellman Circuit, Toronto, Canada
  • Sole Source (1983), Dublin, Ireland
  • End of the Line/West Rock (1985), Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Astral Grating (1987), Fulton Street/Broadway-Nassau Subway Station, New York. Commissioned by Metropolitan Transportation Authority Arts for Transit
  • Skymound (1988–Present), Hackensack, New Jersey
  • Ventilation IV: Hampton Air (1992), Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York
  • Solar Rotary (1995), University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
  • Up and Under (1998), Town of Nokia, Finland
  • Avignon Locators (June 2012), Sainte-Marthe Campus, Avignon, France (international conference)

Selected Solo Exhibitions

  • 1972 Art Gallery, University of Montana, Missoula Montana
  • 1972 Art Center, University of Rhode Island, Kingston
  • 1977 “Young American Filmmakers’ Series,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
  • 1985 Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, California
  • 1989 Montpellier Cultural Arts Center, Laurel, Maryland
  • 1993 John Weber Gallery, New York, New York
  • 2010 “Sightlines” Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Gallery, New York, New York
  • 2012 “Sightlines” Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts (e-press release)

Selected Group Exhibitions

  • 1969 “Language III,” Dwan Gallery, New York, New York
  • 1972 “International Art Exhibition,” Pamplona, Spain
  • 1974 “Intervention in the Landscape,” Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
  • 1977 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
  • 1981 “Summer Light,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
  • 1983 “Monuments and Landscapes: The New Public Art,” McIntosh/Drysdale Gallery, Houston, Texas
  • 1985 “Artist as Social Designer,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California
  • 1989 “Making Their Mark,” Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana; Denver Art Museum, Denver Colorado; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1998 Wiener Kunstverein, Vienna, Austria
  • 1999 “After Image: Drawing Through Process,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California
  • 2007 “Cosmologies” James Cohan Gallery, New York City, New York


External links


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