Land art is a form of art which involves using physical landscapes to create art, forcing people to view the art in context, and taking the provenance of art out of the museum and into the outside world. People have been creating works of art with landscapes for centuries, but the modern land art movement really got going in the 1960s, when American artists began creating land works on a large scale. Today, works of modern land art can be seen all over the world, sometimes right alongside much older pieces of land art created by people who lived thousands of years ago.
This type of art is sometimes referred to as Earth art or Earthworks, and it can take a number of forms. For example, the Spiral Jetty, a famous piece of land art created in 1970 in the Great Salt Lake, is made with a collection of stones, salt, and mud. The artist, Robert Smithson, sculpted a large jetty in a spiral shape which protrudes into the waters of the lake. The Spiral Jetty is not designed to be used in a practical sense, but rather to be admired.
Reshaping the landscape is a common feature of land art, as in the case of artworks which are created by carving into the landscape and moving components around. People can also add things to the environment to create land art, ranging from imported stones to structures made with regionally available material. It is also possible to landscape installations with the use of plants. In all cases land artwork is immovable, but not necessarily unchangeable.
In fact, one of the major distinctions between this type of art and most of the art one sees in the museum is that land art is designed to evolve, change, and eventually decay. Some works of art are quite ephemeral, persisting only for a few hours or days, while others are deliberately exposed to erosion and wind so that they become distorted over time. The evolution of the Earthwork is part of the appeal, in the eyes of the artist.
Many artists meticulously document the creation process with photographs and videos so that a record of their land artwork endures. Especially in the case of remote art installations, such records can be vital, because they allow people to see the art without having to travel. In other cases, the ephemeral nature of the art is part of the point, and no documentation will be made, forcing people to travel to the art if they want to see it. Some artists feel that physical interaction with land installations is an important part of the viewing process, and sometimes visitors are even invited to contribute to the art in some way.