This resource explores how contemporary artists have combined text and art to create sculptures for outdoor settings. It starts by focusing on the 'poem objects' created by Ian Hamilton Finlay and goes on to look at sculptures made for the route of the Corbenic Poetry Walk in Perthshire, Scotland.
The resource supports interdisciplinary study across art and design (expressive arts) and English and literacy and provides suggestions for:
responding creatively to nature and the landscape through art and writing
exploring and analysing the work of contemporary artists
experimenting with language and poetry
developing an artwork for an outdoor setting
The resource offers a series of activities that can be used together as a lesson plan or as individual components to integrate into your own scheme of work. It is written for Level 3 / Key Stage 3 students but some of the activities may suit Level 2 / Key Stage 2.
Art and design - Produce creative work, explore ideas - Become proficient in sculpture and design techniques - Evaluate and analyse creative works - Know about great artists and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms
English Reading - Understand increasingly challenging texts through knowing the purpose, audience for and context of the writing and drawing on this knowledge to support comprehension Writing - write accurately, fluently, effectively stories, scripts, poetry and other imaginative writing Spoken English - Expressing their own ideas and keeping to the point - Participating in formal debates and structured discussions, summarising and/or building on what has been said
Art and design - Researching, gathering and interpreting information from digital sources - Developing creative thinking skills and personal creative outcomes through investigating, realising, designing and making
Language and literacy Through engagement with a range of stimuli including peers, poetry, prose, drama, non-fiction, media and multimedia which enhance creativity and stimulate curiosity and imagination, pupils should have opportunities to become critical, creative and effective communicators by: - expressing meaning, feelings and viewpoints - talking to include debate and group discussions - listening actively and reporting back - reading and viewing for key ideas, enjoyment, engagement and empathy - writing and presenting in different media and for different audiences and purposes
Expressive arts - I have experimented with a range of media and technologies to create images and objects, using my understanding of their properties (EXA 3-02a) - While working through a design process in response to a design brief, I can develop and communicate imaginative design solutions (EXA 3-06a) - I can respond to the work of artists and designers by discussing my thoughts and feelings. I can give and accept constructive comments on my own and others' work (EXA 3-07a) - By working through a design process in response to a design brief, I can develop and communicate imaginative and original design solutions (EXA 4-06a)
Literacy and English - When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can: communicate information, ideas or opinions; explain processes, concepts or ideas; identify issues raised, summarise findings or draw conclusions (LIT 3-09a) - I enjoy creating texts of my choice and I am developing my own style. I can regularly select subject, purpose, format and resources to suit the needs of my audience (LIT 3-20a) - I can consider the impact that layout and presentation will have on my reader, selecting and using a variety of features appropriate to purpose and audience (LIT 3-24a) - I can engage and/or influence readers through my use of language, style and tone as appropriate to the genre (ENG 3-27a) - I can recreate a convincing impression of a personal experience for my reader, sharing my feelings and reactions to the changing circumstances with some attempt at reflection (ENG 3-30a)
Art and design - Students use their knowledge about the work of other artists to enrich and inform their work - Students explore, experiment with and apply the visual, tactile and sensory language of art
English Oracy - Respond orally to continuous and non-continuous texts - Respond orally to a variety of stimuli and ideas, including written and dynamic texts, e.g. paintings, music, film, still and moving image - Communicate for a range of purposes, e.g. recount and present information, instruct, argue and explain a point of view, discuss an issue, persuade, question and explore interpretations, convey feelings - Speak and listen individually, in pairs, in groups and as members of a class
Reading Learners should be given opportunities to read a wide range of continuous and non-continuous texts, in printed and dynamic format, as a basis for oral and written responses. These should include: - Traditional and contemporary poetry and prose–classic children's fiction and poetry - Texts with a variety of structures, forms, purposes, intended audiences and presentational devices - Texts that present challenge - Develop appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, poets, peers, in written and dynamic texts
Writing - Produce poetic writing, using imagery and poetic devices, e.g. rhyme and form - Use a wide range of written and dynamic stimuli, e.g. stories, picture books, images, poems, experiences, film, paintings, music
Ian Hamilton Finlay's poem objects
Scottish poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) often combined objects and text to explore a range of subjects from history and philosophy to nature and our relationship with it.
He became interested in the visual form of words in the early 1960s and began to write concrete poetry – a form of poetry in which the words are arranged in such a way that helps convey their effect and meaning.
He later took the idea of words having a physical presence to a new level by developing 'poem objects'. He carved his poems – which were sometimes short phrases or single words – into stone or onto plaques or made three-dimensional versions of words themselves so that they became objects, such as Drift (1968).
The word drift suggests drifting at sea. By wrapping the text in a fishing net Ian Hamilton Finlay emphasises the maritime reference. But the net also seems to undermine the meaning of the word by implying that the text is somehow caught and is no longer able to drift.
Hamilton Finlay also added text to objects. By juxtaposing text with, often ordinary or unlikely, objects he makes us think about and question the meaning of the words as well as the function of the object and its relationship to the words.
Art and landscape – Little Sparta
Ian Hamilton Finlay often placed his poem objects into landscape settings.
In 1966 he began to create a garden, called Little Sparta, at his home in the Pentland Hills in Southern Scotland. The garden combined his love of nature and his interest in giving visual form to ideas and words.
Do you think that seeing the artworks outside in a natural environment would be very different from seeing them in a gallery? Why?
Activity: explore Beehives
Beehives 2009 is an artwork that Ian Hamilton Finlay made for contemporary sculpture park Jupiter Artland in Scotland.
Five traditional beehives are carved with text. The text reads:
BEES; they lightly skim; and gently sip; the dimply river's brim; BOATS
Hamilton Finlay created the beehives in response to the pastoral atmosphere of Jupiter Artland's landscape, in particular the woodland and wildflower meadow.
Ask your students to look at these images of Beehives and discuss as a class their responses to the artwork. (Visit the artwork page on Art UK to see more views of it.)
Use the following questions as prompts if helpful.
What do you think the words on the beehives are about?
What do they make you think of, and feel?
Does adding the words to the beehives change how you see the hives?
Does splitting the text across the five beehives make you read it differently?
Would you respond to the words differently if you saw them on a page?
Why do you think Finlay has included the word BOAT on the last beehive?
The words on the beehives suggest the movement and activity of the bees as they buzz around the wildflowers of the meadow sipping pollen. They also conjure up an image of summer days and the pastoral beauty of the landscape.
By adding the words to the beehives Hamilton Finlay changes the hives from being simply functional objects into something we contemplate. Splitting the words across the beehives perhaps echoes the flitting movement of the bees. It also makes us dwell on the words more as we read them strung out across the five surfaces.
If the words were on a page they would still be beautiful and suggest nature and the movement of the bees, but by placing the words within nature they become even more meaningful and evocative.
Hamilton Finlay often juxtaposed very different words or objects to make us think about words and their meaning. The word BOAT could be a continuous train of thought from the previous text that relates to the river. Finlay was also perhaps suggesting that the bees are like little boats picking up and dropping off their cargo of pollen. Or the word might refer to the beehives themselves, and their wooden structures appearing like boats among the sea of meadow grass surrounding them. Whatever the meaning, by adding BOAT to the end of the poem, Finlay makes us think about the word and what it might mean!
More poems in the landscape: the Corbenic Poetry Path
In the Perthshire countryside, there is a whole poetry path that has poem artworks placed along its route.
Use the links below to find out more about the Poetry Path and see images of the artworks.
Explore the following artworks from the Corbenic Poetry Path with your students.
Encourage them to discuss their first impressions of the artworks and also to analyse the artworks more deeply, thinking about the materials and techniques the artists have used and how the landscape setting affects how the artworks appear.
Hope by Geza Sallai (b.1967)
Ask your students to describe the sculpture and to discuss their responses to it. Use these prompt questions if helpful:
What are your first impressions of the sculpture? Do you like it?
What would you feel or think if you saw it while out walking?
Do you think it is a positive sculpture?
Do the letters look fragile or strong?
What do you think the letters are made from?
Hope is a positive word, but the letters look fragile, perhaps suggesting that hope needs to be looked after so it doesn't get broken.
The sculpture is made from bronze letters cast from tree bark. So although it looks fragile, the letters are strong.
The sculpture is manmade from metal, and we don't usually expect to see words in the countryside! But because the artist made the shapes of the letters from a natural material the organic shapes and textures blend into the environment.
Forest by Martin Reilly (b.1958) and Angus Martin (b.1952)
Here is another poem sculpture from The Corbenic Poetry walk. The artists have taken a very different approach to combining poetry and sculpture.
Look at the images showing the artwork and its details with your students.
Detail of 'Forest'
Detail of 'Forest'
A poem, conventionally written on a page, is suspended in a circular hole in a wall of logs. The paper that the poem is written on is waxed to protect it from the weather. A chair invites us to take a seat in front of the poem – similar to the way we might sit in a gallery and look at an artwork.
The poem is about a woodcutter and his relationship with wood. Here are three verses from the poem.
Since I lately came to live
in an old house with a fire in it
Wood has got into my vision
I am a Scottish wood-cutter
I belong to a great tradition
Of bleeding hands and thick coats
Wood accumulates about me;
I build it into piles
I bag it and I log it.
Artwork discussion thoughts
How would you interact with this artwork if you came across it on the Poetry Walk? Would you expect to see a poem written on paper? Would you sit in the chair? Would you go up close and read the poem?
Why do you think the artist has put the poem in this wall of logs?
Do you think that seeing the poem in the landscape surrounded by logs would make you understand the words and feelings of the poem more?
Activity: create poem objects for an outdoor setting
Task your students with creating a poem object for an outdoor setting. If your school is in a rural location, the setting could be nearby countryside. If your school is in an urban location, use a local park or the grounds around your school as your setting.
(You could even task your class with making a collaborative mini poetry walk.)
Step 1: starting points
You will need:
A notepad and pen or pencil
A camera or phone with a camera
A paper viewing frame (optional)
Go out outside into your chosen landscape, park or school grounds.
Spend a few moments looking at what you can see and experiencing the aspects of nature around you. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear. Breathe deeply – what does the air smell and feel like?
Write down words that come into your head – these could be about the colours, the shapes or textures that you see, or the sounds you hear. You could also write about how the landscape makes you feel. These words don't have to be a poem and can be a random set of words or ideas.
It might help to focus on landscape details by making a viewing frame and looking at the landscape through this. Respond to what you see in the frame.
You could also sketch or photograph details that you want to remember.
Step 2: write your poem
Back in the classroom, use your words, sketches and photographs to create a poem.
The poem doesn't have to be long (and doesn't have to rhyme). It could be a haiku, a simple group of words (or even a single word if there is a particular word that you feel expresses your responses to the landscape).
Step 3: make your poem object
Inspired by the Corbenic Poetry Path artworks, think of different ways that you could make your poem into an object.
Write the poem on paper and attach it to an object in the landscape. (Hang it from a tree, suspend it in the branches of a bush or attach it to a fence.) Photograph your artwork so that you have a record of it. (Don't forget to take it away once you have recorded the artwork or your mini exhibition is over so as not to litter the environment!)
You could also paint or screenprint your text onto large sheets of paper or fabric and make banners or placards for your landscape setting.
If the poem is very short – or a single word – use twigs, leaves or other natural objects to shape the word. You could place your word(s) on the ground or bend twigs to form the words and bind them together with string. Or form words from tin foil and place these in the landscape. (Be sure to remove any non-biodegradable materials after you have photographed your artwork.)
Paint your words on pebbles, or use chalks to write them onto stones.
How about using your poem for a performance piece? Read the poems in the landscape and video the performances. How does the landscape setting change how you respond to the words?
If you are teaching older students and have access to woodworking or metalworking facilities you could consider creating a more permanent artwork with your students. The text could be shaped from metal or carved into wooden posts or plaques.
You could also plan a more ambitious installation incorporating other elements, as artists Martin Reilly and Angus Martin have done with Forest.
Ian Hamilton Finlay often referenced politics in his work.
Geza Sallai suggests a fragile sense of hope with the single word of her sculpture Hope formed from the curled shapes of bark.
Students could use their poem objects to address an issue such as ecology or climate change.
How is your local environment affected by pollution?
Imagine how your local environment might look in the future if the use of fossil fuels isn't restricted and climate change has an even bigger impact?
How can you use the power of poetry to effect change?