Ring of Flint, 1996
Richard Long, British, born 1945
240 in. diameter (609.6 cm)
Museum purchase funded by The Brown Foundation, Inc.
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
Ring of Flint
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Born in Bristol, England, in 1945, Richard Long formed a lasting connection to nature and to the English landscape, in particular, while walking out on the moors near his hometown and going on holidays with his parents. Long began his artistic training at West of England College of Art in Bristol (1962–65). From 1966 to 1968 he studied in London at St. Martin’s School of Art where he and such artists as Hamish Fulton and Jan Dibbets were redefining sculpture in England. During this time he began making a new kind of art called “Land Art,” which focused on his relationship with nature and the documentation of this interaction. The first of such works was A Line Made by Walking, which he created in 1967. In the 1970s Long made works of art inspired by his hikes through various regions of the world, such as the deserts of Africa and the mountains of Peru. He documented his work through writings, photographs, maps, and drawings, displaying them in galleries as a way of bringing his art and ideas to the public. Long also used indoor installations to document his experiences. In a gallery setting, Long would create works using rocks, stone, wood, and even a paint-like medium that simulated mud. Long’s work is seen by many as a continuation of the tradition of English landscape painting, while at the same time it takes sculpture in new directions conceptually and aesthetically. In 1976 Long was chosen to represent Great Britain at the prestigious Venice Biennale. In 1989 he was awarded the Turner prize by the Tate Gallery, London. He made Ring of Flint in 1996 for the show Circles, Cycles, Mud, Stones at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.
Long’s work is a direct reaction to nature and to his own relationship with nature. He creates formations out of natural objects such as stones and sticks. As part of his sculpting process, he also alters nature by dripping water on rocks or creating lines as he walks across the ground. He then documents this work through writings and photographs. Ring of Flint is an extension of Long’s outdoor work into the traditional space of the art gallery. Long makes geometric arrangements out of natural materials that he gathers from a specific area and that have a historical or personal significance: the English flint used for Ring of Flint recalls the first human interactions with nature to make tools. Their placement in a circle recalls the Celts and druids whose stone circles can still be found across the British countryside. In both his outdoor work and his gallery installations, Long uses simple, untouched natural materials, arranging them in a way that asserts his presence but does not detract from their natural beauty or power. The impermanence of his work is something that he accepts as natural and important: he is not interested in asserting human power over nature, but rather in affirming his place in the natural world. His art is powerful in its simplicity and passivity; it is indirect evidence of Long’s experience and not a direct confrontation with it.
Long has been associated with the minimalist artists for his use of simple forms and with earthwork artists who create monumental installations in natural settings. But Long’s use of geometric forms is done with a historical hindsight, and his interaction with nature is done using and responding to nature on a human scale as opposed to interfering with nature on a monumental scale. His philosophy stems from the movements in the 1960s and 1970s that emphasized the importance of nature, of humanity’s place in the natural world, and of having\ respect for that world.
- What does this piece make you think of? Are there any other artworks you’ve seen that are like this? What about other things that aren’t artworks?
- What are the different ways that Long could have gone about finding and building this piece?
- Imagine this work in many different places, like your classroom, your kitchen, the forest, or the beach. How would it interact with that environment and the people in it? How would it interact with the gallery space?
- What would this piece be like if it was made out of any other material? (Steel? Plastic? Fabric? Paint?) Why do you think Long chose this material?
- Because this is an installation and not a sculpture, it has to be disassembled each time it is moved from gallery to gallery. Do you think this work belongs in a gallery? Why or why not?
- Show a picture of a prehistoric stone circle in or near the British Isles. How does this compare to Long’s Ring of Flint?
- Long’s characteristic work is always defined in relation to nature. What do you think he is trying to say about nature here?
• Discuss the physical properties of flint, its uses historically and today, and the differences between English flint and the flint found in other parts of the world. Why do you think Long chose to create his sculpture out of flint? What other materials might Long have used that would recall history?
• Discuss the significance of circles, especially their religious significance in ancient Britain and in other cultures. Why do you think Long chose the circular form for so many of his sculptures? What do circles signify in both Eastern and Western cultures?
• View an English landscape painting by Thomas Gainsborough. Compare it to Ring of Flint. What do these two works of art have in common? Why do you think some historians consider Long’ s work a continuation of English landscape painting?
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The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
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All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.