The impact of wealth and materialism on human life is very significant, if not to say, determinant in the life of the contemporary society. At the same time, people become more and more distant from traditional humanistic values and from nature, which they comprise an integral part of. In fact, people forget that they comprise just a part of nature and, in search of wealth and well-being, they forget about everything and reject traditional values as well as universal values. On the other hand, many artists, such as Andy Goldsworthy and John James Audubon attempt to remind people about the wild nature, which is still powerful and beautiful, although people, with their strife for wealth often forget about it and turn into predators pursuing wealth, regardless of their basic needs and environmental concerns. At this point, it is possible to refer to such works as Andy Goldsworthy River Rock Finished with Gold Leaf and John James Audubon Golden Eagle. These works are the manifestation of the views of the artists on the impact of materialism and wealth on the life of people as being contrast to the wild nature in its virgin beauty.
Andy Goldsworthy’s River Rock Finished with Gold Leaf is a remarkable work, which shows symbolically the wide gap between the wild nature and pursue of wealth by humans. The artist places the gold rock just in the middle of the mountain river. The gold rock seems to be just out of place because it contrast to balanced and beautiful nature and the rock does not fit its environment. The gold rock looks like something abnormal in the wild nature and the artist stresses this fact through placing the rock just in the middle of the river. In such a way, Andy Goldsworthy shows that the gold does not fit the natural environment.
At the same time, the wild nature looks even more beautiful than the gold rock in the middle of the river. The harmony and balance dominate over the wild nature. Trees surrounding the river seem to covering it with their leaves. Remarkably, some leaves of the trees are already yellow-gold, which implies the natural richness and beauty of the wild nature as contrast to the apparently artificial, human made gold rock in the middle of the river. The river, in its turn, is running steadily around the rock and its water is steadily destroying the rock. In such a way, the gold rock seems to be just one of many rocks located in the river, which are mere subjects to the impact of the running water.
Obviously, the River Rock Finished with Gold Leaf has a lot of symbols and implicit meanings. First of all, it is worth mentioning the fact that the gold rock in the middle of the river is the symbol of wealth and human strife for prosperity and material values. The gold rock symbolizes wealth and materialism, which dominate over humans and affect their life consistently. In this regard, the placement of the gold rock in the middle of the river is quite symbolic because it is placed just in the middle that means that wealth and material values play the central part in the life of people. They are the milestone of the life of people and humans pursue wealth throughout their life. At the same time, being placed in the middle of the river, the gold rock is hard to reach exactly like the wealth and prosperity in the real life. In such a way, the artist attempted to show the difficulties people face, while reaching their lifetime goals, such as wealth and material values.
On the other hand, the main message the artist wanted to convey to the audience was the revelation of the natural beauty contrasted to the beauty of the gold rock, which symbolizes wealth and prosperity. To put it more precisely, Andy Goldsworthy shows the beauty of the wild nature to show people that the wild nature has its own beauty and the wealth and material values cannot replace this beauty or overshadow it. People may be blinded by the shine of gold as they probably are by the shine of the gold rock in the middle of the river but the gold cannot overwhelm the natural beauty and replace the nature. In such a way, the artist attempts to remind the audience that the natural beauty and nature are still prior and people comprise a part of the nature. In their pursuit of wealth, people often forget about the wild nature and its beauty. Instead, they look for material values and fail to find the balance in their life. They strive to earn more, to become wealthy, to hold a better social standing but all they get is more anxiety and troubles. In such a situation, the artist shows the way to the balanced and harmonious life, which is just next to people’s daily routine. What is meant here is the fact that the artist suggests people to return to the wild nature, which is beautiful and limitlessly rich. However, the richness of the nature is different from the material richness people are looking for and the artist attempts to help people to appreciate the natural richness, which is not material one. The artists show that the wild nature may be beautiful and balanced and this is exactly what people are actually looking for in their life, whereas wealth and material values just misbalance their life. In such a way, the wealth and associated troubles become the gold stone on the way of the river of human life. People confront the wealth in their life as does the river in the work created by Andy Goldsworthy. People have to struggle with temptation associated with wealth to live their life in balance and harmony. Obviously, they cannot pursue the wealth throughout their life because steadily the wealth flows away. Moreover, wealth is temporary compared to the eternity of the wild nature and universal values, which people often forget about being blinded by wealth. In such a way, people should remember about eternal, universal values, which bring in balance and harmony in their life, whereas the wealth, being attractive and eye-catching as the gold rock in the middle of the river in the work of Goldsworthy, is provoking troubles and misbalancing the life of people.
Therefore, Andy Goldsworthy attempts to uncover the negative impact of the wealth on human life. Instead, he appeals to people to return to the wild nature. He shows the natural beauty and admires with it to attract the attention of the audience to truly eternal and universal values. The artist contrasts the material world and pursuit of wealth to the balanced natural life.
At this point, Andy Goldsworthy’s River Rock Finished with Gold Leaf is similar, to a significant extent, to the work created by John James Audubon, Golden Eagle. This painting depicts the golden eagle flying high into the sky over the mountains with a pray into its claws. The pray is likely to be a rabbit and the eagle holds it tight flying up into the sky. The pray is the helpless victim that cannot make a move and is probably dead or dying. There are mountains far downside and the pray looks downward, whereas the eagle looks upside. In such a way, the artist shows that the victim and the predator have different intentions and they belong to two different worlds. At the same time, the artist shows the full power of the eagle and contrasts it to the weakness and helplessness of its victim. The painting shows the huge eagle that is powerful and strong, whereas its victim is absolutely defenseless in face of the predator.
In this regard, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the artist attempted to convey his message with the help of symbols used in the painting. To put it more precisely, the golden eagle may be viewed as a symbol of wealth and prosperity because the golden eagle is traditionally associated with wealth and indicate to the high social standing of an individual, whom this image may allegorically represent. In other words, the golden eagle is a symbol of wealth and the high social standing. In contrast, the rabbit, who is the pray of the golden eagle, is traditionally viewed on as a symbol of cowardice and weakness. The rabbit is in the absolutely defenseless position. Moreover, the rabbit does not even attempt to resist to the eagle and it just stays in claws of the eagle ready to accept its fate as it is.
In such a context, it is possible to interpret the painting as the struggle between humans and their strife for wealth and material values, which resemble the natural struggle but which are as unnatural as the readiness of the rabbit to die without a slightest struggle. In fact, humans are like that rabbit, whereas the golden eagle symbolizes the strife of people for wealth. People cannot resist to their desire to be wealthy and to hold a high social standing and, therefore, they become helpless victims of this desire as the rabbit does in the painting created by John James Audubon.
At the same time, the artist uses the natural environment to show the audience that people should not forget about their environment and remember that the nature is still different from the artificial or civilized world created by humans. They will never be able to resist to the nature or overcome its power because even if humans are like the rabbit in claws of wealth they will not find salvation even if they manage to free because they are likely to fall down. The latter implies that people have created their civilization and now they are too distant from the nature. They have torn out any relations with the wild nature and stay in claws of their insatiable desire of wealth and prosperity. As a result, they have no way out and they are doomed to decay under the impact of their materialist values and pursuit of wealth. In such a way, the artist wants to show that people should not be seduced by the wealth and from the beginning of their life they should stay far from the pursuit of material values. Otherwise, they will be like the rabbit, who was too curious and, therefore, it was caught by the eagle. Similarly, people should not be too eager in the wealth and material values. Otherwise, they will be caught and overwhelmed by the pursuit for wealth and they will be unable to return to the balanced, natural life.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that Andy Goldsworthy and John James Audubon in their works discussed above focus on the problem of the relationships between nature and humans. To put it more precisely, they show the power of nature and the irrelevance of human strife for wealth and material values compared to the eternal values and power of nature. The artists show that humans comprise an integral part of the wild nature and they cannot lead a happy, balanced, harmonious life, if they are distant from nature and traditional values, being blinded and overwhelmed by wealth and material values. In such a way, both paintings are quite symbolic and make the audience re-evaluate its values.
Audubon, J.J. Golden Eagle.
Goldsworthy, A. River Rock Finished with Gold Leaf.
Goldsworthy, A. (2004). Passage. London: Thames & Hudson.