The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight. (Proverbs 11:26 NRSV)
Richard Long was still a sculpture student at St Martin’s School of Art in London when he made A Line Made by Walking in 1967. A deceptively modest work, it is now recognized as seminal, both for his own oeuvre in what would be a long career, and for the history of post-war sculpture, conceptual art, minimalism, and land art.
A Line Made by Walking works in more than one temporal register. It is a photographic trace of a brief, time-bound, live action by one man on one summer’s day in 1967. The image shows an ordinary field in the southwest of England, and a straight line ahead over the field. It was made by Long walking back and forth, repeatedly, wearing down the grass to impress a light, linear marking on the earth. It is also a lasting material record of that action’s imprint on the land, in the form of a photograph, printed together with an inscription on the mount below, which reads: ‘A LINE MADE BY WALKING. ENGLAND 1967’.
Long is one of the first generation of artists who worked using nature and documentary methods in this way in the late 1960s, mediating between the outdoors and the gallery. The work tended to be unobtrusive and ephemeral, before more monumental earthworks began to be made, particularly by American land artists.
In its simplicity, clarity, modesty, and harmony with nature, A Line Made by Walking also offers some suggestive parallels with the qualities of virtue praised in Proverbs: accuracy; the ‘uprightness’ that ensures one’s way is not crooked (11:3, 11); the ‘righteousness of the blameless’ that ‘keeps their ways straight’ (11:5).
Long has since undertaken many long-distance walks, across the world. He says:
I am interested in … the universal similarities between things, but also in the great differences between places, because each place on earth is absolutely unique. (Long and Cork 1991: 249–50)
Footpaths especially interest him in this context because the walking of pathways is a universal part of human experience and yet paths are always specific. Like the paths of virtue commended in the book of Proverbs, every path, ‘no matter where it is’ is at the same time ‘one footstep after another’ (Long and Cork 1991: 249–50).
Long, Richard and Richard Cork. 1991 . ‘An Interview with Richard Long by Richard Cork’, in Richard Long: Walking in Circles (London: Thames and Hudson), pp. 248–52
11A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
but a just weight is his delight.
2When pride comes, then comes disgrace;
but with the humble is wisdom.
3The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
4Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
5The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.
6The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.
7When the wicked dies, his hope perishes,
and the expectation of the godless comes to nought.
8The righteous is delivered from trouble,
and the wicked gets into it instead.
9With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.
10When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices;
and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.
11By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
12He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
13He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden.
14Where there is no guidance, a people falls;
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
15He who gives surety for a stranger will smart for it,
but he who hates suretyship is secure.
16A gracious woman gets honor,
and violent men get riches.
17A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself.
18A wicked man earns deceptive wages,
but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.
19He who is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but he who pursues evil will die.
20Men of perverse mind are an abomination to the Lord,
but those of blameless ways are his delight.
21Be assured, an evil man will not go unpunished,
but those who are righteous will be delivered.
22Like a gold ring in a swine’s snout
is a beautiful woman without discretion.
23The desire of the righteous ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked in wrath.
24One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
25A liberal man will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
26The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
27He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it.
28He who trusts in his riches will wither,
but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
29He who troubles his household will inherit wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise.
30The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
but lawlessness takes away lives.
31If the righteous is requited on earth,
how much more the wicked and the sinner!