Sometimes artists are so self-conscious that they refuse to share what they’ve created with anyone for fear others might not “get” it or fear they might be criticized by those they trust the most. As a once (and possibly still) awful writer, I can relate. But for Midwestern crop artist Stan Herd there’s no greater joy than sharing his farmland designs with the world as they fly overhead. Outside of playing college basketball, though, how do you get noticed in Lawrence, Kan.?

Earthwork tells the true story of Herd (played by John Hawkes) who tills his soil to turn plants, rocks and vegetation into beautifully textured compositions. But after years of his work going unseen at home, Herd makes a last ditch effort for recognition by taking a project on the Upper West Side of New York City and paying out of pocket to undercut any competitors. The project puts strain on his wallet and marriage, but as he and his crew (made up of homeless tunnel dwellers) work the land, those who look down from their high-rises are inspired by seeing the rural artwork as it’s created.

Hawkes, recently Oscar nominated for Winter’s Bone, gets his hands dirty as he provides another wonderful performance showing Herd’s palpable yearning to be seen. The homeless assistants add heart and humor of the story, with standout performances by Zach Grenier and James McDaniel. Only Herd’s wife Jan, in the standard wet blanket role, slows the film down with clunky and stereotypical dialogue. Is she supposed to proud of him for his accomplishments or mad at him for bankrupting the family? I’m still not sure.

The film’s most honest moments ask what benefit art provides and what Herd’s work is ultimately worth, especially when it’s so temporary and seen by so few. It’s an interesting question that feels self-aware for writer-director Chris Ordal, 29, who has made a film that is out of the mainstream and few are likely to see. But as Ryan, a graffiti artist played in the film by Chris Bachand, says, “Pictures are forever.”

With Earthwork, Ordal captures Herd’s story and his art in perpetuity. It’s not the best film ever made and sometimes it seems heavy handed and poorly scripted, but it’s an enjoyable and inspiring portrayal of what some will go through when compelled to share their vision with the outside world.

Grade: B

Earthwork releases in select theaters May 20.