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Don't throw that away--transform it!

Many art educators today are expected to make something from nothing and to exist on a bare-bones budget. Innovative art teachers can turn such a limitation into opportunities to explore the world of throwaway materials--materials that can be recycled into rewarding art experiences. Besides using recycled materials to convey lessons about conservation, recycled materials can also enrich artwork.

An Approach to Recycling

Introduce students to artists who utilize throwaway materials as reference sources. Through art-historical inquiry, students research artists such as Lonnie Holley, Robert Rauschenburg, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Louise Nevelson, Tony Craff, and David Mack Students find out why these artists used throwaways, and how discarded materials helped to both inform and transform their artwork. Further inquiry will help students understand the part recycled materials play in art-making practices and how such materials can be elevated into fine-art media.

Perform art-criticism activities with artworks that use recycled materials. Discuss criteria to use in seeking suitable throwaways.

Sources for Gathering Materials

Sources can be found as close as your own classroom and school. There are also sources in the community. Seek them out by going to container and packaging companies; recycling centers; dressmaking and alteration shops; electrical, floral, and frame shops; thrift stores; wallpaper stores; newspaper plants; and print and paper shops. Other possibilities include yard sales, flea markets, swap meets, and church and garage sales. Send home a letter with each student requesting materials.

Throwaways Defined

You can find new uses for common materials that are abundant in homes and industry. Consider this list: cardboard sheets and tubes, cardboard boxes, product packaging boxes, egg cartons, fabric scraps, threads, corrugated cardboard, magazines, old jewelry, needles, margarine tubs with lids, waxed paper, yarn, Styrofoam, string, paper bags, newspapers, pull tabs from softdrink cans, plastic lids, stickers from vegetables, old shoes, hats, gloves, socks, rocks, pebbles, pit gravel, twigs, and wood scraps.

Organization and Transformation

Collect and sort materials. Place in clear plastic jars or tubs so you can see what you have. Ordinary items, such as empty containers and boxes, paper bags, fabrics, wood pieces, cardboard, scraps, and remnants from art projects can be recycled into extraordinary artworks through various art techniques such as papier-mache painting, weaving, printmaking, sculpture, and collage.

Mary Ruth Smith is a professor in the department of art at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
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Title Annotation:All Levels
Author:Smith, Mary Ruth
Publication:School Arts
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:387
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