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Save our planet: recycle!

Art is like the environment - its vulnerability and beauty are at times abused and misunderstood. Through teaching art, we are able to give students the opportunity to see the world differently - to understand it, and most importantly, to give them a means of expressing their understanding.

This goal was made possible by a mini-grant for $1,500.00 awarded to teachers at Dowdell Junior High. The title of our project was "Save Our Planet" and we decided that painting garbage cans and learning about recycling would be a great way to make our students, faculty and community more aware of their responsibilities concerning this important issue.

I knew I wanted to emphasize recycling, but as the art teacher, I also wanted to educate my class and the community about the history of art. I hoped to expose them to a variety of styles and artists of different time periods. Since our goal was to help save our beautiful planet, I thought that putting a work of art on a garbage can would encourage people to recycle properly, and make them feel good about doing it!

Students first had to prepare the surface of the cans for the successful application of water-based acrylic paint. Since the cans are made of galvanized steel, oil is left on the surface after manufacturing, making it difficult for acrylic paint to bond chemically. The cans were thoroughly cleaned with detergent to get rid of this barrier. Next, a base coat was applied to further stabilize and prepare the surface for painting. Students continued using the left brain by learning a great deal about the characteristics and composition of arcylic paint. For example, they learned that acrylic paint can be made more transparent by adding water, and that because of its chemical make-up, it dries quickly. The students learned that it was necessary to paint carefully but quickly and to wash their brushes promptly.

Next, students studied color theory. They realized that color can be both concrete (left brain) and abstract. They learned and used correct terminology in describing colors, such as hue, value and intensity, and also learned to make further changes in color by adding black or white to make shades or tints. Each student chose a famous artist and a work by that artist to reproduce on a can. The challenge was to reproduce accurately the colors and proportions of the originals they had chosen to depict.

Again exercising the left side of the brain, we called on previously learned and new mathematical concepts to get started. For example, students had to have chosen a painting that would fit or conform to the surface area and circumference of the can. Length, distance and proportion were estimated when mapping out the paintings.

Each student researched and reported on the personal background and colorful stories regarding the artist whose work was being reproduced. They inspected any historical events that may have been taking place during the time of that particular artist, and reported on other information that may have influenced the artist's work. The various styles and techniques were discussed and included in these reports. This was fun for the students and made their painting process more meaningful.

Most evident to the viewer are the art concepts that the students learned while working on this project. The art elements and principles of design were studied, and the students were able to see how these famous artists used them to build their compositions and to express certain feelings in their work.

Students were using the right side of their brain when they learned that color and line can express a variety of emotions, and that brush-stroke and repetition can create rhythm and motion. They were tuned in to how the artist must have felt while the work was being created. They became emotionally involved with their artwork and felt a great sense of accomplishment and ownership when the cans were completed.

Through many critiques and evaluations, the students learned how to react to art, how to talk about art, and most importantly, how to respect and appreciate art.

In addition to involving many disciplines throughout this project, students benefitted from other experiences as well. For example, the students learned to work together since many of the cans were assigned to teams of two, and students from varying exceptionalities visited the artroom and assisted with the creations. The experience of working together and with many different kinds of people proved to be a positive and lasting experience.

The students also became involved with budget and planning. They learned about the prices of materials and therefore conserved and cleaned up responsibly. Most importantly, they were given the opportunity through this multifaceted project, to exercise their knowledge of many disciplines through art and self expression. This project has made them extremely aware of their environment and the importance of "Saving Our Planet."
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Author:Wilson, Mary Win
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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