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National Art Education Association Beyond the Egg Carton Alligator: To Recycle Is to Recall and Restore Author(s): Kristin G. Congdon Source: Art Education, Vol. 53, No. 6, Enlarging the Frame (Nov., 2000), pp. 6-12 Published by: National Art Education Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3193877 Accessed: 12-04-2018 01:21 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted dig
  National rt Education ssociation   Beyond the Egg Carton Alligator: To Recycle Is to Recall and RestoreAuthor(s): Kristin G. CongdonSource: Art Education,  Vol. 53, No. 6, Enlarging the Frame (Nov., 2000), pp. 6-12Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3193877Accessed: 12-04-2018 01:21 UTC   JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a widerange of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity andfacilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available athttp://about.jstor.org/terms National Art Education Association  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve andextend access to Art Education This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Apr 2018 01:21:25 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms   Beyond the  Egg Carton Alligator:~~~  To Recycle is to Recall~~~~~~  and Restore  BY KRISTIN (;. CON(  T XT Then I was an elementary  jI1J art teacher back in the  v v 1970s, I saved everything. In my two-bedroom apartment, one Z:  room was designated for art teach-  ing materials. It became a storage4 ,  room packed with scrap paper,  yarn, tubes, cardboard, wood  scraps, bottles, and all kinds of  other things that most other peo-  ple would readily toss out. Almost  anything I saw was a potential art project for young children.  Although I intended to contain these supplies, the contents of this room soon spilled out into the living room and kitchen. I saved these materials because, like most art teachers know,  traditional art supplies are often limited, and creating  new objects from things that are no longer useable  in their srcinally created manner has roots in both  modem art and everyday life.  Years later, I become concerned that my projects  looked like school art, and I began thinking that I should concentrate more on drawing, design concepts,  and using artist's materials -pencils, paints, clay-  media in which a student gains some real ar't exper- tise. But I gradually came back to loving the things made with junk, especially artworks I could connect  with in-depth cultural meanings. After two decades of working with folk artists, who often use discarded  materials, it seems clear to me that great amazement and pleasure can be found in the ability some artists have to create something out of materials others have  considered worthless.'  In recent years art educators have written many articles about recycling junk and using old objects in  new ways. For example, Szekely (1994) reports on how objects inside and outside the classroom can  have multiple uses for the artist. Taylor (1997), reflect-  ing on Mierle Laderman Ukeles's Methanogenesis and  Touch Sanitation projects, asked her students to  create a statement about how society values the envi- ronment in both a found object sculpture and a visual  onomatopoeia (a word that looks like what it means) (p. 17). In an effort to encourage design students to think about how refuse can be used as art materials,  ART EDUCATION / NOVEMBER 2000   This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Apr 2018 01:21:25 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms   This is Sallie Jones's quilt story. It is a story of transformation, of making something  beautiful from material items that can be used again and again. While Jones has made  numerous quilts, all in an improvisational style, she has also created a rich life that she  has passed on to her children. This is what her quilts are about.  Elliot and Bartley (1988) presented a lesson with a focus on human participation in ecosystems. The Instructional Resources section of the May 1999 issue of Art Education,  written by Aurelia Gomez, gives art teachers excellent sug-  gestions on how to teach about recycled art that incorporates issues of valuing and tradition. The list could easily be extended. Most of these articles focus on recycling as it relates to ecological issues and building community, both  admirable goals which, I believe, should be at the forefront  of art education's mission. There are, however, additional  reasons to focus on recycling in art education settings.  Gomez (1999) introduces some of these reasons in her  curricular suggestions. What I present in this article are  lessons I learned over the years-mostly from folk artists. I have grouped them into four categories: 1) recycling as  self-sufficiency, 2) recycling as renewal, 3) recycling as  spiritual activity, and 4) recycling as aesthetic transformation.  All four ideas have to do with recalling (or perhaps reinvent-  ing) one's heritage or roots, and restoring balance and meaning to one's life through the recycled creative process  and product.  The Act of Recycling  There is no doubt that the act of recycling is pervasive  and layered in meaning (Cerny & Seriff, 1996). There are two sides to the recycling process. We recycle when we  place old bottles and newspapers in a designated recycling bin, and we recycle when we make use of objects someone  else throws away.  Despite all the emphasis on recycling as an ecological  act, perhaps we partially misunderstand what is ecological  about it. A few years ago a New York Times article (Tierney, 1996) argued that recycling our garbage offered only short term benefits to a select few groups including politicians,  public relations consultants, and waste-handling corporations  while diverting money from genuine social and environmen- tal problems (Tiemey, 1996, p. 24). The article went further,  claiming, Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in  modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of  human and natural resources (p. 24). In other words, the  day-to-day kind of recycling so many of middle-class people  engage in-saving newspapers, cans, and bottles for pick-up and reuse-is done, according to Tierney, simply to make us  feel better about using so much. If we think we are helping the environment by recycling, he suggests, we don't feel so  bad about participating in the rampant consumerism we have in so-called developed nations. While there are certainly recycling projects that are economically and ecologically  resourceful, it is probably true that many are not. The issues raised by Tierney are useful. Seriff (1996) reminds us that so many of the objects we purchase today were specifically  designed to end up on the garbage heap (p. 15). They are  intended to decrease in value so that we will have to soon  purchase a new one. The waste from our over-consuming  lifestyles, becomes the creative materials of the others,  selected both because of aesthetic appeal, symbolic  significance, and from necessity. In 1991 the United Nations estimated that 2% of people  living in cities and poor countries make a living from the dis-  carded waste produced by the richest 10% to 20% of us. This increasingly creative activity, however, has no boundaries in  terms of geography, gender, or nationality (Seriff, 1996).  Our acts of recycling are perhaps not as important in sustaining or revitalizing the natural environment as they are to connecting us to objects, traditions, ritual, and others. This connecting activity that better sensitizes us to life's  experiences may also be viewed as ecological.  Recycling as Self-Sufficiency  When Sallie Jones, an African American quilter from north  Florida, talks about her quiltmaking, she speaks about  resilience, doing for others, success, and self-sufficiency. Jones can converse for a long time about quilts without ever  mentioning the actual act of quilting or the artwork. I have often heard her start her presentation with a story about  seeds. When she was young, she wanted to plant some veg-  etables. But when she asked for seeds to start the plantings,  they weren't given to her; she had to find a way to earn them.  NOVEMBER 2000 / ART EDUCATION This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Apr 2018 01:21:25 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms   Sallie Jones With One of Her  Quilts. Photo by Elizabeth Higgs.  Courtesy of the Historical  Museum of Southern Florida. Page 6, Quilt by Sallie Jones.  Courtesy of the Historical  Museum of Southern Florida.  Since Jones's quilts are made with recycled materials, she sees the act of  quilting to be like growing a vegetable garden. The srcinal material for her  quilts is purchased as clothing. It is then remade into something else, in  this case her quilts, as part of the natur- al cycle of cloth. Jones ends her story by telling the audience that all her chil-  dren do something to help others; they know how to be successful by giving back to their communities and by using  what is available to them. This is Sallie  Jones's quilt story. It is a story of trans-  formation, of making something beauti-  ful from material items that can be used  again and again. While Jones has made  numerous quilts, all in an improvisa- tional style, she has also created a rich  life that she has passed on to her chil- dren. This is what her quilts are about.  Some creators say the artist's  purpose is to know how to give back. For example, Mr. Faye, who is from Senegal, explains that if he buys a can  of soda, he thinks about drinking it in  an unusual way that, when he is  finished, will help facilitate creating a  new object with a different use. So instead of popping the pop-top, he  makes a slit in the side, sips the soda out, and sells it back to someone as a  bank for coins. In a like manner, he  creates briefcases from used plywood  or boxes covered with flattened  aluminum cans (Roberts, 1996).  Even painters can be found who talk about having all they need to create.  Theora Hamblett said, I love the countryside in Mississippi. Most all the  places that I paint are right around my  home-near Paris, Mississippi. I have a  whole room of paintings in yonder of  memories of my childhood. Many of  them are set right in the yard lot of my  old home place (Ferris, 1982, p. 70).  Self-sufficiency for Jones, Faye, and  Hamblett is about having all you need,  things that you can touch, and things  that you know. From this abundance,  art is created.  Recycling as Renewal  Both individuals and cultural groups  view recycling as a renewal activity.  Many Mexican Americans, for example, use the yard as a multi-vocal space.  Ybarra-Frausto (1991) explains that  contemporary Chicano art has a fluidity  that moves from one culture to another.  This aesthetic is often displayed by selected recycled objects placed in the  front yard, signaling the possibility of  remaking one's identity in a changing  society. Because so many Chicano  artists are attached to more than one  geographical space, and often live in a  neighborhood with a history of another  ethnic group's culture, this transitory aesthetic makes sense.  Several individual folk artists have  spoken about using recycled items in  their artwork as a metaphor for recy-  cling themselves. Mr. Imagination (Greg Warmack) from Chicago is one  of the most elegant. In the summer of  1978, after he had been shot and left to  die in an alley, a surgeon saved him.  While he was left in an alley to die,  much like a piece of junk, he was, in a  sense, recycled. Mr. Imagination not only carves sandstone, but he makes  exciting sculptural pieces from old  paintbrushes that are stiff and bent with  use. His bottle cap pieces, for example,  can be made into a small fish or as  large as a useable throne (Patterson,  1993). Once, when talking to children  about his paintbrushes, he explained  that there used to be a problem with lead in paint and that some apartments  still have it in the walls. He asks them  to think about what happened to the paintbrush that painted the wall. He  concludes that children who are  forgotten are like these paintbrushes.  Cubbs and Metcalf (1996) explain Mr. Imagination's creative concerns:  Like bullets, bottle caps, and paint-  brushes, children have been used and  thrown away. And Mr. Imagination is interested in them all (p. 54).  ART EDUCATION / NOVEMBER 2000 This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Apr 2018 01:21:25 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
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