Nature journaling, anyone? Most often, attempts to combine environmental studies and art education result in one of the following activities:
1. Nature Journaling/sketching
2. Landscape paintings
3. Recycling art sculptures (a.k.a. art teacher spring cleaning)
While these projects are not inherently bad, their full potential is rarely realized, as the focus of these projects often remains on the visual–what you see around you–which is then depicted on the paper/canvas in front of you. Or, as is the case with the recycled art, the focus becomes “what can I make with this stuff” (much of which consists of toilet paper rolls, milk jugs, and egg cartons). At the elementary level, these sorts of sculptures often turn into cute little animals with marker-drawn eyes, monsters, or a stacking competition to see who can tape together the highest tower of toilet paper rolls. While the students enjoy the building/creating associated with the project, a deeper meaning is missed.
An art-based approach to environmental education is much more than simply making art outside or creating egg carton animals. It is an awakening of the senses. I know that description sounds rather convoluted, but that is the ultimate goal of art making–a newly discovered awareness to the subtleties of existence. An art-based approach to environmental education promotes experiencing and perceiving the world with all of the senses, and articulating those experiences in a new way.
Landscape painting in-and-of-itself is not environmental education, as Meri-Helga Mantere states in her lecture, titled, “Art and the Environment – An Art-Based Approach to Environmental Education”. “But if it can be done with environmental consciousness, understanding the interrelation of the visual processes–by which I mean biological, as well as cultural processes–the painting process itself can also be a study of environmental processes. The students spend many hours [in] the woods painting not what they saw, but how they felt the process of growth and change: the energy and interrelation.”
In much the same way, recycled art becomes much more than simply sticking recycled “throw-aways” together to create a new, recognizable creature. A recycled art project should focus on the act of recycling–taking materials that are used and turning them into a new, purposeful product. So, rather than simply trying to get rid of all of the donated egg cartons and milk cartons that have been piling up around your classroom, why not try one of the following ideas (as mentioned in Meri-Helga Mantere’s lecture)?
– Making new clothes from old ones
-Making vases and drinking glasses from empty bottles
-Making textiles from rags and paper scraps
-Making a hammock from old blue jeans
Or, if you’re itching to clear out some of those old “throw-away” donations (as I know I was when I taught k-8), I would recommend cutting or tearing everything into pieces. The simple fact that these paper rolls and egg cartons are no longer in their original forms will inspire new creations and an increased likelihood that new, purposeful products will emerge.
On a side note: This website is FANTASTIC! Check it out. Now.