How Is Creative Reuse Like Algebra?

20170110_205349How many times have you heard (or said), “Why do I have to learn algebra? It’s not like I’ll ever use it in real life!”

As a parent, I’ve had to get quite creative – justifying algebra and several of its equally frustrating peers – to help my kids understand that important lessons come from big concepts that won’t necessarily be appreciated when they’re taught (and maybe not even recognized when they’re used), but they are important nonetheless.

I sometimes see that same frustration on the faces of parents picking up their children from a creative reuse class. That sculpture made of pop tabs and the Altoid tin covered in broken tiles look like two more art projects that have to be “admired” for a couple of weeks, before sneaking them out of the house, late at night, and escorting them to their final resting place (hopefully, the recycling bin).

The concept of creative reuse is a multilayered lifestyle choice – using what’s on hand, saving things you might use, shopping second hand, shifting your thoughts from wants to needs, and making the most out of whatever you have.

20170110_205200For example: yesterday I tried painting the insides of Frappucino bottles. Yes, because I was giving the bottles a second life and using leftover chalk paint, instead of buying new, the project is considered creative reuse. But, for me, the real creative reuse came after I turned the bottles upside down, to let any remaining paint drip out.

Hours later, when I lifted the bottles, I discovered I’d, um, overdone it,  and there sat four globs of wasted paint. So, I grabbed my upcycled journals and made use of that leftover paint, creating backgrounds for future projects. All the while I was thinking, these kinds of lessons just happen. They can’t be planned – they’re all just reactions.

20170110_205127So, while the pop tab sculpture may not look like much, it’s the result of a lot of thought and a decent amount of obsessing. Is this project just a kid craft or are students learning how to make something out of anything? Are we wasting supplies or encouraging learning by trial and error? Is there just one way to make this project or can it be adapted to each artist’s style and abilities? Most important, how do I convey the idea that creative reuse isn’t the kind of art form you do or don’t do?

Creative reuse is an art and a skill. Some days it’s globs, some days it’s gleaning, but it’s always creative!


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