Something from Nothing

To the best of my knowledge, only God (or whatever name you’d like for the divine) can truly make something from nothing. Maybe. We don’t know for sure how that works. However, to me as an artist, it is not only possible, but very desirable, to take something of “no value” and make it into something of value. I put quotes around the words “no value” because I’m pretty sure that all matter is valuable. Humans put value on things based on how useful we think a thing is to us. In any case, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Here’s a fun challenge to get you thinking about the value of the raw matter all around you: set a timer for five minutes and walk outside. If it is winter where you are (I am in Chicago), don’t even bother putting on your coat (but shoes are a good idea) and in those five minutes, gather as many useless items as you want from your immediate environment. They can be natural, as in a stick or rock, or something manmade, like a pop can tab.

Go inside. If you like, do an internet search for your objects: “stick art”, “pop can tab crafts”, “Oak Leaf properties”, etc. Especially check out YouTube tutorials. I”m pretty sure you will find that there are folks using these raw materials to make stuff cool enough to warrant posting a video. It is amazing.

Finally, make something from your objects. Just try it. How does it feel? Frustrating, confusing, liberating? Really pay attention to the inherent properties of your materials: texture, color, strength, brittle/flexible and so on. How easy is it to get your materials to do what you want them to do? Once you have your finished piece, how do you feel about the raw material you worked with?

If you do this exercise often enough, you will start to look at the world around you with different eyes. Things you disregarded as background noise, like weeds, dandelion fluff, rusted metal, bark and the like start holding interest. What are its physical properties? Would they lend themselves to a task I want to do?

This, my friends, used to be how humans looked at the world around them, until very recently (a few hundred years or less). There were no boxed solutions to search for in a special place, a store. The solutions and materials needed for survival were outside all around, and to be successful you had to keep your eyes open every time you stepped out the door.

I suspect that in spite of our pre-made conveniences, the ones that came from a factory and deemed valuable by virtue of costing money, it is still true. In order to gain real value from our immediate environment, we need to keep our eyes open.

I challenge you to step outside and see the world this way, and I’d love to hear about the results of your experiment!

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Raw stuff for this piece: Kentucky coffee tree seeds found on walks home from work, canna Lilly seeds from garden, dryer lint, pics from an old gardening catalog. Not found objects: white flour, baking powder, powdered soap, and glue. Paint, glitter, glaze, string and plastic beads.

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