Trash Art: How I turned my trash into a work of art

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Trash art is a form of collage created from garbage found on a city’s streets, alleys, and/or beaches. Though it is a category, it can include any type of art made from trash – from the use of found objects to the use of subject material created from someone discarding an item, or a product cast away by its original owners.

What is trash art?

what is trash art you ask? it’s art made from trash. I see this as a grassroots effort to make art more accessible to all people.

What are we to make of trash art?

Trash art, like trash itself, is ubiquitous. The people who live by trash art share two traits: they are poor and trying to connect with the rest of us.

Trash artists usually fall into one of three groups: merchants, activists, or individuals just trying to earn a living.

Merchants make trash art to make money. A dollar signs is often the first clue to their artwork. Think about all the food packaging, for example. The packages are big, colorful, and designed to be noticed. They are designed to get your attention, and to get you to buy. If that sounds cynical, it’s not; marketing is the art of arranging things so that people want to buy.

Activists make trash art to get attention. Activists are politically active, and a big component of activism is trying to get media attention. So when activists protest, they are usually trying to make the news. They often do this by dressing up in outlandish outfits or doing things that will shock, disgust, or offend.

Individuals make trash art to earn a living. They make up most of the population, and if they have enough money, they spend money. The more expensive something is, the more people will buy it. That leads to more sales for the art dealer, and more work for the artist.

Trash art, like trash, is cheap. But it is also ubiquitous.

Trash artists often bake it in. They write print ads on bags or boxes, or decorate refrigerator magnets. They put little stickers on products, or put little tags on clothing. 

What are different ways to create trash art?

I once participated in an art exhibition where the audience had to vote on their favorite work. All the pieces were collages of found objects, but the judges had to choose a winner. One piece, a woman’s torso made from old magazines, was by far the most popular. Many said it was beautifully made and displayed great craftsmanship. But one judge gave it a bad score, and the woman was furious.

Some artists are outraged when their work is criticized. But a critic’s job is to say when a work of art is good, not when it’s not. The critic’s job is to say why it’s good. If a piece is good, the critic should explain why.

The artist’s job is to make pieces that are interesting, whether good or bad. You can tell good art from bad art. But what makes a piece interesting?

An artist whose work is labeled trash art probably has something to say that is important. The artist is trying to say something. One way an artist can say something is by using trash. They can also use oils, acrylics, or watercolors, but trash is an especially appealing way to say something.

Once, I was at a party and someone said, “You know, trash art is the perfect art form.” I was puzzled.

If you asked ten people their definition of trash art, you might get ten different answers. But if you ask ten artists, you’ll get at least ten different meanings.

Trash art is often art that is intended to be thrown away. (So it is often called trash art, although sometimes people use the word trash to mean worthless.) It is art intended to amuse, challenge, or horrify, rather than be appreciated (or preserved). Sometimes, trash art uses materials that aren’t usually considered art, such as aluminum foil or empty beer cans. Sometimes trash art is deliberately ugly, as in the work of Ed Ruscha, who is best known for paintings of billboards. Sometimes, however, trash art is beautiful, as in the work of Damien Hirst, whose paintings, sculptures and installations of animal parts, medicines and insects are deliberately beautiful, even reverent.

Trash art can be created by anyone who chooses to do it, but artists usually create it. The reasons are obvious. Artists have to make a living somehow. They don’t choose trash art for itself, but rather because it is an opportunity to make a living.

One reason trash art is so popular is that making art that is intended to be thrown away is cheap. Artists don’t charge a lot for trash art because it doesn’t cost much to make. Also, trash art need not be beautiful or even good. It is art because it exists, not because it pleases anyone.

Another reason trash art is so popular is that it offers artists a way of exploring ideas very cheaply. Artists can work for years on trash art without worrying about selling anything.

Where do I start?

One of the things about art school is that it teaches you how not to think. It teaches you skepticism, but it keeps its skepticism at arm’s length. It teaches you not to judge, but it teaches you to judge only what it’s prepared for you to judge. It teaches you that there is more than one way of looking at things, but it teaches you only one way unless you are prepared to reinvent yourself completely.

The thing about art school is that it is full of people who find school difficult. It teaches them that not thinking is difficult. It teaches them that not judging is difficult. And it teaches them that there is more than one way of looking at things, but only if they are prepared to reinvent themselves.

But art isn’t about reinventing yourself. Art isn’t about proving yourself; it’s about proving someone else wrong. Art is about responding to what someone else has done.

So, art school teaches you how not to think. But it doesn’t teach you how to think.

And that’s where it starts, with thinking.

You can not start thinking until you know what you want to think.

You can’t start thinking until you know how to ask a question.

And you can’t start thinking until you know who to ask.

School teaches you that there is only one answer. It teaches you how not to think. Which is fine, in school. But it’s fine out of school too.

School teaches you that there is only one answer. It teaches you how not to think. But art school, like all schools, is only teaching you how not to judge.

Isn’t art about judging? Isn’t it about proving someone wrong?

Of course.

Art is about proving someone wrong, but proving someone wrong with the same tools as everyone else.

Turn any object into a piece of trash art.

But if you want to turn any object into a piece of trash art, you can do it. It’s the same principle as turning an ordinary object into a treasure.

You might start by smashing it.

Or you might turn it inside out.

Or you might remove its outside.

But you don’t have to destroy anything. You can just give it a coat of gloss, or paint it black, or cover it in stickers, or make it shiny, or cover it with glitter, or cover it in buttons, or give it curlicues….

If you think about it, there are lots of ways to make an object look old and ugly. For instance, you can stamp it.

Or you can add cheap glitter.

Or you can tie it to something.

Or you can cover it in stickers.

Or you can make it shiny.

Or you can paint it black.

Or you can cover it in buttons.

Or you can give it curlicues.

Or you can stamp it.

Use what you have on hand.

The only way to make art is to start with nothing.

Many people say “art” is something made by professionals, or especially something made by artists. But art doesn’t need to be made by professionals. Making art means using whatever you have on hand to create something that didn’t exist before.

This doesn’t mean that all art has to be primitive. But it does mean that there is no right way or wrong way to make art.

Picasso never made anything by starting with nothing. But he made a lot of art by making old things new. He used old furniture and re-purposed his neighbors’ junk. He made a lot of art by collecting things other people had thrown away.

Picasso’s early work was about antique furniture and old masters. Later he moved to primitive art. But he never completely stopped making art with old things.

The important thing about Picasso’s approach to art was that he never stopped collecting and using what’s at hand. You couldn’t just go out and buy everything he needed.

Create art that your peers will appreciate

If you have a good idea, you should pursue it. But you shouldn’t do it just because it’s trendy. You should do it because it’s a good idea, whether or not other people think it is.

The trouble with “trends” is that they are usually fleeting. The fashionable thing to do is create art that your peers will appreciate. The trouble with that is that your peers will change, and so will the fashions, and your ideas will be out of date by the time they’re finished.

The only lasting thing is good art, and you shouldn’t make it just to please your peers. You should make it for the good of humanity.

But your peers don’t always know what’s good. They’re often wrong. So you need some kind of jury of your peers. But who?

A good place to start might be art-lovers, but art-lovers tend to be narrow and concerned with their own tastes. The best people to judge art are likely to be artists themselves. But even artists are not impartial: they are dependent on their own ideas. So you need artists who have thought widely about art and are committed to creating art for its own sake.

If you only listened to art-lovers, you would be chasing fads. But an artist’s jury of peers would not make decisions based on the work’s popularity with their peers. It would make judgments based on the quality of the work, the way artists themselves usually judge.

If those are the criteria, it will look like a lot of art gets trashed. But that’s the way it should be. If you want art that lasts, you have to trash a lot of art.

Of course, the critics can trash art, too. But they’re the ones who should trash it. Because artists are responsible to no one else but themselves, and critics are not creators, they have no obligation to the art they create.

Make it personal or just for fun

Personalizing your creations with each post is a great way to grab and keep your visitors attention and really grab their interest. It is also a great way to add some fun to art which can sometimes be very serious. 

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