What’s so Important About Art Abandonment Anyway?

(This excerpt was previously published in the book The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art by Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng, copyright 2014; it is republished here courtesy of CreateMixedmedia.com and North Light Books.)

by Andrea Matus deMeng, excerpted from The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art

The truth of the matter is that many of us have been “abandoning” for decades. We abandon our time whenever we volunteer. We abandon our techniques and our art-making secrets when we teach. We abandon our money when we choose to give financial support to specific causes. So why put all of this energy into abandoning art?

AMatus_deMeng - working on the  large abandonment

The State of the Arts

I know I’m preaching to the choir here because we’ve all heard artists sit around and lament about the lack of funding for arts initiatives and the overall degradation of arts curriculums throughout the United States, Canada and beyond. The burning question for me is, why? Why have we allowed this to be the new standard for ourselves and for our children?
The general attitude that the arts are frivolous prevails more in today’s society than it ever has. Because the arts are deemed nonessential, they become the programs that are the easiest to cut.
And yet, for those of us who dream of travel, what is it that we seek to find on our journeys? Isn’t it the world-class art galleries, the awe-inspiring architecture, the melodic rhythms of local musicians and the tantalizing cuisine? But the arts are not important? What are we going to do to not only preserve that part of our culture that relies on the arts, but also encourage new growth and exploration in these areas?
Sometimes these issues seem so large they feel insurmountable. What can one person do, after all? When you realize you don’t have to change the world or shift perceptions all at once, the task becomes a whole lot easier. We all know that you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate art, but I do believe that exposure to the arts is invaluable in helping everyone gain a deeper appreciation for what the artist contributes to society. Art abandoners are taking on that challenge to make a change, one piece of art at a time. For individuals who find the abandoned treasures, the arts come into their lives in a very direct and usually meaningful way. It doesn’t matter if they never went to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa—the art came to them! And even if only for a fleeting moment, they were reminded of the way art can touch lives. With over seven thousand members to date, we have a lot of art making its way out into the world and making a difference.

Starting Young

I am a mother. I am an artist. I am a teacher. Of course that’s not all that I am, but being a mother-artist-teacher means that I have a very specific bias and I think it’s best to own up to that right away. Obviously not only is art very important to me, but so is the future of the arts as well, and we’ve all heard the adage “Children are our future.”
To make up for the fact that my children’s elementary school has no arts programs whatsoever, I volunteer. Year after year, I come up with several little projects that can be done in a day or two. I sprinkle in a little art theory and a project that keeps them creatively busy the whole day, and it’s magical. Teachers always tell me how amazed they were to see the whole class engaged, working cooperatively, being respectful, sharing the tools and their ideas. To see certain children come out of their shell, to see learning that transcends language barriers and most importantly to see the smiles all day—it’s incredibly rewarding.
The kids had a fun day when they learned about fractions by sectioning a piece of paper into ten even strips, and geometry by cutting out perfect equilateral triangles. The learning is still happening, just from a different perspective. I never forget that I’m in a fortunate position where I can come in for a day, play and leave, without the bureaucracy and challenges the full-time teachers take on day after day. I’m lucky, and it feels good to see how excited the kids get any time I roll up to the door with my boxes of art supplies. Not only do I get to play for a day, I get to observe, and over the past thirteen years that I have been doing this, a few things have made themselves very clear to me.

Andrea-finger painting makes it easy for kids

Changing the Paradigm

We live in strange and interesting times. I say this without meaning to sound nostalgic, but when I was a kid I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the future would hold. Now things change so quickly I don’t think even Nostradamus would try to guess at what’s going to happen next, and that’s a tough thing. It feels like the thing we are most missing these days is a sense of continuity. As much as we crave change in our society, there’s also a part of us that likes things to be the same, and it’s that sense of continuity that is vitally important to keep strong relationships between grandparents, parents and children. Where do we get that continuity from? What can we do? Well, we can get behind efforts that go beyond our small reach, and very importantly, we can do it together. We can all choose to become part of something greater than ourselves, and if we include our children and our loved ones in these efforts, we bring some of this continuity and community back into our lives.
For me, art abandonment represents one of those things—an opportunity to belong to something greater than myself, and this seemingly small effort becomes all the more important, richer and fulfilling when I am able to bring children into the fold. I know there are many wonderful community and global initiatives that welcome parent and child participation, and I don’t mean to imply that art abandonment is any more significant than those. But having seen firsthand how dramatically involvement in the arts can help children and adults alike, it allows me a forum where I can unite my passion with the feeling that I am participating in some small yet meaningful way to preserve the arts.
I may not be able to tell my daughters that if they go to school and study hard, there will be the reward of a secure and well-paying job at the end, but at the same time, we live in a world where in the future anything, really anything is possible. It’s all a mystery, and that’s a journey we are all on together.

Some Ideas to Get You Started

In all honesty, any activity where you create together and abandon together will fit the bill, but here are some of our favorites to get you started.

  • Create a dozen paper flowers and leave them in random spots as you go around running errands (post office, grocery, bank, etc.).
  • Have some books that are ready to be donated? Make new bookmarks to be abandoned with them.
  • Make a bunch of paper airplanes and send them sailing through the air while at the park. Try using large paper; my favorite is paper placemats, but newspaper works just as well. The Internet has dozens of cool paper-airplane building directions.
  • Bring a big box of sidewalk chalk to the sidewalk of your choice. Draw a picture and leave a note and the chalk so other people can join in the fun.
  • My daughters like to abandon little birthday party favors they have collected over the years along with an artful tag booklet at the dentist’s and doctor’s offices for some other children to find.
  • Puppet figures can be made from cardboard box cutouts and popsicle sticks. Cut out some people shapes (it’s easy to find silhouettes online), paint or color them and then stick them into the ground to abandon. If you want to make them bigger, just grab a few dowels from the hardware store instead. If you are feeling even more ambitious, you can use a few large split pins from the office supply store and have your little figures move their arms and legs.
  • Paper plate masks, whether a monster or a princess, are fun to make and fun to wear!
  • Make up a little game and leave it along with the instructions. I had a few leftover dominoes and a pair of dice. We decorated a little card for the instructions. Basically, each player would take an equal number of dominoes and roll the dice. If your dice match the numbers on any of your dominoes, you get a point; if they match the numbers on your opponent’s domino and they notice it, they get a point. The most points wins. The challenge version of the game was to multiply the numbers on the dice and then see if you had a domino that matched the result.
  • Write a little story—on your own or together with your children—and abandon the book.
  • Decorate the back of a set of postcards from your city and leave one in each place along your travels.
  • For items we are abandoning in public, avoid any food-related items and use only clear plastic bags to put your artworks in. Always include  a note so finders know they can keep what they have found.
Shannelle abandon while visiting Victoria

Art by Shannelle

So what can I tell my children? I can tell them that an act of kindness, in whatever form, is good for them and those around them. I can encourage their participation, along with mine, in a variety of random acts of kindness. An act as simple as creating a little bit of art and leaving it for a stranger to find—that small bit of participation—includes them in a global community of do-gooders and sets them up to find other areas in their lives where they can choose to extend themselves to others.

(This excerpt was previously published in the book The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art by Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng, copyright 2014; it is republished here courtesy of CreateMixedmedia.com and North Light Books.)

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