“Artistic Waste”- The Other Side of the Art-Making Process

Many of us have seen art as a form of free expression and creativity. The charm of it is to create things free of any barrier or restrictions, thus the means of expression of each artist varies vastly. In order to create those forms of art, whether it is a painting, a drawing, a sculpture or an interactive media, the material used in the process of making art is probably the most diverse amongst all areas.

As I was visiting the LA art show on Jan 30, I took a picture of the material used in the process of making art pieces exhibited and counted at least 30 identifiable different types of material used in just one small proportion of the entire exhibition. But we all know that art making is an arduous process and it involves a considerable amount of repetition and experimentation, so people waste a lot of materials when they’re making art. What are the “artistic wastes” and how are they treated? Should we be concerned with the environmental impact that these scraps of beauty and creativity leave?

“Artistic Waste”

What are they and what do they look like?

Just like any type of other waste out there, art waste barely have a fixed look or shape that allow people to quickly distinguish them from the normal waste. But many wastes of art have a common composite quality: they are not just made of one single source or material. For a complex sculpture piece thrown away as trash, it can involves a mixed of welded metal, acrylic paint, fabric and ceramic clay. Other common materials found in art waste are: metal (stainless steel, aluminum), glass, wood, plastic, plaster, slip clay, paper, poster (distemper) paint and other water soluble paint.

Discarded Art Work,Patrick Jackson, Roski School of Fine Arts
A combination of materials in an artwork, Roski School of Fine Art

How are they categorized?

Following the rules and suggestions from the Bureau of Sanitation, City of Los Angeles art trash are classified into the two main categories of recyclable waste and non-recyclable waste. Metal, glass, clean paper, cardboards and cartons, are all among the items that could be put into the green recycling bin or the bin with a “recyclable only” sign. There are separate bins for cardboard and paper and an area for metal craps and leftovers at the back of studios at USC Roski School of Fine Art. Plastic is an important material for recycling. As the type of plastic that is used for artwork might differ from the plastic of daily usage, it is advised that it is brought to a plastic recycling center so that its composition is correctly evaluated.

Recyclable Materials, Roski School of Fine Art

Hazardous materials?

“I feel that molding is the worst, because it involves a well mix of different chemicals, and some of them are really bad. They shouldn’t be thrown away as a common sort of waste,” Crystal Liu, third year student at Roski School of Fine Art says.

A Catalyst MEK-P is often used to react with Polyester Resins in mold making. Both of the materials are identified as flammable liquids and are highly hazardous waste and should be handled specially. Some of other oil-based paint and aerosol spray that are used to do wood coating and metal painting are extremely toxic and have devastating impact on environment. For example in an aerosol product “SEM 39143 Trim Black”, there are 14 toxic substances, four substances that causes cancer and five substances that are harmful identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even small quantities leaked into the ground would cause danger to drink water. The key to handle the hazardous waste is to look for the label on the package of the product. The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) put on the AP for non-toxic product and CL for toxic or hazardous product. [1]

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provide the essential information of the toxic substances contained in the product and the right-to-know in handling them. Possible impact on the wider environment can also be learnt from MSDS.

[1] http://www.acminet.org/

Toxic Product Label, Non-Toxic Product Label
Hazardous Material Bin, Roski School of Fine Arts

What happened to them after they’re disposed?

The artists working in the same studio could reuse most of the metal scraps, plaster, ceramics, and wooden pieces and make them into new art pieces. Hazardous materials that are arranged into three main categories: flammable liquids, aerosol cans and water-based liquid will be collected by companies that handle environmental products at Roski School of Fine Art. Other normal and recyclable waste will be collected with the rest of the waste system that already exists in the area. The company that handles the hazardous material in Roski School of Fine Art is Safety-Kleen.

“I think I wouldn’t say that it (art waste) is a huge problem, because the scale of waste generated from the process of art making might only compose a small portion of the environmental waste compared to other types of waste such as household waste and industry waste,” Jay Lizo, who works for the Roski School of Fine Art sculpture studio says. Lizo has been working in the industry over 20 years. “But I definitely think that there should be more awareness in properly disposing those waste.”

There are artists who have shown the same concern for “artistic waste” through the very means of art. Kelly Olshan, who is an artist based in NYC, did a series called “artist waste” by making new art using leftovers from the art-making process. [1]

[1] http://www.kellyolshan.com/artistic-waste-series.html

Work by Kelly Olshan, “Artistic Waste” series

“I feel that through the development of technology more people are moving towards working digitally with art, but I still believe that there’s definitely an intimate nature with working traditionally — you got to choose what you want to use,” Olshan said in a Skype interview about her project of “artistic waste”, “people should pay more attention what they pursue artistically with a conscious mind to do good things to the environment.”

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