Recycled Art

Grade Levels: 3 - 8


Students use found objects to make art.


  • Students will appreciate how found and recycled objects can be made into art.
  • Students will understand cultural differences regarding recycling.


  • Wide array of found objects, junk, or garbage, such as movie stubs, bicycle parts, car parts, fabric and sewing implements, food wrappers and containers, clothing such as shoes and neckties, etc. Consider sources of recyclables at your school such as the cafeteria, the janitorial areas, art and industrial arts rooms, etc. You might give students a week's advance notice to bring objects from home.
  • Recycled Art Reflection Questionnaire


  1. Review the following vocabulary words with students prior to beginning the lesson: recycling, found object, folk art, fine arts, aesthetics.

  2. Write the following on the board, leaving space under each for a short list:
    • tires
    • paper
    • plastic drink bottles
    Ask students whether they and their families recycle any of these items. Then ask them to list some of the items that are made from these objects once they are recycled. Answers may include soft playground flooring and running tracks from tires; paper bags, confetti, and toilet paper from paper; and sleeping bags and fleece from plastic drink bottles.

  3. Ask the students if they can imagine wearing a pair of sandals made from an old car tire. These are quite common in Africa and are called "thousand milers" because of the long distance the rubber carries not only the car, but also the sandal wearer. Have students search the Web for information on African folk art and recycling, and then discuss what they find.

  4. Tell students that it's not only folk artists who use recycled goods to make useful, interesting-looking objects, such as the vase and briefcase, so-called fine artists (those concerned mainly with aesthetics rather than usefulness) also use recycled goods. Two famous 20th-century American artists who have incorporated found objects into their art are Louise Nevelson and Robert Rauschenberg. Find a website that provides examples of this artwork.

  5. Ask the students to identify recognizable objects in the artworks. It will help for them to have a sense of the very large size of both artworks, so note the dimensions that are given for each. Identification is harder with the Nevelson, but tell students that she worked entirely in wood and painted the objects black after she was done. Given that information, what kinds of things might be included?
  6. Now show the students the recycled and found objects you have accumulated and brought into the classroom. Working in groups, students must create works of art using a minimum of three objects. They can choose whether to make a useful piece of folk art, such as the African art they read about, or a more fanciful piece of art, in the vein of Nevelson and Rauschenberg. Encourage students to use their Recycled Art Reflection Questionnaire  for help in organizing the project.


Display the artworks for the class or even for the whole school. Have the students individually reflect on their work using the Recycled Art Reflection Questionnaire.


  • Study the work of Nevelson and Rauschenberg, along with other collage and assembly artists, in more detail. Have students create take-offs of one artist's work, using found objects.
  • For more art ideas and activities, browse the lessons in the Art theme on TeacherVision.

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