The festive season is often associated with gift giving. This post is a quick love-note to a form of gift giving that I absolutely love, and has been a source of much joy for me over the past few years: Art Abandonment.
I first happened upon art abandonment as a concept after a conversation with a healer I was working with. I was talking about how I love making pictures but get stuck knowing what to ‘do’ with them. ‘After all’ I said ‘I’m not sure I want to sell them, that seems like a lot of work, and I find the whole art scene so cliquey and false and closed shop’. Plus, let’s face it I’m equal measures scared and lazy when I come to the whole thought of putting my work in public (well mostly scared, which comes out as resistance who pretends it’s all just too hard). But anyway, in this great conversation she suggested that I could give my art away. She suggested a hospital and sick kids who might enjoy seeing my work.
Something lit up in me in that moment. I could give my work away! To strangers! I felt an opening up of glorious possibility.
So… some noodling about online later and I stumbled across an actual group on Facebook who celebrate and document the process of giving artworks away to complete strangers, or more accurately, abandoning artworks for others to find. I was instantly hooked!
The founders describe it thusly:
“Art Abandonment is a group designed to encourage random acts of art, left in various locations around the globe. The idea is that folks can make something and leave it for a lucky unsuspecting person to find. Artists can then post locations and photos of abandoned goodies…and finders can let everyone know that they are the lucky finder! O’ sweet abandon!”
‘But how does it work?’ I hear you ask…
Simple – make a piece of handmade art / craft (knitted things, glass art, paintings, drawings, jewellery, mounted photos, handmade cards, pebble paintings, textiles – you name it, it counts), adorn it with some information (see below for hints on what to say), and leave it in a public place for someone to find.
‘But what if no-one likes my stuff?’
Someone will! That’s the absolute beauty and joy of this – to realise that no matter what you make, what your style is, what your skill level is or even which material you use, if you like it and make it with love, someone else out there will also love it. Take a quick scroll through the Facebook page for the group and you can see a wide variety of artworks being made – not all of them are my cup of tea, but I absolutely love seeing the diversity of types of expression, and reading about the happy and grateful people who find them. Tonic for the soul.
‘And do I leave a note or something?’
Yes, it’s best to leave a note. Members in the group have helpfully made some tags that you can download and print (click on ‘files’ on the top of the FB page). I cut them up and stick them to coloured cardboard to make them look bright and happy, punch a hole in and tie them to my pieces with ribbons. The tag files are free to download. People have even made bilingual tags and beautifully designed tags, the generosity of art abandoners is beautiful to see.
Of course you can also make your own handwritten or typed notes, that’s fine too. Some people like to include a business card or their own contact details – that’s perfectly fine. However if you prefer to leave it anonymously, but would love to know if they received the artwork, leave the group’s email address: email@example.com and the coordinators will share the ‘finders’ emails with the group.
‘Where can I leave my work?’
Oh, so many places! Try doctors waiting rooms, cancer treatment centres, women’s centres, aged care facilities, libraries, public parks, bus stops, outdoor tables at cafes, sidewalks/footpaths, community gardens, anyplace boring where people have to wait in line or wait there turn, any place where people might be feeling disheartened or sad or in need of encouragement.
‘But you must be so generous and nice and generally saintly to do such a thing…!’
Er no. Oh my goodness, if only you knew just what a kick it gives me to give these away. I feel like a secret gift giving ninja. Honestly, I use this as a form of self-care. If I’m ever feeling really blue I find making some art to give away lifts my spirits like nothing else. It’s something practical and hands on to focus on if I get too stuck in my head, it is anonymous so I don’t have to get too worried about the outcome while I’m art making, and I can imagine the thrill of someone finding this special little present for themselves and how that might make them feel if they were having a cruddy day. I can’t recommend it highly enough as a gift to yourself.
‘Who thought up this great idea?’
Read all about how it started with Michael deMeng over here.
‘What about safety/ permission/ littering?’
Ooh yes, glad you asked. I’m a bit of a stickler for the rules myself so these questions popped into my mind too when I first started. In general use your initiative and do what feels right for you. For me personally, I prefer not to abandon in shops of any kind (I think it’s disrespectful to the shop owner, and potentially confusing to give things away in a business where people are trying to sell things). Others disagree and plenty of people abandon in retail spaces – some get the permission of a particular shop owner, or abandon items that connect in some way to what is being sold – e.g. bookmarks in book stores, or pictures of plants in a garden centre. Do bear in mind that shop owners may not love you doing it and could dispose of your work.
I also prefer not to abandon anywhere someone might trip over them, and make sure my artworks aren’t choking hazards etc for kids. I wouldn’t abandon any artworks in natural areas such as National Parks (apart from say mandalas made out of pebbles and leaves arranged on the ground) – both because it feels like littering to me and if they were textile/ beads etc I’d be worried animals might eat them. But that’s just me.
Finally, with the world so focused on security at present, I wouldn’t recommend wrapping your work in paper if it is large or bulky, in case anyone gets frightened by a hard to identity package. I stick with clear cellophane when wrapping my pictures (or if they’re varnished, no wrapping at all, just a ribbon), and I always include a tag so the person who finds it is clear that it is free and for them if they would like it.
Oh, and I never abandon artworks in public bathrooms because that feels icky to me, but plenty of people in the group do, and some finders love what they find near wash basins. So you can see it’s a ‘follow your gut’ kind of affair in terms of the ‘rules’.
My three best ever art abandonment stories:
- Abandoning artwork around Berlin in the dead of winter, knowing that the colour would brighten up someone’s day
- Having one of my very first abandoned lino cuts being found and pinned to the front of someone’s house – where it remains to this day 3 years later!! (I don’t know them and they don’t me but it’s in my neighbourhood and my husband spotted it while walking!)
- Getting an email from a finder after abandoning a bundle of handmade cards in a letter box because I had always enjoyed their verge garden and wanted to send some joy back. The email said:
Dear Jade, a while ago you left some beautiful cards in our mail box in Glebe. We are the people with the verge garden in XXX Rd (actually made by my partner who is also very active in the community garden). Anyway we were SO happy to have received your beautiful cards and have used them only for very special occasions. I just sent one to my close friend who is a painter in Santa Fe explaining how we received them. So just thought I would let you know how special and inspiring your gift is.
* Yes, back in the early 1990’s as a teenager I was a fan of hair metal, pop rock and funk – full of guitars, bad eyeliner, pomp and swagger. This blog title is a hat tip to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
About me: I help my clients to get to know themselves in new ways, heal, make decisions and create change in their lives. I help them access their own wisdom using creative methods and having fun along the way. I am an artist, coach and art therapist. I work with clients face to face, by Skype and in groups. Get in touch with me via the contacts link above, I’d love to work together.