Everything Old Is New Again

Studying Art Abroad coverA common conversation, when I’m teaching classes on the art of upcycling, is how old this seemingly “new” concept is. We’ve given it new names (like “creative reuse”) and much better PR (Pinterest alone can be credited for making “upcycle” a household word). Still, at the end of the day, upcycling has always been a way of life, for some.

I tell students not all artists are upcyclers, but all upcyclers are artists. It takes a creative person to find potential in everything, but an upcycler’s commitment to make use of what you have, instead of buying what you want.

Today, while listening to the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class, I was reminded how not-new most of what I write and teach about really is. It was the episode called “Two Other Alcotts: Bronson and May” – about Louisa May Alcott’s father and youngest sister, both of whom were noteworthy and creative in their own right, but often overlooked because Louisa’s work simply overshadowed them. I learned that, in addition to being a painter of some prominence, May Alcott wrote a book, called Studying Art Abroad: How to Do it Cheaply. In it, she recommends packing “plenty of old underclothes . . . because the grime of London and the acid used by all Paris blanchisseuses soon rot and spoil anything delicate or nicely trimmed, and as the old things become too thin for use, but invaluable as paint rags (which artists so often have to buy) . . . .”

To paraphrase dear Laurie, I have always known I should be part of the Alcott family!