Art Series: Martina McGovern shares ideas art – Plastic bags and bottles


McGovern is an Art teacher who lives and works in Brisbane. She is a highly respected artist who designs lessons with social justice and environmental issues in mind.  She was interviewed in June. 2010.

Creating a Context for Learning about Environmental Issues

According to McGovern, to help combat the havoc plastic bags and bottles cause within the natural environment, teachers can raise students’ level of social conscience. By using recycled bags and bottles to devise projects, which demonstrate the art elements of line, shape and texture.  She has devised a series of “green” art lessons.

She suggests that by focusing on recycling this way, teachers will give students an opportunity to become more aware of how detrimental plastic bag and bottle litter is for the environment. She says that by showing students examples of ‘plastic bag and or bottle’ art, educators will open them to the wonders of manipulating art elements to express meaning in different contexts.

To get started, she recommends that students be encouraged to explore ‘ways of looking’ through drawing, media experimentation and skills development. While they learn about the environmental problems associated with plastic bag litter they will develop a personal way of seeing and working.

Development of Knowledge and Understanding

Backing their findings with statistics and visual imagery, students will be able to prepare for the topic by researching the effect littered plastic bags can have on the environment.  They will need to scrounge a range of plastic bags, bottles and bottle tops from home, collected from neighbors or local businesses in their area.

There are a range of artistic methods students can experience when recycling plastic bags to create artistic sculptures and two dimensional statements. Students might be surprised when they begin their search on the Internet for articles and YouTube videos that show how to recycle plastics bags to create art.

As they search out instructional material online, students will develop an ability to look into recycling issues. They will deepen their understanding of Caring for Creation, when they dialogue in class about issues that they discover and uncover.   Teachers can use this opportunity to encourage students to think about how they might ensure that their message is powerful when received by an intended audience.

Consciousness Raising Through Creative Arts Practice


By sequencing the work as a distinct unit, McGovern has shown how to keep students engaged with an environmental topic for quite a while. By remaining focused in this way it seems likely that they will learn quite a bit about the environment as they explore. This is a fertile situation within which teachers can dialogue about how artists use artistic practice to raise consciousness about social issues. As they work, they will naturally enhance their aesthetic understandings of art elements and languages.

Skillful Ways with Plastic Bags and Bottles

There are many ways plastic bags and bottles can be used as an artistic medium. The plastic can be plaited, twisted, weaved and fused to create both two dimensional and three dimensional work. Other skills will be enhanced by the collaborative experience of searching for the information online. Their team building skills can be enhanced when they both work to get the creative projects up and running and when they create a directory of links to environmental arts projects.

McGovern recommends

  • Initially using Power Point to present visual material about recycling. After viewing slides of artists work selected by the teacher, students create a series of observational drawings in their sketchbooks. “This practice uses drawing as a way of looking,” claims McGovern. Not only will a discussion take place about the facts and statistics of the effect plastic bags have on the environment, but, students should also reflect on the artists work through appraisal.
  • Once students have developed a personal approach to the topic, McGovern suggests that larger projects such as creating a mural within the vicinity of a shopping centre could evolve. This would act as a continual reminder to shoppers of the effects of plastic bags on the environment.
  • She recommends that teachers demonstrate the process of fusing plastic bags as well as provide links to so students can go online and watch the process.
  • Once students have a direction of their own to follow, McGovern suggests that students should be able to locate further instructions online so that they can learn individually and then regroup later to share what they have learned.

Using the Internet to Full Advantage

This project and others like it, could be a productive starting point for forum discussions online. If classes become enchanted by working towards health of the environment, perhaps it would reward teachers to set up student forums. With other like minded students they can share about and devise further projects about the topic.  It would support this venture to provide a gallery so that students could critique artwork and showcase their projects.