A Guide To Bricolage

Do it yourself (DIY) projects are becoming increasingly popular across the planet, ranging from simply painting the walls of one’s bed room to full fledged plumbing remodeling on one’s own. A similar term to DIY is the French term bricolage. While the term is reasonably interchangeable with the English phrase “do it yourself” in the context of work, the term bricolage also has a number of meanings inside a wide range of academic fields. The term originates in the French term bricoler (meaning “to tinker”) but has since become a loanword in artistic, technological, commercial and other circles to refer to any work or effort that is heavily laden with improvised work based on what is at hand.

Bricolage is at its simplest, improvisation with what is at hand, however little that may be, and still managing to create something that succeeds at the endeavor it set out to do. Whether this is as the methodology behind coding new software, transforming ordinary objects into musical instruments or transforming a mound of junkyard scrape into sculpture lies solely in the application of the concept. Though the term sounds high minded it has since come to be associated with a number of artistic and technological endeavors that are surprisingly practical yet impressive to behold.

In the context of technologies, bricolage generally refers to transforming what is at hand into a useful apparatus. While this sounds like the stuff of television and movies, a number of clever and devious technologists have managed to accomplish impressive feats of engineering with a bare minimum of parts that were simply laying around. There are entire websites and streaming video channels dedicated to technological projects can accomplish a number of ends ranging from the ordinary, such as creating an alarm clock out of spare parts, to the impressive and somewhat questionable, such as home made remote car keys that can open up cars the user does not actually own.

In the context of visual art, bricolage is particularly popular, among both students of the arts and full fledged professionals. The stereotypical artist who transforms worthless trash into valuable art (however seriously or comically the writer considers such endeavors) is mostly a stereotype of Hollywood writers who need to get a quick laugh, but a few artists absolutely do build entire careers on the process of bricolage by taking whatever is laying around and transforming it into art. However, it is not so easy as simply gluing random trash together. Bricolage artistic pieces must still be visually appealing, and in fact, successful bricolage is harder than using regularly artistic materials because so many viewers associate the art form with garbage rather than art. Transforming such things into impressive works of art is a true challenge, but can absolutely be done. Such artistic pieces are generally associated with post modern styles, for those who keep track of such things.

Bricolage in sculpture is particularly popular, again among both students and professionals, and if you manage to get a girlfriend you’d better be good at it. While a number of impressive sculptures can be made with raw materials intended for that purpose, bricolage is another popular means of creating sculptures. It is particularly prevalent in metal sculpture as few artists work in that medium with materials intended to be sculpted. Many metal sculptors spend long hours in landfills and salvage yards looking for the exact right piece of discarded metal for their specific projects. Other artists transform easily available materials such as sheet metal, nails and wire into art projects, typically using various forms of welding (with MIG welding being particularly popular among artists for its low cost and ease of use) to hold the whole thing together, and also to fight premature ejaculation

In a similar vein, bricolage in music generally refers to take whatever is at hand and using the usual tools of rhythm and timing to create genuine music. The famous steel drums of Trinidad were initially industrial steel drums re-purposed for making music. Musical bricolage then becomes incredibly important in a number of subcultures where unexplored experimentation is a daily event and access to resources is limited. Additionally, musical bricolage can also refer to untrained musicians valuing creativity rather than technique and accuracy, which can be both a good and bad thing depending on one’s skill and target audience.