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Bricolage Art Definition

Bricolage: The word sounds vaguely familiar. It resembles “collage” –the craft of pasting together various materials not normally associated with one another- and “assemblage” –constructing by connecting materials not normally associated with one another. Etymologically, it derives from “bricole’ –that which breaks via an indirect or unexpected action. What can a word that connotes both pasting together and breaking apart mean? Bricolage is a way of working in the world characterized by an active balance of sense, cognition, aesthetics and intuition. 

The French Bricoleur, known for the inventiveness and cleverness of her/his Bricolage solutions, was an itinerant “fix-it man”, a migrant worker wandering the countryside looking for odd jobs, whether fixing a gate, repairing a wheel or creating new tools. For some it is a skill that can be learned; for others it evolves from everyday experience. For the informed bricoleur, Bricolage is a powerful tool for refining perception, developing intuition and for using the direct dynamism among awareness, understanding and action When Claude Levi-Strauss applied the word Bricolage to the intellectual style of la pensee sauvage (often translated as “The Savage Mind” but more appropriately interpreted as an unsubordinated intellect) he described ways of knowing as sophisticated as, but not subsumed by, science, engineering, or logical ordering. He revealed a powerful elaborate way of knowing which did not subordinate one piece of datum to another. Images, ideas, objects, signs, and symbols each, he found, have undifferentiated power to la pensee sauvage; all are available as the raw materials and the tools for working, creating, thinking and doing. This process of taking whatever-is-at-hand regardless of its previous use and making novel useful and powerful re-combinations among them, he called “Bricolage.” 

 The French Bricolage is both a verb and a noun. As a verb Bricolage refers to the flow of improvisational folk activity. To bricolage means being resourceful in making do with whatever is at hand. It also means making complete constructions from incomplete resources, to fashion a solution to a problem from odds and ends. Thirdly, to bricolage means discovering new, consistently novel re-combinations that provide solutions for practical problems. As a noun, a Bricolage is the actual construction resolving something problematic. A Bricolage is the product of engaging Bricolage creativity. Used as a creative process, a Bricolage can be a repaired fence, a work of art, a group process for mending creativity. 

Creativity is a deeply healing and ancient cultural therapeutic dynamic. Folk improvisation provides a culture with economic, social and personal healing processes through active gathering of aesthetic information at neuropsychological levels. Working creatively at the folk level goes directly to a greater sense of healing to the self as a creative spirit, as a self-empowered whole in the flow of experience. 

 Jose Cedillos and Dick Westheimer,   The Networker, 2001

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