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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Bricolage is a term used in several disciplines, among them the visual arts and literature, to refer to:

  • the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things which happen to be available;
  • a work created by such a process.

It is borrowed from the French word bricolage, from the verb bricoler – equivalent to the English "do-it-yourself", the core meaning in French being, however, "fiddle, tinker" and, by extension, "make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)".

Bricolage as a design approach – in the sense of building by trial and error – is often contrasted to engineering: theory-based construction.

A person who engages in bricolage is a bricoleur: someone who invents his or her own strategies for using existing materials in a creative, resourceful, and original way.




Instrumental Bricolage in music would include the use of found objects as instruments:

  • Irish Spoons
  • Australian slap bass made from a tea chest
  • comb and wax paper for humming through
  • gumleaf humming
  • Largophone (made from a stick and bottle tops)
  • Trinidadian Steel drums (made from industrial storage drums)
  • African drums and thumb pianos made from recycled pots and pans.
  • American super instruments made from recorders and bicycle bells or metal rods and keys

Stylistic Bricolage is the inclusion of common musical devices with new uses. Shuker [1998 Popular Music: Key Concepts ] writes "Punk best emphasized such stylistic bricolage".

Musical Bricolage flourishes in music of sub-cultures where:

  • experimentation is part of daily life (pioneers, immigrants, artistic communities),
  • access to resources is limited (such as in remote, discriminated or financially disconnected sub-cultures) which limits commercial influence (eg. acoustic performers, gypsies, ghetto music, hippie, folk or traditional musicians) and
  • there is a political or social drive to seek individuality (eg. Rap music, peace-drives, drummers circles)

Unlike other bricolage fields

  • intimate knowledge of resources is not necessary (many Punk musicians are not classically trained. Classical training discourages creativity in preference for accuracy).
  • careful observation and listening is not necessary, it is common in spontaneous music to welcome 'errors' and disharmony.

Like other bricolage fields, Bricolage music still values

  • trusting one's ideas
  • self-correcting structures (targeted audiences, even if limited)

Visual Art

In art, bricolage is a technique where works are constructed from various materials available or on hand, and is seen as a characteristic of postmodern works.

These materials may be mass-produced or "junk". See also: Merz, polystylism, collage.

Bricolage can also be applied to theatrical form of improvisation. More commonly known as Improv. The idea of using one's environment and materials which are at hand is the main goal in Improv. The environment is the stage and the materials are often pantomimed. The use of the stage and the imaginary materials are all made up on the spot so the materials which are at hand ar actually things that the players know from past experiences. (i.e. an improvisation of ordering fast food: One player would start with the common phrase "How May I help You").


Cultural studies

In cultural studies bricolage is used to mean the processes by which people acquire objects from across social divisions to create new cultural identities. In particular, it is a feature of subcultures such as, for example, the punk movement. Here, objects that possess one meaning (or no meaning) in the dominant culture are acquired and given a new, often subversive meaning. For example, the safety pin became a form of decoration in punk culture.


In his book The Savage Mind' (1962, English translation 1966), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss used the word bricolage to describe any spontaneous action, further extending this to include the characteristic patterns of mythological thought. The reasoning here being that, since mythological thought is all generated by human imagination, it is based on personal experience, and so the images and entities generated through 'mythological thought' rise from pre-existing things in the imaginer's mind. (Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind)

Jacques Derrida extends this notion to any discourse. "If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one's concept from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur."

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in their 1972 book Anti-Oedipus, identify bricolage as the characteristic mode of production of the schizophrenic producer.


In biology the biologist François Jacob uses the term bricolage to describe the apparently cobbled-together character of much biological structure, and views it as a consequence of the evolutionary history of the organism.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bricolage" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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