Years ago I took a deep breath and belly-flopped into the deep end of an immersion course in French – in France. One of our assignments involved presenting a lecture to the class about our professional work. I took out my PowerPoint slide-show and staggered along in my very basic French as images of my artwork appeared on the screen. My classmates were very supportive, and so was the tutor. At the end he said, “Vous êtes une vrai créatrice!”
Hey, that’s cool, I thought. I feel more like a “créatrice” than an artist; I’ve never really found my niche in any of the sub-groups that make up the contemporary art world. I don’t really have things to say – I simply have things to make.
It’s amazing that, given the complexity and scope of the English language, we have no word for people who see themselves as run of the mill makers or créatrices. The former term is reserved for Sunday hobbyists, and the latter doesn’t exist. And we certainly have no word for the artisan whose work is not planned or premeditated and who has little or no mental construct regarding the finished product or how it will be achieved.
But the French do. It’s bricoleur.
Bricolage … is a French word that originally meant something like the English tinkering and, referring to the way the home handyman, for example, makes do with whatever tools and bits of material he happens to have to hand, improvising where necessary. This homely term was raised to the status of a theoretical concept by the late Claude Levi-Strauss, founder of structural anthropology, in his book La Pensée Sauvage (1962; translated as The Savage Mind, 1966).
The bricoleur, in Levi-Strauss’s account, becomes the paradigm for the way of thinking of tribal people, as opposed to what he calls the “engineer”, who epitomizes the rational and scientific mind. The engineer plans his operations in advance, secures the appropriate equipment and materials, then carries out the project. The bricoleur feels his way towards solutions, without conceptualizing the project from the outside, and essentially by rearranging the already available materials.
Ultimately, this is part of a cultural fabric that changes and adapts, but without progressing in a linear or historical fashion.
– Christopher Allen, art critic
Object Lesson in The Weekend Australian Nov 14-15 2009
Les Bricoleurs are my tribe. I love the notion of being part of a creative culture that “changes and adapts” leaving no historical trace and possessing no need to “progress”.
Like life itself, the work of the bricoleur flows endlessly out of the immensity of the moment – and includes the materials and equipment at hand, the techniques and skills amassed, all stirred up with the content of one’s consciousness at that moment in time.
The bricoleur remains clueless as to what might end up on the canvas, the paper, the loom. She makes. And later – sometimes years later – meaningmind catches up with wonderingmind and a title appears on the work.
And she thinks, Crikey! So that’s what that was all about!
Image source – Public Domain