I find my tribe

stash for a bricoleur

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.

Bricoleur definition

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

creating from wonder 2


This is the second of three brief extracts from book eight – creating from wonder – in my series of free e-books: empty canvas : wondering mind

Marvel and wonder go hand-in-hand, and their offspring is true learning. One of the most exciting things about the kind of activity that occurs in the art room, (the educating art room), is that it is firmly grounded in experimental processes. We are, as novice or professional artisans, deeply involved in both wonder and wondering.

Questions are the life-blood of the artisan, and the prime question in any artisan’s mind is “What if …?”  This is a question that makes many parents and teachers wince.  At the same time, it’s the one that generates exploration and experimentation in the fields of science, sports, philosophy – what area of human endeavor can be excluded from its penetrating, “But perhaps…”?

The “What if …?” of wondering mind is the fuel for any investigation into creativity.



Blind Men on a Log Bridge
By Hakuin Ekaku
(The Gitter Collection)

Hakuin’s painting is a beautiful depiction of the creative process.

Two blind travellers are crossing a river on a bridge made from a floating log. Imagine the courage, the focus, the risk! Arms reach out to probe for stability, feet follow one tentative step at a time. Balance is maintained, but only by ruthless presence in the moment. What if a wave rolls the log ? What if it is flooded over? What if someone is approaching? What if it’s too short, too narrow, too rotten?

The blind men just keep going.

This is so often the way we feel when faced with the empty canvas. We struggle to find a foothold. We feel we haven’t a clue as to what we’re doing or where we’re going.

Well, the good news is that this is exactly how we will feel, if genuine creative expression is our priority.

– miriam louisa simons

creating from wonder 1
creating from wonder 3