Sunday, September 28, 2008


Bricolage: "make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)." -Wikipedia

There was an article in our morning newspaper about a local man who recycles seemingly useless and unrelated bits of "junk" into eclectic dioramas that "pay homage to the craft form popularized in elementary school social studies projects and book reports." Artist Charles Steckler considers these pieces "kind of like poetry in a sense. Poetry has an open form. It has potential for many interpretations," he said. "It's the visual equivalent to poetry. People can find many meanings in them."

When I did a bit of research on the title of his exhibition, "Bricoleur/Bricolage," I found a fascinating collection of variations on the theme.

In music, bricolage refers to the use of found objects as instruments, including Irish spoons & bones, Trinidadian steel drums, comb & paper kazoos, and the incredible vegetable orchestra featured on YouTube. The emphasis is on imaginative use of unlikely items to create tunes - many of the musicians are self-taught and experimentation is the norm.

Steckler's dioramas, and the colorful taxi dashboard pictured above, are examples of bricolage in the visual arts. Improvisation personifies bricolage in the performing arts.

Science and technology frequently borrow words, like dryad, Beowulf, and Goldilocks, from art and literature.

In biology, Fran├žois Jacob used the term bricolage to "contrast real biology with the false impression of nature as an engineer," emphasizing the impromptu "tinkering" that he felt really took place in evolution by trial and error as opposed to intelligent design.

Information technology stresses the need for bricolage-like freedom to develop in a non-linear, innovative manner. The Bricolage Content Management System is "an open-source enterprise-class content management system, [that] greatly simplifies the complex tasks of creating, managing, and publishing the vast libraries of content essential to any organization."

Can education benefit from the bricolage approach?

Constructivism is a philosophy of learning advocating the building of understanding as an active process initiated and directed by the learner. Some educators question the value of discovery-based instruction for "novices" who might lack the background knowledge or motivation necessary to acquire understanding.

When standardized testing and state-mandated curricula guide the educational system, is there room for exploration and innovation? Is there a place for bricolage in the classroom beyond the dioramas of our elementary days?

"Awesome taxi dashboard, Singapore" by gruntzooki

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