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Found art (from the French objet trouvé) is a specific type of art that focuses on creating artworks from objects that aren’t normally considered art. The objects chosen are undisguised—so you can understand their pre-art form—but are often modified to create new and interesting ideas and concepts.

This method of creating fine art from everyday objects (originating with Marcel Duchamp in 1915) was quite a shock to to the art wold of that time—it gave commonplace objects a dignity that challenged the ideas of what was and wasn’t strictly art.

But found object art is actually nothing new. Since humankind first walked the earth we have been creating art from objects we find—drilling holes in pretty stones to make necklaces, stringing shells together to create headdresses and belts and even decorating churches and sacred places with skulls and bones.

Nowadays found art is a popular medium for artists, especially those concerned with themes of consumerism and the environmental impact of human occupation. Found object artists might create sculptures or assemblages that simply function as artworks, or they may create art that can be worn, such as found-art clothing and jewelry.

Here are some ways you can use found objects in your own artwork:

1. Using found objects to represent themes

Everyday objects denote certain tasks, feelings, scenes and ideas. As an artist, you might combine found objects with traditional media to evoke these feelings. For example, an old perfume bottle added to a portrait might represent beauty. . . or vanity.

When you find an object you want to use in an artwork, think about not just what it is and what makes it interesting to you, but also how it is perceived by our culture. Could it represent different things to different people?

2. Building assemblages from found objects

Multiple ordinary objects transformed in sculptures or mixed-media pieces are called assemblages.

Assemblage artists are usually sculptors creating huge pieces that may look like one thing but are made out of something completely different—e.g. a cow made out of bits of old computers. This type of sculptural artwork often creates a powerful visual statement about the material culture and its impact on the natural world.

3. Recycling or “upcycling” junk into artwork

Although most found object art is by nature a form of recycling, many artists choose found objects with the specific purpose of saving them from the landfill and making them beautiful again.

Practically any object can be made into art, from old refrigerators to car parts to second-hand clothing. Found object artists must become well acquainted with their local landfill and thrift stores.

Look at details in the object itself—many industrial and practical objects have a beauty to them, like circuit boards and gears in old watches, for example! These appear quite frequently in found object art because of their beauty and association with technology and industry.

And, of course, there has been a huge subculture movement in recent years known as “steampunk” that thrives on the found object principles.

Steampunk art focuses on an imagined world of futuristic Victoriana, where steam-powered robots and medical equipment powered by tesla coils are not out of place. Steampunk found art is extremely popular and many found artists are exploring the aesthetic.

If you want to create found art objects, there is no time like the present to get stuck in. A visit to your local landfill, inorganic rubbish collection, or thrift store will yield mountains of inspiration.

Do you have some great found art that you’d like to get featured on EE? Show us!

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