[“Found Art” is a term that I think I am making up. I have my own definition for it, which I will detail below. If you google “Found Art,” nothing definitive returns. Also, this term is not to be confused with “Found Object,” which is very much an actual term used in the worlds of art, art history, and art theory. This term refers to an object that has been found—in a dumpster, on the street, in an old house, or honestly wherever—and has been turned into art because the artist or “founder” has in some way deemed it worthy. The Tate in London states that, “A found object is a natural or man-made object, or fragment of an object, that is found (or sometimes bought) by an artist and kept because of some intrinsic interest the artist sees in it.” The quintessential example of this kind of art is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. However, this kind of art is not what I will be discussing. I will be discussing the idea of “Found Art,” and this concept is a bit different.]
Firstly, Found Art always originates from humble beginnings, and most often remains humble even in its final state of existence. Perhaps the reason why I love the idea of Found Art so much, is because I have a natural inclination to elevate any beautiful scrap of paper by popping it into a well-made frame, giving it the showcase it deserves—as if to point out to the rest of the world, “See, look at this beautiful little thing! You would have missed it if you were not looking. But now that you see it, isn’t it spectacular?”
I speak more about framing artwork in my earlier post, ART ON YOUR WALLS, DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING?
Here are several ways in which humility permeates Found Art.
This is a minuscule sketch done by the very talented Molly McIntyre, one of my roommates in college (University of the Arts, Philadelphia, 1998-2002), illustrating—quite accurately—the bodies of some of the females in our small circle. To clarify, this was all guess-work based on Molly’s artistic perception, since I do not recall any of us ever prancing around without wearing any clothing. In case you are wondering, this goddess is second from the right/third from the left. I have always loved this sketch and have kept it for 19 years. This scrap of paper placed in a frame, floating under glass, encased by a grand white mat, would be a striking and meaningful work of art to place on anyone’s wall. This is on my list!
The materials with which a work of Found Art is created, are always readily available. This implies several things. For one, it means that the person creating the work of art is, in general, surrounded by art-making materials at any given moment. There is no running to the store for supplies. There is no planning or scheming beforehand. The artist works with what he or she has on hand. And if a person has art-making materials on hand, and these materials are fairly accessible (maybe they are in the next room, but not stowed away in the attic or garage), then it is understood that this person makes art on a fairly regular basis. Found Art is indicative of, and reflects, not simply a particular kind of art, but rather, a way of life.
The materials do not matter to the Found Artist. If the surface material that has been found is gray construction paper, fine. If this scrap of paper has dings, holes, or ripped edges, no problem. If the artist only has a broken crayon and a red magic marker within reach, then that is what the artist works with. This kind of art is not about the materials or the plan. It is about artists who have so much creative energy flowing through them on such a consistent basis, that they must create when the moment takes them, or even when they are just hanging around, doing nothing, and feeling bored. They have enough raw creativity stored within the vaults of their souls, and whatever materials they have to work with, they can most often fashion something beautiful and quite aesthetically impressive from it.
A collection of more Found Art by Molly McIntyre. I collected her incredible pieces when I was in college and have kept them safe in a freezer bag for all of these years. I believe the small heart-shaped valentine was created by sandwiching melted crayons and news clippings between wax paper—perhaps using an iron?
The Found Artistic process is equally humble. The artist is not striving for greatness and does not desire a masterpiece. This is last on the artist’s mind. Instead, he or she is playing and being spontaneous. The work cannot be planned or strategically constructed. Instead, the process is pure creation without thought of the final product, much like a sketch that turns out surprisingly beautiful.
Or perhaps the artist is actually in full-tilt creative mode, and has run out of materials. In order to stay in the flow, the artist reaches for whatever scraps are lying around. The “scrappiness” of found materials can only add to the character of the final piece, and the artist is wholly aware of this fact. This process is fearless and anti-perfect. The artist is confident in his or her aesthetic abilities, and will not allow something as content-less as materials to limit or obstruct his or her creative flow.
The timing of the Found Artistic process is also distinctive. This type of art does not take too much time to make. The surface of the work of art is not belabored by the artist. A mark is made and the artist moves on to the next mark, not second-guessing or redoing. If this work of art does take time, it still takes less time to create than if the artist was working on something more deliberately.
This is something I created in a printmaking class that I took a few years ago. I was working with the instructor using the printing press, and I saw a leftover, unused piece of paper on another press beside us (the scale-y, animal looking pattern was printed on this scrap). The student working before me had rejected this scrap of paper because her print was uneven and was not dark enough. So, I used this piece of paper to print my image overtop (my image is the double window and shadows). This was printed on Xerox paper and came out beautifully. Placed in a frame with a mat or double mat, and you have a work of fine art for your wall that means something, that has a story, and that is a one-of-a-kind original.
I actually keep this particular piece of Found Art tacked to the bulletin board in my work office. At some point, I could get it framed, but it is not asking for a frame. It is perfectly happy hanging out, unassumingly, with the other mis-matched squares of beauty on the board.
In continuing with the theme of humility, Found Art is also often quite small in size. The art must be small enough to have been created on the floor, or in the artist’s lap, or even on a table in the artist’s studio. There is no easel and no apparatus to support this creative process. It is intimate and contained, and the work of art equally reflects this preciousness. Since the artist is humble in his or her creative process, he or she sees no need to make a big fuss over this process, or the final product. No need to spread out, no need to move around too much. The artist has something that he or she wants to create, and then he or she will be done with it and move along with the rest of the day. These accidentally beautiful scraps may even be pushed off to the side or forgotten by the artist, as he or she has larger projects to focus on; until someone like myself comes along and recognizes the treasure of the sketch.
You may have seen this little beauty before in my earlier post about my HOBBIT NOOK. This small work of art is only several inches in size and was painted on some kind of rag paper, then perhaps roughly trimmed, and floated on mat board. I am in love with this in every way.
THE NATURE OF FOUND ART
To the Found Artist, beauty is everywhere and everything means something. Any and all things can, in some way, be traced back to beauty. At the same time, these creators have a deep understanding of the fleeting nature of beauty, and honor and respect the art of letting go.
Polaroids are an off-shoot of Found Art in that they are so quick, so easy, and so fleeting to create—I say “off-shoot” because this kind of Found Art is not process-oriented in the least, but can be considered “Found Art” because of the transitory nature of the final product, as well as the often light-hearted and accidental, yet beautiful content produced. Creating an actual photograph, from film, in the darkroom, can take, at the very least, an entire day. However, Polaroids are quick, fun, light, and are of rather low-quality in terms of the look of the final product. Polaroids are never fully crisp, and always appear a bit hazy and unsaturated. There is nothing high-end looking about a Polaroid—although another framing goal of mine is to take one of my prized Polaroids and pop it into an expensive frame, as Polaroids have such sentimental value for me, and I find them, and the totality of their undeniable object-ness, to be exquisitely beautiful.
Please read more about the many parallel connections I make between Polaroids and DAGUERREOTYPES.
These are two Polaroid images that I produced over 10 years ago. Alone they are rather beautiful, both with warm tones and rather sensuous abstract contact. Placed side-by-side as a diptych, their aesthetic alignment is further elevated, and the pair becomes a striking work of Found Art, to be framed, or tossed aside and forever forgotten. After all, these are just Polaroids. Note: The golden area at the top of each of these images, coming down from outside of the frame, is my long hair, accidentally falling into the frame of the shot. I took an entire roll like this, unknowingly; and yet, this spontaneous mistake contributes to the endearing and imperfect qualities of this found work of art.
As I said, this is a term that I think I have kind of come up with on my own; but I hope I have been able to articulate this rather obscure type of art, and inspire you to explore this realm even further. At the root of Found Art is the concept that “Beauty is in fact everywhere.” Found Artists know this always and live their lives in this way, day after day, always and forever. How lovely.