A found object is something which has been designed for a purpose other than art which has been harnessed in the production of art. Found objects often appear in sculpture, but they also show up in music, performance, and other methods of artistic expression. These objects may become the centerpiece of a work, or they may simply be integrated into the larger whole, and they can vary widely in size and shape, as anything in the world has the potential to become a found object.
Many found objects are designed for a utilitarian purpose. A lawnmower, for example, could be used in a sculpture or performance piece, either whole or in a dismantled form. Depending on the artist's goal, the piece could reference the original function of the lawnmower, or it could completely repurpose the lawnmower, sometimes in a totally unrecognizable way. The same lawnmower doesn't just need to be used in a visual work; it can also appear in music, with its own distinctive sound.
These objects are especially common in industrial music, although music from other genres may integrate these objects. For example, some classical musicians like to work with birdsong, integrating it into their performances and using it as a base to develop new melodies and themes. Pots and pans may be beaten as drums in ethnic music, while the dance and music performance known as Stomp utilizes objects ranging from mops to saws as musical instruments. A found object in music may be subtle or jarring, melodious or cacophonous, but it will usually attract interest.
Modern sculpture may utilize these objects, sometimes to a level which critics find a bit extreme. If you happen to have access to a modern art museum and you take a day to amble around, you will probably discover a number of found object pieces, ranging from pianos splashed with paint to piles of garbage. Because a found object is always discovered, rather than made, an artist may not know exactly what the object is or how to use it until he or she stumbles upon it.
Some cynics point out that one of the primary advantages of a found object is that it is often cheap, or free, despite the fact that some objects are extremely expensive. Fans of this type of art point out that the use of these objects in art illustrates the ability to find the beauty in everyday things, and that the inclusion of a found object in an art piece often causes people to think about that object, and sometimes the world, in very new ways.