What is Bricolage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Bricolage is a word which is used to mean an assemblage of objects, along with the trial and error process of putting such objects together. Someone who practices bricolage is known as a bricoleur. Bricolage plays an important role in a number of fields, from computer programming to music, and it is part of the artistic and cultural expression of many cultures around the world. You may have even engaged in a bit of bricolage yourself; perhaps, for example, you rigged up a simple solution to a household problem, using materials which were to hand. This is a form of bricolage.

Bricolage may be desribed as the ability to make art with the objects at hand, like paperclips.
Bricolage may be desribed as the ability to make art with the objects at hand, like paperclips.

The word comes from the French bricole, used to describe a trifle or an odd job. By definition, bricolage includes objects and skills which are readily available. One famous bricoleur, MacGyver, was capable of utilizing the commonplace items around him to come up with ingenious solutions, ranging from rappelling tools to incendiary devices. Many people consider MacGyver to be a paragon in the field, and they may look up to him as a role model who illustrates the idea that anything is possible with a keen mind and a Swiss army knife.

In art, bricolage typically involves found objects which may be integrated into musical performances, sculptures, or other artistic expressions. It can also refer to a blending of styles; when a punk band reinterprets classical music, for instance, this is bricolage. Bricolage can also play a role in the field of design; many interior designers, for example, use bricolage to come up with innovative, distinctive, and unique designs for their clients.

You can also find bricolage in the computer world. Many people who work as programmers, for example, talk about playing around and using a trial and error approach in their work, while numerous websites take the form of bricolage, collecting material from a wide range of sources and presenting it for their users. The body of work on these sites is often quite extensive and incredibly varied; with content ranging from interviews with Presidential candidates to pictures of animals with silly captions.

Some people describe bricolage as the ability to make art with whatever is at hand, and the ability to think outside the box when it comes to using items. To an ordinary person, a paperclip is just a paperclip. To a bricoleur, a paperclip holds a world of possibilities as sculptural support, firing pin, etching tool, and much, much more.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@OeKc05 - The band you are referring to is the Finnish group, Apocalyptica. While they are extremely talented, I'm not sure I would define their work as bricolage since (at least at the beginning), they would simply play songs by other bands, albeit on cellos instead of traditional guitars and drums. If what they're doing is bricolage, then would we also apply the same definition to jazz groups who play songs from other genres?


I find it interesting that in English, bricolage can be used to describe assemblage in so many different contexts, whereas in French, it's primarily used to describe DIY. For example, at a general store, the entire arts and crafts section is called "bricolage" in French areas!


@shell4life - In terms of art, bricolage is a very neat way of recycling materials to make something useful. It requires a certain degree of creativity too, since many people would simply look at the original materials and only see junk.


During my art studies at my university, I became friends with a girl headed toward a degree in interior design. She had a knack for getting creative with every object she came into contact with. She was so open to invention that she was destined for success in her field.

After graduation, she opened up a business called Bricolage Design. She used this term to describe her style, and it defined her work. She would always tell her clients that she specialized in using found objects to recycle into beautiful decor. They always were happy to let her manipulate old junk around their homes into something fantastic.


I once saw a video of a band of celloists covering a heavy metal song. They all had long hair that they swished around during the intense parts. The music was hauntingly beautiful, and the fact that I knew the original song added to my appreciation for it.

Four guys playing various cello parts did enough to make the song sound full. I didn’t even miss a drummer or a bassist. I didn’t even miss the singer! The melody was so on point and the harmonies so great that they needed no accompaniment. This is bricolage at its very best.


I love to watch how interior designers use bricolage when remodeling rooms. They really do come up with some cool uses of ordinary stuff.

For instance, one used an old tree stump that had been sitting in a person’s yard to make a rustic table. She cleaned it up really well and glued a board covered in turquoise mosaic tile to its top. It looked awesome as part of the new living room.

In the middle of the stump and the board, she left a hole for a blue glass vase to fit into. She filled this permanent vase with gnarled sticks from the yard, which she sanded and stained to remove mites and mold.


In college, my 3-D art class involved a lot of bricolage. The materials were often left up to us, and we were given a subject and told to use whatever we wanted to illustrate it.

My subject was disillusionment. I decided to make a paper mache defeated person lying on a bed of broken promises. I made the bed from an old towel coated in brown paint. I took pine needles, broke them, and used them to form words such as “someday” and “friendship.” I glued them to the towel.

The paper mache figure laid across the bed, holding a broken mirror in his hand. All of the words on the bed had disillusioned him with life.

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