Found art: discovering the beauty in discarded objects

Found art: discovering the beauty in discarded objects

It's been 90 years since found art (also called found object, objet trouvé or readymade) was controversially accepted into the broader world of fine art. Marcel Duchamp's 1917 "The Fountain—" a urinal he repurposed into a slightly more, um, decorative object —was the first universally acknowledged example of this new-fangled genre that created art from modified, but undisguised common objects.

"By definition, found art is self-defined — it is found or discovered rather than purchased, and its beauty is in the eye of its beholder," explains Cheryl Von Tress of Cheryl Von Tress Designs in Jacksonville. Von Tress has turned everything from a sheath of oak bark, to a tangle of kelp, to a rusted metal picnic table into significant pieces of home décor.

"For me, its characteristics involve uniqueness of the object, resourcefulness of the discoverer and the hidden surprise lying beneath its surface," she says.

Found art can be made of metal, wood, stone, ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural fibers; it can be discovered in junk yards, forests, beaches, creek beds, fields, barns, old fences, grandparent's sheds and backyards.

Visual artist Cantrell Maryott Driver of Ashland has been creating assemblages from found art since she was a youngster roaming her grandfather's ranch in Globe, Ariz., which had once been the town dump.

"Our playground was acres and acres of colored glass, antique bottles, doorknobs, old metal," she remembers. "I created an appreciation for these items because they were treasures. I wouldn't just put them in a pile; I would arrange them."

She now builds collage-type art from disparate items that appeal to her based on their texture, shape and color. An old piece of iron might meet a shiny, new trinket; a five-times-painted scrap of Alaskan boat wood might surround smooth rocks or even something man-made.

It's this notion of uncovering the mysterious beauty and potential combinations of mundane objects that directs the creation of found art.

"Different people use different pieces — letters, fabrics, metal welded into sculpture, pieces of wood that have different colors," Driver says. "It's such a broad genre and everyone has a different aesthetic — it's like any kind of decoration scheme: some people will want red velvet and a purple couch; some people will want all neutrals."

The trick is to let your individual taste lead you to the unexpectedly artistic and then to have the courage to display your discovery or creation.

To successfully work a piece of found art into a room's décor, the same basic rules apply as when placing any artwork: Balance, scale, line and harmony between the art and the space.

Think about color scheme and the room's basic design style. And avoid turning anything perishable or in an active state of decomposition into found art.

"This could stain a wall, floor or other surface," warns Von Tress. "Successful found art would already be in its final state prior to being displayed."

Not only is found art incredibly economical (after all, scavenging is fee-free and basic tools and craft supplies are either hiding in the garage or closet or can be purchased for a song), it can actually become a valuable decorative accent — to say nothing of a great conversation piece.

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