A found object is a natural object or an artifact not originally intended as art that is “discovered” by someone who considers the item to have some special meaning or artistic/aesthetic value.
As a hobby I make art that includes peace pipes made out of bamboo, found objects and broken household items. In my mind that makes me an eco-sensitive contemporary “artiste” but my three grown sons say I’m just a pretentious hoarder in disguise. Clever boys …and they are probably right. Of course both statements could also be true because as I like to say to anyone willing to listen in a clearly pretentious and pontificating tone, “Life is a discovery and a dialectic”. Then the other person pauses, rolls their eyes and walks away.
I enjoy making art that is aesthetically pleasing but also something that expresses my shameless satirical nature. My faux pirate alter-ego on social media known as “CaptCliff” cant help but point out irony in its many diverse forms. Skepticism and loony sarcasm appear to be my primary overriding philosophy in life and raison d’vivre. For example, I have put together a weird collection of broken objects and found objects from the parking lot in front of the Publix supermarket near my house. Yeah, I realize that sounds a bit strange. I happen to go to this particular grocery store quite often. I’m not prejudiced against other food stores like Krogers, Whole Foods, or Trader Joes. It’s just that the Publix is closer and just like Walmart, the customers there are extra good for people watching. In general, I view the grocery store as sort of the modern equivalent to what the Church, town pub or village square was two or three hundred years ago. People used to stroll around Ye Olde French Cathedral greeting one another, chatting about current events, snorting snuff and gossiping about their annoying neighbors. Some things never change. However, the pace of life was without question more leisurely back then and as far as I know there was no ratchet rap music blaring from open automobiles or horse drawn carriages. Neither were there cellphones going off 24/7 causing everyone with the same ringtone to reach for their iPhone only to find out it was another telemarketer or “international” pharmacy.
Of course, I live in Sandy Springs, Georgia and it’s 2018 and not 1818 or 1718. Clearly Sandy Springs is a long long way from Westminster Abbey or Notre Dame Cathedral. It does however bear a slight resemblance to the idyllic (in retrospect) suburban North Shore of my fondly remembered childhood in Highland Park, Illinois, circa 1968. However, my long hippie hair and bellbottom jeans have disappeared over time and been replaced by a completely bald older man head full of rich life experiences, both good and bad.
Don’t get me wrong, suburban Sandy Springs is a comfortable well laid out enclave of metro Atlanta with an abundance of churches, synagogues, movie theaters, fitness studios, brand new “mixed use” storefronts, and community centers. There’s a plethora of pretty decent restaurants, coffee houses and dessert places to choose from. You can even get decent ethnic food if your palate craves something spicy and you dont feel like shlepping to asian/ethnic rich Buford Highway. It’s not quite the epitome of Bel Air/Beverly Hills/Malibu luxury and celebrity living but the living is still easy and the neighbors have an endearing Southern habit of waving and saying “Hey” and “hi” when you drive by while they walk their sweet and obedient family dogs or take their scheduled morning jog. They also scowl at you and flip you the bird if they think you’re driving too fast which I sometimes do. My bad.
Let’s face it, when your food, pharmacy, bank, butcher, and bakery are all in one air-conditioned building, Publix or some place like it is going to become your “go to” destination. Psychologically speaking human beings crave familiarity and convenience, especially if they are very lazy human beings and have adult ADHD like me. Also, I’m convinced my 1999 Ford Expedition has learned to drive itself to Abernathy Publix without my help, auto drive technology or even a GPS. My ancient truck is sort of like an old dog who just knows where to go to do it’s business. Anyways, both the truck and my rescue black Lab Harmony have a better sense of direction than I do. I tend to get distracted by my thoughts and by my artistic and/or philosophical ideas that can and do occur at any given moment of the day or night. Of course if I dont write them down they are usually gone in between five seconds to one minute. Wait, I know I had a cure for cancer…what was it?
Circling back: A while ago I noticed an assortment of discarded and run over stuff squashed into the soft asphalt covered parking lot in front of Publix. I’m talking about a diverse assortment of things like flattened batteries, broken key rings, beads, etc. I believe I originally observed this phenomena because I was hoping to find a winning lottery ticket or crisp $100 bill magically lying on the ground waiting for me to find it. Don’t laugh. Call it Willy Wonka thinking but once I actually did find a $20 bill and another time I found a big wad of crumpled up cash on the pavement but that doesn’t really count because it was most likely from my own pocket. Like an idiot I often end up carrying a messy mass of disheveled currency and store receipts in my front jeans pants pocket. I own about 500 wallets but I dont use them. That takes organization.
Anyway, when I’m near Publix and not busy answering my iPhone in a fake Farsi accent or poorly pronounced Tagalog to ward off creditors or asswipe telemarketers, I’ve trained myself to look down and scan the ground like a trained bloodhound or like those often retired “treasure hunting” sunburned white guys all along the beach in Florida. I’m talking about the middle-aged or older men with skinny chicken legs and battery powered metal detectors. Can anyone please explain to me why those guys always wear open-toed sandals with knee high black dress socks while looking for gold coins and buried pirate loot? It’s not a really good pirate look but I can relate to the chicken legs.
Whether I am outside or inside the grocery store filling a prescription (they love me there) buying an endless supply of paper towels or scanning the aisles for the blessed Publix “Two for One” sales, I remain nimble and on high alert for my own aesthetically interesting treasure in the form of “found objects” for my ongoing art projects. “Found objects”…that’s an official artist type vocabulary term by the way, which you can Google if you don’t believe me. Sometimes finding one of these weird, unique, or unexpected culture-bound items can turn out to be the very highlight of my day. Ok, I’m kinda exaggerating but dont judge me. Of course finding free money on the ground would be the real pinnacle and highlight of my day but my rational mind realizes that’s a super long shot. Instead, the artist in me looks for treasure in the form of found objects that are overlooked by the vast majority of the extremely busy consumers leading their frenetic and seemingly more “productive” lives. It’s sort of like that pivotal scene from the first “Planet of the Apes” movie (the only good one) with Charlton Heston and that really hot exotic native girl he ends up with at the end where the ape archeologists find a talking human doll, broken eyeglasses and some human dentures. The point is that what one finds/discovers when they take the time to really “look” can have great meaning not to mention profound sociological significance. There might just be a completely different way of seeing things or perspective that we typically miss because we aren’t looking.
So I guess the main point is that everyone might just want to consider slowing down their rapid pace busy lives every so often to realize that life is principally what we choose to make of it and that while achieving success is good, all people should inherently “count for something” in this highly competitive modern world. Maybe we should attempt to pay more attention to the “little things” around us and not ignore the tremendous beauty and divinely inspired aspects of what (or who) we typically fail to notice or at first consider to be “worth-less”. In fact, creatively speaking we all have the power to imbue (breathe) worth, meaning and importance (symbolic life) into any unusual object or person we choose to… whether it’s an unemployed homeless person, a rescue dog, an elderly lady with progressive dementia, someone with a serious mental illness, or even a random broken item squished into the Publix parking lot. To my thinking it boils down to ones conscious choice and personal perspective. Hey, who knows what kind of fascinating “Many Lives Many Masters” wisdom or Robinson Crusoe meets Treasure Island type pirate adventure there may be hidden in various overlooked people and things. In my case I use what I find around me to decorate custom “peace pipes” and “sacred boxes” that I make/create or rehabilitate using bamboo from my back yard. Normally I adorn my peace pipes with paint and bits of colorful fabric while listening to catchy pirate tunes and groovy music from the 1960’s and 70’s. I usually try to avoid disco and the 1980’s as much as possible…enough said.
Admittedly my handmade pipe and box collection has grown to Hoarders-like proportion in my pirate-tanical basement studio which makes my adult kids at least partially right if not completely correct. By the way, “art studio” is another artist type vocabulary phrase. It’s really just my pirate obsessed basement full of my ever childlike imagination and grandiose thinking. I guess I got a little artsy-fartsy pretentious there at the end. Sometimes us faux pirates, found object artists and creative guys with ADHD but no inherent sense of direction just cant help ourselves.
Dont believe me about art and ones perspective? Watch this: http://www.upworthy.com/watch-the-first-54-seconds-that-s-all-i-ask-you-ll-be-hooked-after-that-i-swear?g=2&c=reccon1
Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and humorist living in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He loves all things Pirate, his dog Harmony and his three grown sons.
Dr. Mazer blogs on WordPress under the name CaptCliff and believes that creativity and self-expression art are essential to emotional healing and recovery.