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Free-for-all: Using The Free Section Of Craigslist

Not only does the “free” section of facilitate the production of quality art, but using it can be an art form in itself.

It’s strange how nobody notices when the uncommon becomes common. Until a few years ago, it would be unthinkable to show up at a stranger’s door expecting something for free. Though we’re accustomed now to the ritual behind the “free” section of Craigslist, it is nonetheless a fascinating game.

There is a search, as well as a time limit. There is a foray into new territory, as well as direct communication and interaction with strangers. Often, teamwork is a necessary component.

For the most determined, the prize at the end can be very valuable. Thus, without much fanfare, Craigslist has created an unprecedented way of navigating the world, which can be a powerful tool for artists of any medium.

Aside from the obvious benefits of working with free materials, the process of obtaining free items on Craigslist promotes essential characteristics for being a successful artist. One must know what one is looking for, while remaining determined, resourceful, patient, and flexible. Although desirable items often go in less than half an hour, other iterations tend to reappear every few minutes. Wizened Craigslist users often develop a strategy by spreading their resources to a few major locations, in order to be in the right place at the right time when a key item appears.

It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of process, but it ends up affecting the way an object is used in a piece in unconscious ways. There’s ultimately not much difference between searching for something unique and trying to find ways to work with a new material or incorporate an object into a piece in progress.

Both as a way to remain open-minded and to question the importance of final product, an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago developed a random number generator to determine which item on Craigslist he would try to obtain each day. The final goal was to build a sculptural installation based on the items he collected over a one-month period. His final piece was sprawling, but also domestic, taking on new meaning once viewers were made aware of his process.

Aside from the well-known category of found object, Craigslist also offers an abundance of raw materials—especially old windows, house paint, scrap metal, dirt, and lumber. Furniture is another popular item that can be easily reconfigured into parts. The fabric from old upholstery can be removed and repurposed and tables and chairs can be taken apart. Television and computer monitors, which sometimes show up in working condition, can be used for many types of electronic installation work. If you’re lucky, you might even find quality tools to add to your collection.

Shopping the free section does require patience, but that patience will be well rewarded when items of true value appear. It’s amazing what people give away: broken boats and cars, pianos, pool tables, enormous aquariums, trailers, and a host of other objects that could easily serve as the foundation for a new series.

Remember to think of the search as a game to remain open to discovery and surprise.