I may make this a thing.
“Long ago we learned to think by using our hands, not the other way around.”
—Gary Rogowski, Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction
Lynda Barry is the artist who taught me the real value of glueing one thing to another, so I was delighted she posted some of her “weird collages” on her Instagram account. Here is what she wrote underneath them (emphasis mine):
My weird collages help me in the time when I just don’t feel like drawing or writing. There is a strangeness in them that starts to make me want to write and draw. For me the trick is to see the page as a place rather than a thing. I’m just wandering in this place as a stranger.
This is what I do every morning in my diary: I try to think of the page as a place that I go to explore and discover what’s going on in my head. (Thinking with my hands.)
Lately, I’ve been anxious about this upcoming book tour, so I’ve been making what I call “sad teenager” collages. (Sad teenagers know what’s up!) The point of these is not to be good or clever, just to glue scraps and bits and pieces down to the page quickly and let some kind of meaning accrue.
Here’s one from yesterday:
Here’s one from this morning:
One last thing: you’d be amazed by how autobiographical seemingly random images become when you’re doing this. That’s the magic of collage. Of cut & paste and selection: you can’t help but show your hand (and your heart and your head.)
It rarely happens, but everyone once in a while I make something that absolutely, positively, 100% sums up everything I’m feeling at the moment.
Then I post it on Instagram and take a nap.
My first Peanuts collage of the year. It hits me over and over again how there’s rarely anything “random” about collage — your eye is caught on images because of who you are, what you’re inclined and trained to look for.
It reminds me of Tristan Tzara, describing the seemingly unoriginal cut-up method as a way towards originality, or Kenneth Goldsmith in Uncreative Writing, who writes that “the suppression of self-expression is impossible” and that the “act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves” as anything else. “It’s just that we’ve never been taught to value such choices.”
And, of course, there’s what you choose to share…
Covers of my diaries, 2017-2018. (Related: Paper monuments to human effort.)
“My hobbie (one of them anyway)…is using a lot of scotch tape… My hobbie is to pick out different things during what I read and piece them together and make a little story of my own.”
—Louis Armstrong in a letter to a friend, 1953
When he was on the road, Armstrong would travel around with a reel-to-reel tape player and a bunch of custom-recorded mixtapes. He was quite the mashup artist:
When not pressing the valves on his trumpet or the record button on his tape recorder, Armstrong’s fingers found other arts with which to occupy themselves. One of them was collage, which became a visual outlet for his improvisational genius. The story goes that he did a series of collages on paper and tacked them up on the wall of his den, but Lucille, who had supervised the purchase and interior decoration of their house in Corona, Queens, objected. Armstrong decided to use his extensive library of tapes as a canvas instead, and the result is a collection of some five hundred decorated reel-to-reel boxes, one thousand collages counting front and back.
The New York Times has a great selection of the collages in “Louis Armstrong’s Life in Letters, Music and Art” (don’t miss the clip of Satchmo talking about his hobby):
Starting in the early 1950s, few pieces of paper were safe from the blade of Armstrong’s scissors: magazines, risqué photographs, even a Christmas card from Richard Nixonwound up cut and collaged. Most of the time, he taped his collages onto reel-to-reel tape boxes; they were purely decorative. Elsewhere, he turned larger pieces of paper into what amounted to a personal hall of fame.
The collages have been digitized and put online by the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
If I have some extra time during the day, I’ll collage comics or random images onto the next couple of blank pages in my diary, so I’m never stuck for something to write about in the morning. (I got the idea when reading Duncan Hannah’s diaries.) If I don’t have anything to say about the previous day’s events, I’ll start writing to the images, and that usually unloosens something in my mind. Anything to keep from staring at a blank page…