The art of collage, for me, is mostly one of contextomy and juxtaposition: you put two things next to each other that aren’t really supposed to be together and you get a new thing. (1 + 1 = 3.)
I’ve been obsessed lately with the simplest cut: what’s the least amount of cutting or folding or editing that you can do for maximum effect?
I really got thinking about this when a woman in one of my workshops made the newspaper headline collage above. (An exercise from The Steal Like An Artist Journal.) It was so simple and funny it was like a gag out of a Nancy comic strip.
For a more visual example, here’s a picture of a sunset and moon that I took at the same time, but edited together with Instagram’s simple Layout program:
The simplest, cleverest expression of 1+1=3… that’s what I really love.
There are stone monuments scattered throughout my neighborhood — fancy signs announcing the parks, etc. I find them sort of hilarious — they’re so serious, and they look like big tombstones. (They had to cost a fortune!) I like to go around and take pictures of them and then make a game of cutting them up so they announce other things. The only rules are that I never add, only subtract, and I try to make the edits as simple as possible.
(For this one I cheated just a bit and rubbed out letters with the clone stamp in Photoshop.)
Filed under: de-signs
Reading some of composer Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians, I came across this piece of advice for composing, which I thought was spectacularly bad: “If you are starting out on a composition, begin by working everything out in your head. Do not try out a piece on your instrument until you have fully conceived it in your mind.”
This might be good advice for a musical genius, like Beethoven, Mozart, or Robert Schumann, but it runs counter to my own personal experience with art. Very few of my decent pieces have come from me thinking in my head, as in, thinking through a piece and then sitting down and executing it. In fact, I don’t know if that’s ever happened. Most of my good ideas have come from an exploration of specific materials, a kind of back and forth between eye and hand and head. These collages are good examples: I did not set out with any kind of purpose or ideas before I made them, merely some time, space, and materials.
I know some writers who claim to work out all their writing in their heads before hitting the paper, but 1) I suspect they’re liars 2) even if they do have it worked out, it’s in getting the words on paper and then editing those words that the ideas take on any kind of real form. As a young artist, I thought the ideas had to come first before you wrote, and now I think the opposite: You start working with your hands and the ideas come.
Better advice than Schumann’s might be from a newspaper clipping I saved called “How To Draw Blood” (you could cross out the last word), in which a worker at a free clinic started out by saying, “Develop intelligence in your fingers.” Her point was that every vein in every arm is different, and you not only have to think, you have to feel your way through a lot of medical procedures. The feeling is as important as the thinking.
Best not to overestimate the intelligence in your head: your fingers have a lot to teach it.
See also: Don’t Ask.
“Sometimes we are so confused and sad that all we can do is glue one thing to another. Use white glue and paper from the trash, glue paper onto paper, glue scraps and bits of fabric, have a tragic movie playing in the background, have a comforting drink nearby, let the thing you are doing be nothing, you are making nothing at all, you are just keeping your hands in motion, putting one thing down and then the next thing down and sometimes crying in between.”
I’m working on a whole notebook of these for fun while I watch TV. Here’s the first batch.
Whenever I have a free night and no ideas, I grab scissors and some old magazines and I make collages.
I think of almost everything in terms of collage.
My poems are made up of bits and pieces of words I’ve taken from newspaper articles.
My drawings are simply collages of points, lines, triangles, circles, and squares. I take Saul Steinberg’s faces, Otto Soglow’s hands, John Porcellino’s lines, Lynda Barry’s handwriting…
I myself am simply a collage of my ancestor’s DNA, mixed with the hundreds of thousands of words and images and ideas that my brain has absorbed.
These are all quotes and doodles I abandoned while working on a presentation for next week’s PechaKucha night here in Austin.
Most of these notes were grabbed from my tumblr tags on “collage“, “influence“, and “originality” or “plagiarism.” I grabbed one or two from Jonathan Lethem’s incredible essay, “The Ecstacy of Influence.”
Next time you’re stuck, think of your work as a collage. Steal two or more ideas from your favorite artists and start juxtaposing them. Voila.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.”
“If you think a man draws the type of hands that you want to draw, steal ‘em. Take those hands.”
“You can’t steal a gift. Bird [Charlie Parker] gave the world his music, and if you can hear it you can have it.”
A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”
— T.S. Eliot
“In the grand collage that is Dada, past and future are equally usable.”
— Andrei Codrescu
“Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The “newness” in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components.”
“Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.”
“The choices a writer makes within a tradition – preferring Milton to Moliere, caring for Barth over Barthelme – constitute some of the most personal information we can have about him.”
“If an artist may say nothing except what he has invented by his own sole efforts, it stands to reason he will be poor in ideas. If he could take what he wants wherever he could find it, as Euripides and Dante and Michelangelo and Shakespeare and Bach were free, his larder would always be full, and his cookery might be worth tasting.
— R G Collingwood
“Every idea is a juxtaposition. That’s it. A juxtaposition of existing concepts.”
— Steven Grant
“I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting together things that suggested a new thing which did not yet exist.”
— Brian Eno
“Really the truth is just a plain picture. A plain picture of, let’s say, a tramp vomiting in the sewere. You know, and next door to the picture Mr. Rockefeller or Mr. C. W. Jones on the subway going to work. You know, any kind of picture. Just make a collage of pictures.”
“Sometimes I think everything I draw is just a combination of all of the millions and millions of drawings I’ve seen.”
“If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.”
— Wilson Mizner
“If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!”
— Gary Panter
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.”
“The beauty of the collage technique is that you’re using sounds that have never met and were never supposed to meet. You introduce them to each other, at first they’re a bit shy, clumsy, staring at their shoes. But you can sense there’s something there. So you cut and paste a little bit and by the end of the song you can spot them in the corner, holding hands.”
— Jens Lekman
“To spark my creativity…I often re-use pieces from my other works…basically collaging my own stuff…”
“All writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overheard. What else?”
—William S. Burroughs
“I love art, I love being thrilled by art, and I love folding these thrills into my own practice. I love stealing….I absolutely believe my best work lies ahead of me, and lies in the work I’m absolutely on fire to steal from.”
“I was…attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing “simple” music, blamed for deserting “modernism,” accused of renouncing my “true Russian heritage.” People who had never heard of, or cared about, the originals cried “sacrilege”: “The classics are ours. Leave the classics alone.” To them all my answer was and is the same: You “respect,” but I love.”
“Some one may say of me, that I have here only made a nosegay of other men’s flowers, having furnished nothing of my own but the thread to tie them.”
“I’m being given a little bit of credit now as being a viable collage artist, which some people think is ridiculous. Like this guy who said, “Wait a minute: You had an art show where you just cut out pictures and then glued them back together?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is.” There’s more to it than that. It’s about having the eye for detail, moving things from one environment and reassembling them into new environments….Everyone can do it, but not everyone can do it well.”
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”
— T.S. Eliot
“It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”
— Jean-Luc Godard
Add your favorites and anything I missed in the comments below.
I tried to keep as many “poems about making poems” out of the book as possible, and so this one got cut. Done from an article about another Midwesterner using collage to make his art, Greg Gillis (a.k.a. Girl Talk).
In the late 1950s, Brion Gysin, originator of the cut-up technique, and his buddy William Burroughs who ran with it, had this idea: writing is fifty years behind painting. And so, they looked to collage.
Having worked at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, and then in New York for two art-world figures at a magazine covering the arts, Barthelme naturally looked to what was going on in painting for a way to get back to the spirit of Joyce and Beckett without merely copying Joyce and Beckett. The method he struck on was collage.
Barthelme, at a symposium on fiction in 1975, said:
The principle of collage is one of the central principles of art in this century and it seems also to me to be one of the central principles of literature.
Which is echoed by Jonathan Lethem in his remarkable plagiarism, “The Ecstacy of Influence“: “collage…might be called the art form of the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first.” (Lethem writes that he heard filmmaker Craig Baldwin say that, in defense of sampling, in the trailer for his documentary, Copyright Criminals.)
But When it comes to the use of collage, there’s a big difference between visual artists and writers. Menand:
The visual artist can deal with almost every kind of material, even sound, but the writer deals with only one kind of material: sentences. The solution, therefore, [is] to treat sentences as though they were found objects.
And just as Caleb Whitefoord, the first writer to make poetry from the newspaper, noted almost 250 years ago, Menand writes that we are already bombarded with juxtapositions of nonsense every day in the daily newspaper:
The illogic, the apparent absurdity, of a Rauschenberg collage or a Barthelme story makes people impatient, because it seems to violate ordinary habits of perception and understanding. But we experience the arbitrary juxtaposition of radically disparate materials every day, when we look at the front page of a newspaper.
Our goal then, with blackout poems, is to treat words, phrases, and sentences as “found objects” and to capture Barthelme’s “faculty of ‘not-knowing'” and to have “faith that, by an intuition operating below the threshold of consciousness…the juxtaposition of unlike to unlike [can] trigger a new kind of awareness…”