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What is a Collage?

Updated on November 19, 2009

What is a Collage?

A collage is a work of art made by composing fragments of paper, cloth, cardboard, newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, illustrations, and other printed material, and pasting them to a flat surface. "Collage" the French word for pasting, sticking, or gluing, is applied to the method as well as to the work produced. Often regarded as a subcategory of assemblage, collage has been widely practiced by 20th century artists, both as an independent medium and in conjunction with drawing and painting. Among the variations of the collage technique are decottage, compositions made by tearing away papers already pasted, and decoupage, cleanly cut collages made of new materials. Early Collage. Although pasting had been a common technique used in decorative and folk art for centuries, its adoption by modern artists began with Picasso's Still Life with Chair Caning (1912), an oil painting to which the artist added a fragment of oilcloth printed to simulate chair caning. Later in 1912, Braque incorporated in his charcoal drawing The Fruit Dish three rectangular pieces of wood-grain paper. This was the first papier colle ("pasted paper"), a term that refers specifically to the paper collages made by the French cubist painters in 1912-1914.

In the development and aesthetics of 20th century art, collage was much more than a substitute for drawing and painting. It made possible sharp, unexpected, and often disquieting juxtapositions of forms, materials, images, words, and phrases. Picasso, Braque, Gris, and other cubists introduced a new kind of realism into their works by inserting lettering, news clippings, labels, calling cards, and even bits of mirror and other materials. Picasso went further to make three-dimensional assemblages.

Image by Billy Alexander
Image by Billy Alexander

Later Developments

For the futurists, among them Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carra, collage served to represent the strident confrontation of forces in the modern world. Dadaists such as Hannah Hoch and Raoul Haussmann used collage and photomontage (collage of cut or torn photographs) for shocking effects of discontinuity. For the surrealists, collage symbolized nonrational and "convulsive" juxtapositions drawn from the unconscious. Max Ernst created complex Dada and surrealist compositions from old engravings and prints. Kurt Schwitters, following Picasso, expanded collage into assemblage and large architectural environments incorporating a great variety of materials and objects.

American artists who have done collage include Joseph Stella, Arthur Dove, Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Robert Motherwell, Landes Lewitin, Willem de Kooning, Anne Ryan, Conrad Marca-Relli, Robert Nickle, William German, Leo Manso, Esteban Vicente, Robert Good-nough, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Bruce Conner, James Dine, and Saul Steinberg.


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    • profile image

      Paul Edelstein 

      9 years ago

      Does anyone have any information on Collage Artist Anne Ryan?


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