Collage, Surrealism, and the Exquisite Corpse (I)

Beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing-machine & an umbrella …. — Comte de Lautréamont (Isidore Lucien Ducasse)

The Infinite arises from chance, which you have denied. — Stéphane Mallarmé

These quotes dealing with chance are from two French poets especially admired by the Surrealists.  Perhaps because it was a potent weapon in the Surrealists’ rebellion against order and rationality, chance inspired many of their pictorial and literary works.  Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp both developed art-making techniques that relied heavily on chance.  The Dadaists, and the Surrealists who followed them, created an aesthetic that regarded the objet trouvé (found object) as an objet d’art. The Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara was credited with inventing the “accidental poem,” which was made by cutting up the words from a newspaper article, shaking them up in a bag, and writing them down in the order that they were drawn out of the bag.

The Surrealists enlarged the role of chance in collage significantly by adapting and playing a version of “Petits Papiers,” an old French parlor game, calling it Exquisite Corpse (after a French sentence arising during an early session of the game: “Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau.” = “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.”)

To make an Exquisite Corpse poem, each successive player would write in secret a word or words forming a part of a sentence on paper, and then fold the paper over so that most of the words were invisible, leaving only the last one or two to guide the next player in continuing the sentence (an alternative was to assign each player to write a word or words according to their function as parts of speech in a sentence). The resulting poetry was surprising, amusing, and sometimes shocking.

Exquisite Corpse was well-suited to creating collages in visual art as well as writing. The next post will discuss how Exquisite Corpse helped shape Surrealist collage.


  • DingoDogg October 20, 2010, 11:00 am

    Greatings, Todo dinбmica y muy positiva! :)

    [English translation: Everything dynamic and very positive!]


  • admin October 22, 2010, 3:14 pm

    Thanks for your comment! Please consider subscribing to the RetroCollage blog (by going to the box in the upper right corner of this page and filling in a user-name and e-mail), to receive news on the latest articles and updates.


{ 2 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment

Collage’s Projection

Collage’s Projection thumbnail

The Projection of Evil...

House of Collage Dreams

House of Collage Dreams thumbnail

...would we discard our dreams, if we knew the rich vein of imagination they contained?

Collage’s Little Saboteur

Collage’s Little Saboteur thumbnail

During ancient times, human evil was attributed to demonic possession or temptation...

The Ensign of Collage

The Ensign of Collage thumbnail

The ensign of collage varies; not with the day or season, but with every moment and place...

Collage Currency of the Imagi Nation

Collage Currency of the Imagi Nation thumbnail

In fashioning our world of Imagination, we do not wish to destroy the world as it is. We only desire to make the world as each of us wishes it to be—and can never agree upon with everyone else...

Collage’s Magic Mountain

Collage’s Magic Mountain thumbnail

The Magician does not live on the Mountain; The Magician is the Mountain...

Collage in Memoriam: a Tribute to Gerald M. Edelman

Collage in Memoriam: a Tribute to Gerald M. Edelman thumbnail

Dr. Gerald M. Edelman left the world a far better place than he found it...

Botanical Portrait in Collage

Botanical Portrait in Collage thumbnail

Seen in a corner of an old picture gallery...

Collage’s Song of the Wharves

Collage’s Song of the Wharves thumbnail

Ah little ships, I know your weariness!

Steampunk Kingdom of Collage Revisited

Steampunk Kingdom of Collage Revisited thumbnail

Here are three more animal subjects from the steampunk kingdom of collage...

Collage’s Steampunk Kingdom

Collage’s Steampunk Kingdom thumbnail

The self-working machines called "automata" have been known for millennia...

Baudelaire’s Collage Confession

Baudelaire’s Collage Confession thumbnail

The study of Beauty is a duel...

The Reader’s Collage

The Reader’s Collage thumbnail

In ways we are unaware of, reading and writing transform our lives every day...

Black and White Collage Revisited

Black and White Collage Revisited thumbnail

How light and shadow interact...

Collage’s Happy New Year

Collage’s Happy New Year thumbnail

Happy New Year from Art of RetroCollage!