The Difficulty Of Collages

I found our discussion on Monday about collages very interesting. I typically do not regard collages as a traditional form of artwork. Rather, my mind immediately thinks of painting, photographs, or drawings when thinking about types or art. However, our discussion and analysis of some of the collages we viewed opened my eyes to this artwork. After our class, I asked myself the question of why someone would make a collage over a painting or a drawing? What does this technique offer that makes it special? I came away with the conclusion that a piece of art is not always about the final product. In fact, I think a great deal of art is appreciated because of the process that the artist underwent to create their work. As we talked about in class, a collage is formed different pieces of material in order to create one image. The vision, talent, and thought process that goes into making an amazing collage is daunting to even think about! While an artist can fix an improper stroke of their paintbrush or retake a poor photo, a mistake on a collage will not go unnoticed. Each piece must work with each other in order to create the final product. Because of this, I believe creating a collage is one of the more difficult art forms to master.

Dragon Wings on Tuesday

When we were looking through the images in  Une Semaine De Bonte in class today, I found it interesting to follow the appearance and disappearance of the dragon wings found on characters in the images for Tuesday. The wings first appeared when a woman was peeking into a shop, suggesting that she was doing something that she wasn’t supposed to. It is interesting that the wings first appear on a woman, as opposed to a man, and if the wings are removed from the woman in an image, a small dragon often appears at her side instead. The wings seem to be placed on the woman for images in which the woman is clearly doing something wrong, such as peeking into the shop (p. 74), standing over a child in such a way that is reminiscent of a vampire (p. 76), or having her husband ask for forgiveness (p. 92).

As the story of the romance unfolds throughout the Tuesday images, it is clear that the man is not blameless. While the wife may have resorted to spying to uncover the fact that her husband was cheating on her, the husband was guilty for having the affair and being the source of the drama in these images. The wings first appear on the man in an image that seems to depict the mistress begging the man to continue the affair (p. 89). The next few images seem to depict the couple breaking up and the wings next appear on the man when the couple makes up (p. 93). The wings on the man in the scene where the couple makes up foreshadows the fact that the man does not remain faithful to his wife and continues to cheat on her.

The element that Tuesday is based on is fire and this is represented by the dragon and what the dragon symbolizes. The dragons found in these images are all small and are often found on or close to the floor. The dragon is often linked with reptiles and snakes, and perhaps by extension sin. Tuesday depicts images of deceit and trickery and it is possible that the dragons, and the appearance of the wings, symbolize the wrongdoings of the husband and wife.

“Tuesday” in Une semaine de bonté

Ernst’s Tuesday chapter of Une semaine de bonté focuses loosely on the element of fire through imagery of dragons, but at root it is a commentary upon his society’s understanding of romance and sexuality. Figures in the collages are increasingly divorced from humanity by the growing presence of various beastly body parts: heads, wings, tails, and more. Ernst’s animalization of the female figures in his collages struck me as a commentary upon female sexuality. As society began to break out of the constraints of the Victorian era, women found themselves in a ‘liberated’ position in comparison to the past. This moderate degree of sexual freedom posed a fierce threat to Victorian masculinity. Throughout Une semaine de bonté,Ernst espouses this fear of compromised masculinity and attempts to compensate for it by animalizing the women in his collages. The “privilege” of the male gaze becomes an assumption, the  objectification of women: a natural way to view the opposite sex. Collage works to the artist’s advantage, for he often cuts out human heads to replace them with animal ones, while retaining the most sensual parts of the female body. This follows an understanding of the woman as “Other:” an exotic entity who perhaps required  objectification to be understood. Just as white males would do with people of other races, women were quite easy to exoticize and eroticize. Ernst’s collages in the Tuesday chapter are a hyperbolic expression of this perspective. He seems to see mere bodies instead of women, strange, static spectacles instead of living, thinking entities. Yet in these heavy-handed examples of objectification, is Ernst accidentally highlighting the power of women in his society? To reframe it with a question posed in class: Are men “trapped” by women and their beauty?

Sendak & Ernst

When we viewed some of Max Ernst’s collages in class, I immediately thought of the illustrations in Maurice Sendak’s, “Where The Wild Things Are”. While Sendak’s illustrations may be relatively easy to interpret and don’t appear to be collages, the “Wild Thing” characters and style of illustration remind me of the surrealism Ernst played with in his collages. Sendak’s illustrations have a sort of dark feeling like Ernst’s collages. Below I’ve included some works from both artists:

Ernst’s collages can be complex and difficult to decipher, and while they are more sexualized than Sendak’s, I think there is a parallel between their styles. Both create characters that the viewer will be able to objectively recognize, but subjectively interpret. For Sendak we see monsters, but monsters mean different things to different people. Some people find them scary and evil while others see them as an exciting narrative of friendly or cute symbols. I think the monsters aren’t necessarily depicted in a child-friendly manner, they can come off as quite frightening with their teeth, horns, and claws; despite their harmlessness. With Ernst, we see genders. Men and women that have abstract components attached to them like the bird or lizard (I think it’s a lizard) in the pictures above. This allows for a variety of interpretations, which makes collages interesting objects to look at. Sendak and Ernst have a similar storytelling styles that portrays abstract and uncommon content.

Collage in Film

Before class on Monday, I had never really given much thought regarding what a collage was. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of collage is the organization of newspaper, magazine, or picture cutouts that are displayed artistically. I recently, however, watched a movie called “500 Days of Summer” and realized that collage has a place in film as well. The movie cover itself consists of scenes compiled close together, slightly overlapping (possibly 500 pictures of the character named Summer). A bright yellow sun is also overlaid transparently over a section of the faces. Finally, the two main characters look as if they have been cut out and pasted in front of the face collage, each person outlined with a sliver of white boarder.

Collage is also apparent within the movie, as fictional items (such as the bird shown below) are sporadically juxtaposed with the realistic setting and actors and actresses. This example of collage illustrates the versatile nature of the art form. For example, the term can even be extended to music in the form of a montage. The unifying theme that relates all these forms of collage is the notion that they all use different forms that result in a new whole.


Pop Art’s Emergence Through Collage

After looking at the Richard Hamilton image in class today, I wanted to look at more collages from the Pop Art movement.  It was so interesting to learn that the term “Pop” originated from this image in regards to the Tootsie Pop. I found some collages from artist Robert Rauschenberg that I though also embodied this style of collage using elements from Pop Culture.

The image above is  Rauschenberg titled “Signs”, 1970. The image conveys a sense of chaos as a multitude of different pop culture elements are assembled together. The image covers everything: peace, war, violence, science, and artistic expression. Seeing the combined chaos of all these historical elements elicits a powerful effect on the viewer.

The second Rauschenberg image (above) is titled “Windward” 1963. This one appears more abstract than the first, with softer edges and more muted colors. I find the addition of brush strokes as an element of the collage a unique part of this assemblage. There is also repetition  and distortion in this image. The image of the statue of liberty is in both corners, with the bottom left image being somewhat darkened out and less hopeful. The Sunkist oranges at the top of the collage are also repeated just below, except the image has been whited out except for one vibrant orange. It’s been fun to look at other early images of Pop Art, and think about the intention of the artist in their compilations and critiques of culture.

Romare Bearden’s Collages

In class today, I found it super interesting to look at the comparative methods of collage that different artists used. One example that caught my eye especially was “Tomorrow I May Be Far Away” by Romare Bearden whose collages captured and commented on African American life. After doing some additional research on him, I found out that his work was influenced both by high modernists like Henri Matisse and by African slave crafts such as patchwork quilts and the usage of random materials due to the lack there of. If we think about Bearden’s work in the context of the definition provided to us in class today of collage – a form of visual art that assembles different forms resulting in a new whole – we can see how he collected different fragments, torn photographs and magazines, to create a powerful message on the African American experience.

Below, I’ve attached a small selection from his larger work called “The Block”, which depicts an entire block of buildings made from collage.  I found this one particularly interesting because of how he depicts different figures with different materials. The figures on the ground, carrying the coffin to the car and congregating outside, don’t have features that are distinguishable and are made from the same blue and white print-like material. This is juxtaposed to the face imbedded into the building on the left, which is an African American human child’s face. It makes the viewer wonder if that face, which is of a completely different scale and material, is meant to be more representative than literal.

Works Cited:

Working Title/Artist: The Block
Department: Modern Art
HB/TOA Date Code:
Working Date: 1971
photography by mma 1992, transparency #3c
scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 8_25_04

Political Commentary in Une Semaine de Bonté

When I first flipped through Une Semaine de Bonté over break, it seemed like a book full of bizarre images that were slightly random and hard to draw a continuous narrative out of. Even the chapter headings seemed confusing, including “elements” that mostly departed from the traditional four of fire, water, earth, and air. After our class discussion today though, it is much easier to draw out familiar symbols that make the book possible to read. The elements, quotes at the beginning of each section, and the images themselves all make more sense when looked at together to create a relatively cohesive story.

The first section, Dimanche, seems to be about the corruption of the ruling classes and social elite. The element mud makes sense in this context because it has a connotation of being dirty, just as those with political power, often represented by lion-headed figures, are shown to be dirty through the images of debauchery and corruption that make up the body of this section. The quote at the beginning also ties into this theme. It reads: “The ermine is a very dirty animal. In itself it is a precious bedsheet, but as it has no change of linen, it does its laundry with its tongue.” The fur of the ermine is traditionally used to line the collars of ceremonial robes and the animal can therefore be read as a symbol of royalty. The quote seems to imply that although the ruling class may appear proper and even enviable on the surface, looking more deeply into their actions (which is done through the book’s images) will reveal that they are really involved in disreputable and unsavory actions.

A Few Pressing Thoughts

It was a lot of fun working at the letter press this week and learning about all the instruments, some interesting facts about roots of different words and phrases, and of course making our very own print.

I was really excited to learn how to make a simple print. From how to arrange the letters, to how to ink the machine, and finally how to print.

I was surprised to find that many phrases that I use everyday originated from the letter case. E.g.:
-Upper case and lower case– the capital letters were stored at the top while the small letter were stored at the bottom.
-Out of sorts– to not have enough lead letters to finish a print.
-Missing the deadline– when letters and printing pieces go beyond the maximum area that a machine can print on.
-Hot off the press– well that’s pretty self explanatory.

I also enjoyed making our print. We wanted to be very innovative with out letters so we made the two sentences face each other so that they can be read by readers on either side of the page. This was a cool idea but it took some time to figure out the second sentence because it had to be both upside down and the wrong way round. But in the end, we made a pretty unique looking quote.

We first printed the quote in just red.

Then we printed the quote in just black.

Finally, we tried to overprint the red quote with the black quote. They ended up not aligning how we hoped it would because we printed the red and black on separate days so the pieces on the printing press had been moved. I still think it looks like a pretty cool print even though it was not what we had expected it to look like.

I am hoping the press has open hours because I am definitely interested in going back and making some more prints. I enjoyed the challenge of figuring everything out and the satisfaction of seeing such a unique, neat, final product.

Sayings from the Press

I loved our workshop at the printing press; perhaps even a little more than our illuminating manuscripts workshop because we had the chance to work with actual old printing presses and type. I had worked a little with printing in the past but only in art class where the focus was more on carving out our designs than the actual printing process. It was very much as Professor Rippeon said — the one operating the printing press (rolling the pin, etc.) needs to effectively be a part of the mechanized printing press. There can be no distraction from looking at the print, taking it out, lest accidents happen and so there would have been someone else there to do the “quality control”. I had never before seen it as such an efficient assembly line but after our workshop was able to imagine a little bit more how they would have printed thousands of pages and books manually. Even so, it’s incredible to think of the amount of work and time that went into each printed page.

In addition, all of Professor Rippeon’s fun interjections of sayings that derived from the printing press really inspired me to do a quick google search for other sayings:’t-realise-originated-from-print. Turns out others such as “mind your p’s and q’s” and even “stereotype” and “cliche” are all “hot off the press”! I always find it fascinating to learn about the roots of sayings and idioms that are still used today, a lot more so than the printing press.