Let’s have Robyn Sarah, renowned Canadian poet and short story writer, explain the history behind this art movement:
Collage as art, as social commentary, as décor, has been around for a long time, and it seemed to be environmental during my university years in the early 70’s. We collaged images, words, combinations of images and words cut from magazines and advertising fliers and catalogues, then pasted them up to make everything from posters to post cards, plastered in a haphazard, organic way onto apartment kitchen and bathroom walls by roommates and visitors and friends. Mostly, I think, it was play. You saw it, you wanted to try it yourself. You saw how it brought out people’s sense of humor and irony, their outrageousness, silliness, wit, and wisdom, the human love of connections. Putting this next to that to make something that exploded into new significance. A kind of chemistry experiment, only the “chemistry” was of the mind. Anyone could do it. It cost nothing. It was therapeutic, it was decorative, it was social. Was it Art? Who cared—it was fun!
My own first experiments with collage included pictures. But, being a writer, I quickly saw it was the possibilities of found combinations of words that excited me most. Bill points out that even when words alone are used, there is a visual dimension to these “messages”—not only do the words themselves, and their juxtapositions, carry a charge, but also their appearance (color, size, font) and their arrangement on the page. All of these things work together to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. They jolt expectations, they startle and delight; they challenge the mind to find meaning, to interpret connections. In short, they do what poems do.
The exercise itself consists of sitting down with scissors, a glue-stick, a pile of old magazines (it works best if you have at least two very different interest areas—fashion and finance, for example, or computers and sports). Leaf through the magazines, running your eye down a page without actively reading. Certain sentences, phrases, even single words will jump out at you. Snip these out as they catch your eye, and keep moving to another page. Alternate magazines. When you have a good pile of clippings, spread them out on a large surface or on the floor, and play with combinations on a sheet of paper or board until you feel ready to glue them down. A finished collage may consist of as few as two clippings, or of dozens. The art is in the juxtaposition.
Over the years I have turned to collage, especially at times when I’ve felt stale or uninspired; it’s a great way to break writer’s block (if you’re a writer) or depression (whether you’re a writer or not). One of the things I love about it is that it is so unthreatening. One begins with ready-made words; that takes the terror out of the blank page. One is engaging in a kind of play, and need not take oneself, or the activity, or the result, too seriously.
Almost always, one ends up surprising oneself, and the result cries out to be shared.