Book Review: Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Collage: The Making of Modern Art book cover.jpg

Collage: The Making of Modern Art by Brandon Taylor. 2004. Thames and Hudson. New York. ISBN 978-0-500-28609-8

Collage: The Making of Modern Art by Brandon Taylor is a historical look at collage and other close forms starting with Picasso and Braque and ending up with a discussion of how computer technology has influenced the art form. It's a scholarly work and, perhaps a bit heady for casual readers, but, with dictionary in hand to clarify some of the terminology (bricolage, sfumato, faux bois, matiere, frottage, decollage), this book is a valuable documentation of how collage art (or should I say collage 'Art') has developed.

Left: Guitar, Sheet Music, and Glass (1912) by Pablo Picasso in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Left: Guitar, Sheet Music, and Glass (1912) by Pablo Picasso in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Taylor writes "Collage in its first and visual meaning involves the pasting-on of scraps that originated beyond the studio, in the department store or on the street." (p. 8) And, early collage artists used commercial hand-bills, entertainment posters, political messages, newspapers, stamps, sheet music and other ephemera in their work. The idea was to change the relationship among the composite imagery to make something new: something "inappropriate, jarring or wrong - yet interestingly so." (p. 8).

Left: Let's go. Let's dance on the Tenebreuse (1930) by Max Ernst in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Left: Let's go. Let's dance on the Tenebreuse (1930) by Max Ernst in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Collage started off as more-or-less flat surfaces (scrapbooks, images pasted on canvas or other substrates), but, as other materials were used (fabric, metal scraps, wood) collage became an intermediary between painting and sculpture. Cubists, Dadaists, Surrealists pushed the imagery and through this exploration of materials, collage transformed into something more than cut paper pasted onto a surface. Depending on the desired results of a given piece (political, pornographic, impressionistic, emotional), the artists' techniques changed. Eduardo Paolozzi wrote: "The word 'collage' is inadequate as a description because the concept should include 'damage', 'erase', 'deface', 'transform', etc., all parts of a metaphor for the creative act itself." (p. 139). The art form developed further with the advent of photographs and print-making and continues to evolve as technology allows images to be "cut" and "pasted" virtually.

Left: Surprise and Inspiration (1943) by Robert Motherwell in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Left: Surprise and Inspiration (1943) by Robert Motherwell in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Collage seems to have an uneasy relationship with the (capital A) art world. It has gone from exciting and "new" to despised and discredited by some who believe that collage is a tool for "lazy" artists. It is also been used heavily as political propaganda and for use in promoting pornography, baggage that is legitimately concerning and, perhaps worthy of further discussion. Many artists use collage as a intermediary step to their paintings or sculptures, keeping their collage work more-or-less to themselves. That collage--the cutting and pasting of "found" materials--is accessible to people outside the art world seems to have relegated the art form to somewhere in between arts and crafts.

Left: Le Lieu de repos de la famille Delbeck (1960) by Daniel Spoerri in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Left: Le Lieu de repos de la famille Delbeck (1960) by Daniel Spoerri in Collage: The Making of Modern Art

Collage: The Making of Modern Art is so densely populated with historical figures, concepts, and imagery that, I am positive another read through would reveal a totally different take on collage. It is meant to show how collage has changed - and not change - throughout its history from Picasso and Braque in the early 1900s to the 1990s. Like all art forms the times in which the artists live influences what goes onto the canvas: the types of materials used, the techniques, the reasons for doing the art in the first place. It seems to me that, whether or not the actual act of cutting and pasting physical objects onto substrates ceases to exist (I hope not!), artists will continue to use the technique of juxtaposing images to make something, if not necessarily inappropriate and jarring, interesting and new.

If you read this book, please let me know what you think!

Here's last week's book review: Paper Collage: Chinese Style.

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Cheers!--Janyce