Book Review: Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques Book Cover

Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques by Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh. 1967. New York: Chilton Book Company.

Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques begins with the premise that modern collage has its roots in folk art. Through the decades, it has moved from two-dimensional representation to three-dimensional (collages and assemblages) to environments and "happenings" that move toward and encompass the viewer. Artists' reactions to changes in their environment (including social, political, and technological) resulted in a rejection of traditional perspectives. Janis and Blesh write:

...traditional perspective went inward to a vanishing point, not toward but away from the spectator. From the Renaissance through most of the nineteenth century, paintings invited you to "come in." But once cubism had reversed the direction, perspective began rushing into the spectator's world like a motor car at an unwary pedestrian--directly to a new vanishing point out in front of the picture." (p. 111).
Left: Number 17 (1942) Kurt Schwitters in Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

Left: Number 17 (1942) Kurt Schwitters in Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

The book follows the typical art movements highlighted in collage history books of this type: folk art, cubism, futurism, dada, surrealism, neo-dada (or factualism), and pop. They stop along the way to highlight Kurt Schwitters and Max Ernst, who get their own chapters, and focus on shifts in technique (constructions, environments, happenings). It is difficult, from the perspective of someone who was born about the time this book came out, to understand and know exactly how the technological advances that occurred from the early 1900s (photographic processes, print making processes, motor cars, space ships, the atom bomb, etc.) impacted the people experiencing these machines and devices for the first time. Those feelings and attitudes came out in the work of the artists trying to make sense of it all. In hindsight, it appears they tried to reclaim the world around them in ways that reach far back into human experience: using the signs, papers, and other materials of their time.

Left: Huntington Harbor (1926) by  Arthur Dove , Collage by  Natalia Goncharova , and Still Life with Bottle and Cup (c. 1920) by  Marthe Tour Donas ; Right: Collage by  Anne Ryan  in Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

Left: Huntington Harbor (1926) by Arthur Dove, Collage by Natalia Goncharova, and Still Life with Bottle and Cup (c. 1920) by Marthe Tour Donas; Right: Collage by Anne Ryan in Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

While Collage; Personalities, Concepts, Techniques is obviously dated (as always, I would love to see more women not just represented but highlighted), I found it an informative, if somewhat sentimental, look at the development of collage from an angle I had not yet come across in the collage books I have read. An overriding question the authors seem to be asking is where will collage go from here? Though artists had found ways to innovate, change, and influence the direction of collage as a fine art, they had not (have not) yet exhausted all the possibilities.

The authors end the book in a reflective mood that, with the unrest in the 1960s, must have been at their foremost thoughts. Their words hold some relevancy still:

Artists and art -- they bait us with our own idiocy, ambush us with the terrors we hide from. With philosophers paralyzed, poets mute, priests palsied, and statesmen benumbed, only the artists still try to make us face ourselves and the world we have built, a world...truly made for all passionate, wounded, capricious, consuming hearts. (p. 313)
Left: Sky Cathedral (1958) by  Louise Nevelson ; Right: Totems (1959) by Louise Nevelson in Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

Left: Sky Cathedral (1958) by Louise Nevelson; Right: Totems (1959) by Louise Nevelson in Collage: Personalities, Concepts, Techniques

Have you read this book? Let me know what I've got wrong (or right!).

P.S. I could have found a picture of the original book jacket, but I loved the way this book came from the library: worn and well-loved. Couldn't resist using it as the book cover photo.

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Cheers!--Janyce

 

 
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