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By combining images, printed material, and even found objects, artists can create striking works of collage that dazzle the eye and offer a unique perspective on the nature of art.

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What Is a Collage?

A collage is a form of visual arts in which visual elements are combined to create a new image that conveys a message or idea. Collage comes from the French word “collér,” which means “to glue,” often the primary means of combining images in collage art. Collagers can draw these images from newspaper clippings or print advertisements, or cull them from different materials, like photographs, fabric, wood, and even ephemera. Collagers can apply the images to the surface of another work of art, such as a canvas, to create a new single image.

There are several different subgenres of collage, including photomontage, fabric collage, and découpage, each of which offers a variation of its basic form. Modern technology has also led to the rise of digital collage art or eCollage created by computer and photo-editing software programs.

A Brief History of Collage in Art

While collage hit the mainstream in the twentieth century, art historians state that its origins trace back to the tenth century. Calligraphers in Japan used the technique when crafting poetry. Here is a brief historical overview that highlights how the art world embraced the form:

  • Collaging enters Modern art. Collage art as a form of modem art began in the early twentieth century when Cubist artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began gluing material—pieces of paper, fabric, even objects—to canvases and other surfaces in the early twentieth century. Picasso’s Still Life with Chair Caning (1912) featured oilcloth glued to canvas, while Braques’ Fruit Dish and Glass (1912) was a form of papier collé with patterned wallpaper glued to canvas.
  • Dadaists and Surrealists embrace the form. The Dada art movement also embraced collage art. The form was featured in works by Hannah Höch, who glued photographs and ads cut out of magazines for her photomontage “Cut with a Kitchen Knife.” German artist Kurt Schwitters utilized the form in his wood collages. Collage also became a part of Surrealism, where artists reveled in juxtaposing existing elements to produce a single new work. Surrealist artist Joseph Cornell adopted collage techniques to create dream-like images shortly before World War II.
  • Influence on Pop art. In the mid-twentieth century, art collage was a major influence on the Pop art movement, first through the playful work of British artist Richard Hamilton, and later, at a 1962 exhibit at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York which showed works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Today, collagists employ both the traditional method of cut and paste and modern means like digital software to further the art form and create new works.
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4 Types of Collages

There are many different types of collages, all based on the materials used, including:

  1. Papier collé. Taken from the French term meaning “pasted paper” or “paper cut-out,” papier collé, or paper collage, is a collaging technique in which printed or decorated paper is applied to a surface, such as canvas, to create a new image. The early collage work of Picasso, Braque, and Spanish painter Juan Gris are examples of papier collé.
  2. Découpage. Initially used to describe a seventeenth-century form of furniture-making and decoration, découpage—taken from the French word “découper,” meaning to “cut out”—involves the arranging and pasting of colored paper cutouts, often by layering, to create an image. The image is then sealed with varnish. Henri Matisse created many notable découpage artworks, such as Blue Nude II (1952), after illness made painting more difficult for him to accomplish.
  3. Photomontage. A collage created by cutting and gluing other photographs to create a new image is known as photomontage or compositing. The new image is frequently photographed to create a seamless element to the photo collage. The prominence of digital image-editing software has led to greater ease in creating photomontage.
  4. Assemblage. A technique by which three-dimensional images are created by adding found objects to a flat surface, assemblage is a form of visual art related to collage. Twentieth-century assemblage artists include Pablo Picasso, who used metal scraps, and Robert Rauschenberg, whose mixed-media approach combined found material and paint to create reliefs (a sculpture technique where the background appears raised).

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