She believed collage was the greatest of all the arts
And was busy pasting pictures of horses
Next to ads for laundry soap
Next to Mohammed Ali
She had a turquoise in her ear
And said Rachmaninoff was always in her head
These lines are from the song “Estelle” by Dan Bern. That first line comes to me every now and then. When it does, I find it hard to disagree with Estelle about collage: it might just be the greatest of all the arts.
Sometimes simplicity is all that’s called for — or cohesion, or perfect order. But not in most cases when it comes to artistic projects. Too much simplicity has a tendency to turn life into a hospital room. In almost all cases, adding some elements of collage will improve a work of art.
Collage elements such as: randomness, juxtaposition, surprise, clever disorder, controlled chaos… And of course: things overlapping in a way that’s ultimately calculated, even if it’s made to seem accidental.
What else might be the greatest of all the arts? Painting? But how would you rank that against photography? Or photography against novels? Or novels against films? Or films against symphonies?
Considering these questions, a major strength of collage emerges. Unlike other art forms, collage is both an art form in its own right and also an approach to making any type of art. You can make a collage. You can also do collage in the process of creating a novel, a song, a film, etc.
David Bowie used the cut-up method to write some of his songs — cutting up random sentence fragments and rearranging them as a collage of words. He also used a computer program he called the Verbasizer, which randomly selected words from a series of sentences he’d write.
“So what you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topics and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other.” — Bowie
Modern songs use collage at many stages of their production — not just in lyric writing. During the recording process, each instrument is tracked…