Collage & Assemblage: Techniques & Famous Works

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts has taught undergraduate-level film studies for over 9 years. She has a PhD in Media, Art and Text from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA in film production from Marlboro College. She also has a certificate in teaching online from UMGC and non-profit marketing and fundraising from UC Davis.

Artists in the early 20th century popularized techniques of combining various objects and materials through collage and assemblage instead of painting. Learn these techniques' relationship to cubism and political movements through examples of famous artists. Updated: 11/09/2021

Before Pre-Packaged Kits

You may be wondering why collage deserves a place in the study of fine art. After all, how could a craft with its own devoted hobby aisle deserve any respectable reputation in the art world?

It's true that craft collaging and scrapbooking were popular hobbies long before artists even considered the intellectual or philosophical aspects of these practices. That all changed in the beginning of the 20th century when politically motivated and culturally engaged artists took up collage and assemblage as alternatives to painting.

Collaging refers to the construction of a work of art out of paper items, such as photographs, newspaper, ribbon, magazines, books, etc. It differs from assemblage, which combines objects usually not made of paper, found objects like insect wings, coins, or utensils.

Before the availability of pre-packaged kits in the designated craft store aisle, innovative artists like Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso took up collage as a way to express themselves. They discovered that by assembling together found objects, or materials from a recognizable origin reworked in a composition but remaining identifiable, from disparate origins provided them with a mode to critique their contemporary situation.

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  • 0:01 Before Pre-Packaged Kits
  • 1:16 Origins in Cubism
  • 2:41 Dada and Political Motivations
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Origins in Cubism

Pablo Picasso, a Spanish painter, and Georges Braque, a French artist, were colleagues who, together, made a huge impact on the art scene in the first few decades of the 20th century. Working in Paris, they originated a revolution in the art world through their innovative style that became known as Cubism, an abstract style of art that rejected the representational depiction of real objects toward an emphasis on geometric form and emotive color.

In the same way that these artists rejected the representation of real objects in painting, they latched onto collage as a form that allowed them to bring to light how material objects were both commercial and manufactured products.

The collage offered a medium in which to critique the materialism of commercially produced goods and defamiliarize the objects by presenting them in a new combination (in an art frame), in a new setting (in an art gallery).

The artwork of Picasso and Braque both feature the same kinds of objects (art instruments) and similar color palette (muted tones and browns). As the Cubists explored the techniques of collage and assemblage, you can see how their subject matter stayed the same while their methods changed. By using found objects and carving wood, combining spoons and metal mesh with upholstery fabric, they pushed the boundaries of what was acceptably considered art.

Dada and Political Motivations

Dada was an avant-garde art movement that originated in Switzerland around 1916 in reaction to the First World War. Dada is just gibberish, a nonsense word chosen as a critique of the irrationality of modern civilization. Dada artists used absurdity as an anti-aesthetic, rejecting the notion of the practiced artist. Assemblage as a medium is motivated by political leanings, reflected in the spirit of the times. Dada artists embraced the art of assemblage for its ability to defamiliarize everyday objects.

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