Exquisite Corpse in Surrealist Drawing & Poetry

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

What is an Exquisite Corpse? Taken literally, it's a beautiful dead body. Taken artistically, it's a game poets and artists play to create surprising and unusual works of art. This lesson explores the origins and rules of the Exquisite Corpse.


When you wake up in the morning, do you remember what you dreamed about? You may be able to clearly recall everything in great detail. Other mornings, you may be left with a fragment of a dream or a distinct feeling or sense. These bits and pieces come from your subconscious, the part of your mind that operates just below the surface of your conscious thoughts (what you're actively thinking about right now).

At the beginning of the 20th century, psychology was really taking off in Europe. Men like Sigmund Freud explored the subconscious thoughts of their patients, encouraging them to make free associations; whatever popped into their head, they spoke out loud. This freedom of thought and expression gave way to a new artistic movement called surrealism. At first, surrealism was limited to writing. Poets and authors explored their subconscious and translated these unrestricted thoughts into their work. Eventually, surrealism spread into visual arts as well, like painting, drawing, and sculpture.

The Exquisite Corpse

To encourage and inspire each other, surrealists worked together to create unpredictable and unexpected art. One of the ways they did this was by playing a game called the Exquisite Corpse. It started out as a game to create whimsical poetry, but expanded to include visual arts over time.

You're probably wondering, why would anyone name a poetry or art game after a beautiful dead body? The name of the game actually comes from a line of surrealist poetry, 'Le cadaver exquis boira le vin nouveau' English, that means, 'The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.'

Creating Poetry

The Exquisite Corpse game has one important rule: NO PEEKING! To start the game, players determine what types of words will make up each line of poetry. For example, each line may have to follow the pattern:

Adverb - Verb - Adjective - Noun

After players agree on the poem's structure, Player 1 writes a single word on a piece of paper, then hides it so none of the other players can see it. Player 2 adds their own word to the paper, and hides it as well. These steps are repeated until all players have taken a turn and the poem is completed. An Exquisite Corpse poem would look something like the example below:

Slowly munching the salty worm. / Eerily bathing spooky clowns. / Meekly tuning a chirpy desk. / Sweetly sweeping the mahogany toad.

Creating Art

The Exquisite Corpse was a very popular game for both surrealist poets and Average Joe's to play. The artsy crowd, however, did not want to be left out of the fun. Artists like Joan Miro, Man Ray, and Max Morise played their own version of the game. Instead of creating poetry, however, they took the name of the game literally and worked together to draw bodies.

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