I wanted to look at Collage in Twentieth-Century Art, Literature and Culture: Joseph Cornell, William Burroughs, Frank O’Hara, and Bob Dylan (2014, Ashgate) by Rona Cran to give me a grounding in exactly that, what is collage, how are other people defining it and delimiting it from other ways of making art, who has done it, what have they made, basically what is the scope of collage as a category. The focus in this book is on these four somewhat disparate figures, and Cran connects them by way of New York as a sort of milieu that gives rise to the need for collage – “The context out of which the collage emerges is ultimately that from which it is made – hence the significance of New York City, to which all four were intimately connected” (p.5).
I’m less convinced about that aspect of things – although I appreciate that this is the introduction where the claims and ideas of the book are being introduced, sketched in, put in place, to be fleshed out in more depth later on. But so far this feels a bit broad, although I’m interested in the emphasis on collage as a way of making that arises from the real life circumstances and experiences of the person doing the making – it will just need to get a lot more particular I think, before that will stop being a general statement about everything. First I’m interested in definitions, as is this text, with its first section titled ‘Collage: Approaching a Definition’.
Cran locates the beginning of collage, indeed “the invention of collage as we know it today” (p.1) firmly with Picasso and Braque, with Apollinaire providing the name, “which derives from the French word coller, meaning to paste” (p.1). Cran characterises collage as ‘non-exclusive’, and says that its ‘diversity’ “was embraced, broadened in scope, and adapted by a range of artists, writers, and musicians, whose work helped to dismantle the barriers between their disciplines” (p.1). So already it is diverse, about pasting, and discipline-dismantling – an aspect I’m particularly interested in, especially given the lip service that is often paid to the idea of interdisciplinarity in the academy, where disciplinary boundaries thrive as often as parts of them are dismantled.
Cran proposes to explore “collage’s viability as both a physical practice and a theoretical principle. Collage is about sticking string and scraps of ephemera to paper. It is also about an intellectual and emotional relationship with a given aesthetic environment.” (p.3) My interest in collage is largely connected to Pennine Street, at the moment, which has involved one cutting-and-sticking production but is mostly digital images, and I think is about this sort of relation to an ‘aesthetic environment’. Cran talks about collage as having both a practical and a conceptual side, and that “its basic principle (operating with or without glue) is the experimentation with and the linking of disparate phenomena: democratically, arbitrarily, and even unintentionally” (p.4).
The viewer is also very centrally involved in producing meaning with collage, for Cran: “The act of decoding subsequently required from the viewer or reader constitutes an intellectual and emotional challenge whose rules of engagement necessitate not necessarily the discovery of any specific message, but, rather, the gradual discernment that each artwork, novel, poem, or song is uniquely and subjectively regulated by the viewers or readers themselves.” (pp.4-5) Again, this is very pertinent for my interest in collage but is not yet particular enough. And I’m wary of the term ‘decoding’ popping up – especially as we hear that the kind of decoding that the viewer is called upon to undertake is not really a process of arriving at a specific message – fine – but rather discerning that each thing (or perhaps its interpretation) is governed by me as the viewer. So that’s not really decoding then. It’s really saying that the kind of decoding asked for is not decoding. I haven’t yet read into each of the chapters, but at least in the introduction, these concerns with interpetative (or is it interpretive?) authority could do with being put in context with post-strucutralism I would have thought, and the death of the author and disruption to the idea of meaning being ‘given’ and the ‘author’ being the anchor of that definite meaning – which is why decoding seems so inappropriate here. Although I need to bear in mind that we are dealing with a hundred-year period here, beginning in 1912 with Picasso and Braque’s sticking objects into their artworks, and not an account just of contemporary concerns with collage.
“Interpretative vs. interpretive
Interpretative is slightly more common than interpretive in 21st-century British publications. Everywhere else, including in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the shorter form is preferred.
Some people consider interpretive etymologically incorrect because the Latin stem is interpretat-, not interpret-. Plus, there is plenty of precedent for using the longer form—for example, English speakers favorargumentative, exploitative, and authoritative over their shorter variants. But English is not always consistent in its word constructions, and these things are usually decided by popular usage rather than logic.”