Genue Inc.
March 28, 2019

Assembling Creativity – Musings on the Art of Assemblage

fish found object collage art alexander calder

Alexander Calder – Fish, 1944

Photo credits via Visual News

Today, we’re chatting about collage! I love collage because of all the possibilities it can bring! I’ve been fascinated with a related concept—assemblage—since I studied it in my graduate program for writing instruction. It greatly impacted my academic work, and the work of people like scholars mentioned in this text, along with other stars of academia such as and Kristin Arola, Kathleen Blake Yancey, and Stephen McElroy.


A quick dictionary definition for your reference–assemblage ( /əˈsemblij/ ) can be defined as: a collection or gathering of things or people. And/or: a work of art made by grouping found or unrelated objects.


Assemblage is a concept from visual arts taken up most notably by artists like Pablo Picasso (beginning with his early cubist work), Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, and Louise Nevelson. Jean Dubuffet also created a series of collages of butterfly wings, which he titled “assemblages d’empreintes”. Their work with found objects solidified the medium into what we know it as today.


In 1961, the Museum of Modern Art debuted “The Art of Assemblage”, featuring the work of many of the aforementioned artists. Assemblage had become a facet of modern art in the 1960s! Exhibit curator William C. Seitz wrote—paraphrased by Dylan Karr— “collage and related modes of construction manifest a predisposition that is characteristically modern” insofar as they “denote not only a specific technical procedure and form used in the literary and musical as well as the plastic arts, but also a complex of attitudes and ideas.”

dryad of the night fantasy

Installation view of the exhibition, “The Art of Assemblage.”

Photograph by Soichi Sunami, MoMa, 1961.

That last line of Seitz’s quote is what I’ve held onto, given my artist experience with collage began and ended with decorating my middle school agenda books with cute boys from 90’s boy bands (anyone else?). The thought that assemblage can also be a form for constructing and creating ideas and attitudes is a liberating mode of invention for me. As a graduate student, seminal scholars Johndan Johnson-Eiola and Stuart Selber coined the following definition of assemblage: a “text built primarily and explicitly from existing texts to solve a writing or communication problem in a new context.” And I have loved that definition and the possibility it implies since I first read it in their piece “Plagiarism, Originality and Assemblage.”


If you think about hodge-podging together found “objects”—existing ideas, works of art, and experiences—and putting them together to create something new: the possibilities are endless! I love that this concept challenges the trope of the lone genius locked away in their attic inventing and scheming to change the way things are. That seems both isolating and unrealistic, right? So what if, instead, creative genius stemmed from using what already exists and creating with things we already see and love? Now, we must give appropriate credit to those objects and ideas, but then a kind of remix can emerge—a building on what comes before and adapting and repurposing for the future.


How much more revolutionary could we be if we were continually building on and using the great creators and innovators that came before, instead of trying to be totally and completely unique? I’m all for a collaborative and celebratory creative practice that allows me to pay homage to those who have impacted and inspired me while still creating new and worthwhile contributions to the world.


What do you think? Where does “stealing” end and “borrowing for creative exploration and reinvention” begin? Can a world of endless assemblages really exist?


If you enjoyed our thoughts on art and design, check out some of our other articles: inside the Fabric Workshop & Museum in Pennsylvania, exploring the importance of color in fashion design, and discussing how to overcome creative “blocks”!

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