Transforming a Book through Collage

Activity Steps:

Experiment with Cornell's collage-making process and create your own collaged book, transforming a pre-existing publication or magazine spread through the addition of found text, illustrations, and drawing materials.

1. Look:
Look at the art of Joseph Cornell. What kinds of objects and images did he use to create Untitled (Journal d'Agriculture Pratique et Journal de l'Agriculture). Are they things that anyone might choose, or do they appear to have had personal meaning for Cornell?
2. Create:
Beginning with a preexisting magazine or book, create a collage of your own. You could depict an event in your life such as your first trip to the beach, or you could address your life as a whole by using images that have ongoing personal meaning.
3. Write:
Write a one-paragraph artist's statement in which you describe the meaning of the symbols in your transformed book.
  1. How do your additions to the book or magazine relate to its preexisting contents?
  2. Explain two or three of the visual choices you made in your collage.
4. Review:
Exchange your collage with another student and write a short review of his or her piece, taking careful note of how the different items work together.
  1. Which visual elements of their collage are effective? What needs work?
  2. Is the collage well crafted? How could it be improved?
  3. How well does the collage reflect the ideas expressed in the artist's statement?
5. Optional expanded project:
Design an exhibition of collaged books.
  1. Theme: As a class, determine the overall character, theme, and tone of the exhibition, with transformed books serving as the main focus.
  2. Assign tasks: Divide into small groups to carry out the following exhibition-related responsibilities:
    Design: Determine how the individual books will be presented, and discuss how they will be arranged throughout the exhibition space.
    Production and installation: Create and install object labels and the props that will be used to display the books. Install the artworks according to the plan finalized by the design committee.
    Catalogue: Compile photographs, artist's statements, and object labels into a book that will serve as a record of the exhibition.
    Public relations and Reception: Organize and produce an event celebrating the opening of the exhibition (optional).
  3. Reviews: Once the exhibition has been installed, write a review commenting on how it enables you to see everyday objects in a new way.
  4. Reception: You may want to invite other students from your school to attend an opening reception for your exhibition. Invite the guest students to write their own reviews of the exhibition.
Screen questions
Joseph Cornell's collages derive in part from his fascination with notable events, historical figures, and people whom he admired.
To do: From the main menu, click on Nature's Theater, then on the link to Reflections from Edward Batcheller, an interview in which Cornell's great nephew discusses gathering materials for Cornell's projects).
To think about: How does the interview help you understand the artist and his working methods? Where did Cornell find his materials, and who helped him gather them? What else would you like to know about Cornell's methods?