Finding. Assembling. Patience. These are the skills that rise to the top for me when considering collage as a medium. I suppose I will lump cutting into assembling as well—scrutiny for where (and how) to slice imagery is critical for composition. These three skills however seem to be at the core of a medium that I closely relate to the music of my latest client, Stratosphere. Their music is akin to The Books, Dan Deacon, or The Microphones which includes electronic tones and sampling that are stitched together, little focus on vocals and liberal looping and clipping. Collage has even been used to describe their music, and it only seems like a natural direction for the art direction of their brand. I’d like to make some notes about these three skills and what I’ve learned about them here, for the sake of finally completing a fascinating research phase of this project so I can translate these ideas into a brand identity. I’ll take them one post at a time, staring with the act of Finding.
One of the things I’m struggling with most in collage is that finding imagery is usually the first gate to pass through before the art making begins. And when I say finding, I mean that it is, at first, random and unexpected, like finding a discarded love letter. In the art of collage, one collects found artifacts, mundane or valuable, in a cache of otherwise unrelated materials. From this bank of imagery, the artist selects pieces to compose their work. Now, this is something that I have always found a strange solace in; I have a collection of plastic bread tags, found and honored as art, and considered such for the sole characteristic of me finding them or the smearing of inked type on their surface. However, I have done this out of my own desire for collecting, not for the purpose of assembling the collection into a composition of art at a later date. The act of finding seems to be at the forefront of the creative process in collage, and this is what seems awry to me as a designer.
In design, the process often begins with purpose, then extends towards seeking a means to fulfill that purpose, and then finally the assembly of final art. For instance, when you’re designing a poster to promote a comedy show you first attempt to get at its purpose (making people laugh), brainstorm about what makes it different than other comedy shows (let’s say it’s replete with crass humor), and then you seek out related imagery like mud, microphones, dirty pigs, unseemly things, laughing masks, etc. and assemble them together through photography, collage, or drawing. The process of finding imagery is dependent on the intended purpose in this case, whereas in the art of collage, finding content happens before knowing what the final work’s purpose is.
One might argue this is a prime distinction between art and design—that collage is the assembly of imagery that seeks to explore an intent, and design has intent that uses the assembly of imagery to communicate. Whether you go looking for content before your intent might be a simple distinction, but it certainly throws off my process. I find it difficult to have a design project and then feel a freedom to wander the world waiting for imagery to come to me. Collage may be more of a reaction to all of the visual things that are beset upon the artist.
I’m reminded of club djs. “Digging” is a common term used by djs which means to flip through records, either in other people’s collections or in stores or wherever, seeking new music, beats, samples, riffs. What are they going to do with these finds? I’m sure all djs have their own processes, but most I would presume are assembling their collection of music with something they find in a second hand store all in their head, considering how their collection threads well with something they had never heard of before. They also might simply love sound, and hope to find new ways of taking something either beautiful, comedic or foreign to them and altering it in their own way to make new music. This is where collage and music meet, it’s what Stratosphere is about, it’s a fine line between finding and seeking.