The Story of the Collage

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So, let me tell you the story of this collage that hangs above my dresser.  My junior year of college, I took an art class called Art for Elementary Teachers or something like that.  It was a required course, the objective being to learn how to use art as a teaching tool in the elementary classroom, of course.  I didn’t care about this class, I didn’t connect with the teacher, I was just doing my time.  I don’t perceive myself to be good at drawing, painting, anything like that.  I never took art in high school.  When it comes to being creative, I much prefer playing music and writing stories.  Trying to do anything visual art related makes me feel just as uncoordinated as trying to do something sports-related.  So I was just going to try my best and aim for a nice C+.  Of course I learned right away that I wasn’t the only one–none of us were art majors, after all!– and that quality of the product wasn’t the point of the class.  As long as I tried my best, I was going to end up with an A.  Imagine my joy!  🙂

The assignment was collage.  That was it.  Do a collage.  I had a stack of magazines, one of which was a seed catalog, the kind with pages and pages of pictures of plants and flowers.  The picture on the front cover was a big sunflower, and I decided I would do something with the colors of the rainbow.  It felt like a cop-out, like I was escaping back into a more comfortable area, since the rainbow is an order, an organization of elements.  Something I know backwards and forwards since being an elementary school art student!  Nonetheless, I had made my decision. 

I started cutting out pictures of flowers, until I had a good sized pile of pictures from each of the six colors of the rainbow.  Then I just started gluing them onto my cardboard.  Somewhere in the process of cutting and gluing, it was like I went into an altered state of consciousness, totally focused on the project, and yet not focused on anything.  As though I could keep cutting and gluing for hours and hours, without growing weary of it.  And when I was finished, I had this thing that felt as though it had not been my idea.  It was just something that poured out of me, and became something of its own. 

I remember thinking that it was a cool experience…but nothing more.  I expected to take it to class, get my A for effort, and that would be it.  Strangely, the teacher and the other students really liked it.  I remember the teacher spoke of the “movement of the colors,” which was my favorite thing about it, too.  And I felt like I was taking the credit for some unnamed source, because it had never been my idea or my intention.  It just turned out that way.

To the best of my knowledge, I wasn’t inspired by anything but the colors in the seed catalog.  There was no experience that left me feeling the need for a catharsis.  There was no song that lit a fire in me.  I was given an assignment…I saw some pretty pictures…I started cutting and gluing…and this beautiful thing emerged.  It was very cool.