Exercise 3 - Collage - images from the unconscious

By Gillian Valladares Castellino

"When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her, and enters into her own image."
 - Meister Eckhart

"Just as a burning fire inherently exudes heat, the unconscious inherently generates symbols. It is simply the nature of the unconscious to do so.
As we learn to read those symbols we gain the ability to perceive the workings of the unconscious within us.
This ability  to produce symbols affects more than just our dreams: All of human life is nourished by the flow of symbolic imagery from the wellsprings of our unconscious.:"
 - Robert A. Johnson

"Art, even if it is totally unskilled, can become a sword with which to confront the dragons of the unconscious."
- Anthony Storr, 1989

"The subconscious plays a great part in art, that is to say that in conceiving; realising a work a great deal happens which cannot be logically explained - the mind jumps from one stage to another much further on without there being traceable steps shown between - preferences for one shape over another which cannot be explained - sudden solutions which cannot be followed step by step - in a word - inspiration."
 - Henry Moore, 1937

Part of the ongoing, and sometimes difficult task of the artist, is to cooperate with the unconscious and reveal its secrets.  For people who do not consider themselves artists, the most accessible method of "art creation" is collage.

The word 'collage' is derived from the French verb coller which means, to glue. It is a work of art made by gluing things to a surface.

It has a long history dating back to the cavemen who attached ribbons or strands of grass to rock paintings of mammoths in tribal and aboriginal art.

Collages had cross-cultural appeal too - ranging from children's diaries and scrapbooks, recipe journals,  valentine cards flecked with rose petals, lace and paper cutouts, Japanese poetry scrolls, imagery in Russian icons and gold leaf overlays in medieval European art.

Collage reemerged at the start of the 20th century when Pablo Picasso attached oilcloth and a caning pattern to a painting. Later Georges Braque produced a paper collage including pieces of wallpaper, sheet music and newspaper clippings. During the Dada movement, Hannah Hoch glued photograph fragments from magazines and advertisements together and the photo montage was born.

Since then, the process of collage and assemblage has been appropriated across music, the visual arts, literature, theory and film as a method of cultural production. Some even suggest that organ transplantation, xenotransplants (using animal organs/tissue in humans), recombinant genomic engineering and the plastinated corpses of Gunther von Hagen all constitute bioart - a form of collage/assemblage.

Fig 1: Japanese woodcuts featuring paintings and scrollwork

Fig 2: Still-Life with Chair-Caning (Pablo Picasso) 1912 

Fig 3 - Jonathan Yeo's painterly collage of George Bush, composed of pornographic images

Fig 3 - Bioart by Gunther von Hagen, using body parts from cadavers

Despite these disparate developments in the history and use of collage, it still remains a powerful tool available to everyone - from a tiny child, to a skilled artist or surgeon for what can be loosely called "visual composting".

What does this mean? When you put together the components of your collage, whatever they may be - your conscious mind may appear to be the driver, but something else is taking place. You might be strongly attracted to a particular image without any idea why. The reason you are drawn to it is found in your unconscious mind which speaks to us in metaphor and imagery. By intuitively creating collages, we can evoke the archetypes which unconsciously influence our lives.

Collage can be a powerful tool for helping us understand what is happening below the surface of our lives, it can serve as an aid in identifing our goals and making our dreams come true. It can also help resolve confusion and bring clarity and alignment to our decisions. Last but not least, it is also a lot of fun.

Fig 4 - Some of my own collages done over a space of years

Materials you will need

1. Magazines, greeting cards, photographs, sheet music, swatches of fabric, string, ribbon, beads, seeds, paint, sand, wax, wool or fibre, stamps, maps, feathers, pressed flowers, quotes, toothpicks, etc, the possibilities are endless...

2. Your A3 visual diary

3. Coloured pencils, textas, pens, conte crayons, pastels, charcoal sticks, glitter

4. Scissors

5. Glue

6. Pen

(Ensure that you will be undisturbed for at least 30 minutes when attempting this exercise. Please read all the steps before you begin.)

1. Choose a spot in which to meditate. Make sure that your supplies and notebook are laid out in front of you.

2. In your notebook, write down:
(a) Three words which describe how you are feeling (before beginning the exercise).
(b) Three sentences on why you are doing the exercise.

3. With your feet firmly on the ground and your eyes closed, take a few deep slow breaths. When you feel completely centred and relaxed, open your eyes.

4. Gather the images and materials together.

5. Arrange them, swapping them around until you are satisfied

6. Cut, tear and glue.

7. Journal. Ask your collage questions and see what it says. Listen internally for a response. Talk to the card as if it is an entity or guide and let it answer. Write the responses that arise without thinking much. Write whatever comes; don’t censor or overthink the answers - there aren't any right or wrong ones. Just let the words come through.

Questions you might wish to ask are:

(a) What message do you have for me?

(b) What gift do you have for me?

(c) What do you want me to do or understand?

Ideally, repeat the process daily for a week and see if a pattern emerges, if there is a theme. Reflect on it.
What do you feel you have learned by putting yourself through this experience?

This exercise can be repeated as often as you like, whenever you feel the urge to re-visit the process. Each time you will gain new insights. Re-visit collages which you have made previously and journal your feelings and responses to them.


1. Visioning - Temn Steps to Designing the Life of your Dreams,  Capacchione, Lucia (2000) Penguin, Putnam Inc.

2. Psychology and Alchemy, Jung, C.G

3. Creative Mythology. The Masks of God, Vol. IV, (2001) Campbell, J., Souvenir Press.

4. Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and Technique,Rubin, J.A. (Ed.). (1987). Brunner/Mazel

5. Art as Medicine, McNiff, S. (1992)Shambhala.

1. Work of Shelley Klammer

2. Article by Fred Stern

3. Article by Meera Lester

4. Work of Bianca Daalder-van lersel

5. Work of Amelia Mandala


Popular Posts