Exquisite Corpse

On June 8, 2011, in Art Nerd, Galen Dara, by Galen Dara

“The Exquisite Corpse shall drink the new wine”
~Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau

I tell people I am shy. That isn’t exactly accurate but it is easier than trying to explain the erratic nature of my social anxiety. Gatherings unnerve me just a bit and I frequently find myself wishing I could go hide in a corner with my sketchbook.

Ergo, Exquisite Corpse is so my kind of thing.
Spawned by the Dadaists and Surrealists of the 1920’s to remedy a gathering that needed a pick me up, Andre Breton recalls:

“When the conversation… began to pall, we would turn to games; written games at first, contrived so that elements of language attacked each other in the most paradoxical manner possible, and so that human communication, misled from the start, was thrown into the mood most amenable to adventure.”

Ah, being human.

I prefer the drawing version of the game. The rules vary but the basics are the same; everyone has a piece of paper divided into thirds (or fourths, etc). Each person draws on their third (or fourth, etc), folds it so that only an obscure part of the drawing is visible, and passes it along to the next person. The next person then uses what they can see of the previous drawing as a starting point for their own. Draw, Fold, Pass, Repeat. etc. (It works with poetry too.) Finally, at the end, the drawings are unfolded and the madness of the collective group consciousness is revealed.

I have my own version of this that I foist upon unwitting friends when we’re in social situations. It lacks the surprise element of a real Exquisite Corpse, aiming instead for an easy fast and flexible group creative experiment. It looks a bit like this action. I merely put paper and pen in every one’s hands and make them start drawing. And then make them swap drawings. Again. And again. And again. Until everyone has had a swipe or three at each piece. This is especially fun to do when food is present and and people start painting with the condiments. (The first time I did this with Food Nerd John Remy, he entertained me by utilizing the slimier elements from his meal. Final product seen here.) More recently, at the World Horror Convention, I had the chance to get a bunch friends together around a table (at Chili’s no less) to process our monsters and apocalypses.

More than just being a gimmick that helps me in social situations, this sort of collaborative creative exercise is a pretty valuable tool in my artistic life. The quick and spontaneous nature of the drawing, the required vulnerability to offer up your piece for altering, the fast exchange of images and ideas, seeing themes emerge and be subverted all in a relatively short period of time… Yes indeed. I shall continue to foist this little game upon those around me whenever possible.

So there you go. Perhaps the next time you’re together with friends, *you* may just be tempted to pull out paper and pencils (or iPad) and make the Exquisite Corpse drink new wine.

Speaking of Drinking: coming soon, Booze Nerd Andy Romine and I shall invite you to participate in a group twitter Drink and Draw. Yes, it gets that good.

2 Responses to Exquisite Corpse

  1. Speaking from experience, I think this exercise is a great way to draw in people who don’t feel like they’re artistically-inclined. One of the only times I feel like I can produce non-digital art is when I’m collaborating with you and/or others in a round of Exquisite Corpse. It also helps that it’s a social, low-pressure, fun thing to do. And getting us to do this was perfect for energizing our tired selves on the last kinda depressing day of World Horror Con. Thank you for introducing us to this exercise! I hope others feel inspired by your post!

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