If you have a blank sketchbook lying around, “one weird trick” from the Surrealists can turn any social gathering into a collaborative art session. Instead of sequestering yourself at home with your unused, expensive art supplies, take them with you to your next dinner party.
In the early years of the Surrealist movement, young poets and artists began blurring the lines between art and life at their social gatherings in Paris. As early as 1917, founding Surrealists like André Breton played a parlor game that asked participants to contribute to a poem or drawing without knowing what came before or after their own contribution. One such early poem resulted in the odd phrase "le cadaver exquis boira le vin nouveau" (“the exquisite corpse shall drink the young wine”), which inspired the Surrealists to dub the game “Exquisite Corpse.” You can see a prime example of the game in drawing, by Joan Miró, Man Ray and others, right here.
While Surrealists used this “weird trick” to liberate their subconscious mind and challenge notions of rationality, anyone can use Exquisite Corpses to incorporate art into their daily social lives. All you will need is a pen, paper and some collaborators . . . and maybe some “young wine.”
Few people consider themselves artists, and most mistakenly believe they can’t draw. But when you hand someone a piece of folded paper with a few lines peeking over the crease, and say, “Finish this drawing,” it feels more like a brain teaser than a measure of skill.
Depending on the size of the paper, multiple people can participate until you can no longer fold it over and pass it on. Unfolding the paper reveals the Exquisite Corpse you have made together. Much like the director Michel Gondry’s declaration that “You’ll Like This Film Because You’re in It,” I believe even the most reluctant participant will like the drawing because they helped make it.
Creating artwork together is a great way to break the ice or introduce yourself to new people. You may even be surprised by what people you already know can create -- including yourself! See the high-tech Exquisite Corpse that the artists on Drawfee Break create for YouTube below.
André Breton said of Exquisite Corpses, “What exalted us in these productions was indeed the conviction that, come what might, they bore the mark of something that could not be begotten by one mind alone and that they were endowed, in a much greater measure, with a power of drift that poetry cannot value too highly.”
Whether you pass one piece of paper around or play with multiple people simultaneously, there are different variations of this game that produce similarly entertaining effects. Instead of drawing, the approach can be used to write poems or short stories with suggestions from the Academy of American Poets.
If you have a large group of focused people, I like to play what some call "Pictionary Telephone," where participants alternate between writing sentences and creating drawings based on the previous sentence until the original idea has been completely altered to hilarious effect.
If you peek inside the 4x6 sketchbooks I've been carrying around for the past few years, you will notice that most of the pages are creased down the middle. These Exquisite Corpses are souvenirs from high school reunions, holiday barbecues, dinner parties and pub crawls.
Looking back, I can identify creators by their drawing styles and each page feels like a handmade present. Most of the drawings capture the spirit of the gathering better than a posed snapshot could. So go forth and conquer the blank page!