The Exquisite Corpse is a method of drawing made famous by the Surrealist movement of artists in the mid-19th century, which relies on the unexpected contrast of subject matter to produce jarring images. The idea is to collaborate with multiple people with a variety of imaginative approaches on a single drawing, resulting in subtle connections that would not be made visible by a single artist.
Exquisite Corpse Drawing Technique
The process begins with three to five people sitting around a table, each with their own piece of paper and drawing utensil of choice. Folding the paper into vertical thirds beforehand will help simplify the process later. Each person then draws the first thing that pops into his or her head in the top section of their paper, with as little or as much detail as they like. Some people prefer to use a timer set to five or ten minutes, in order to encourage the freedom of creativity and prevent the paralysis of overthinking.
When the time is up or each person is finished, they proceed to fold the paper on its predetermined crease and cover the drawing they’ve just completed. The drawing should extend only an inch or so into the middle section, which will give the next person a place to start. Everyone proceeds to pass their paper in the same direction, so that each ends up with a new page that is folded once to hide the drawing of the previous artist.
Working off of the overlapping line, the timer is reset and each person draws a new composition. It’s important to remember to leave your form open at the bottom as someone else will have to finish off the drawing. The process is repeated until all three sections of the paper are filled, each page having been created by three separate artists. This leads us to the best part in opening up the paper and seeing the results of three separate imaginations working together subconsciously on a single cohesive image.
Why Use the Exquisite Corpse Drawing Technique?
The Surrealists found this exercise to be valuable in many different ways. By working from unknown inspiration and hiding the previous drawing from one another, this process relies on similarities of experience such as occupying the same room at the same time in order to connect each piece of the three-part drawing. They often found that upon examining the juxtapositions in detail, it was possible to find the connection between each disjointed idea; whether the drawing was of an object or person in the room, had to do with some current event or bit of news, or was taken from a previous conversation between two individual artists.
The second benefit to this type of drawing is the balance between the pressure of time and lack of critical development – a creative activity taking place within a social setting takes the seriousness out of making art and helps to encourage free association as well as uninhibited creativity. The pressing matter of time further helps to avoid overthinking and simply draw without necessarily caring whether it’s “good” or not. Many of the Surrealist artists to helped develop this kind of gathering took that creative momentum and applied it to their own individual paintings and prints, using the same kind of jarring contrast as a tool for making surprising images.
A gallery of these Exquisite Corpse drawings can be found in the MoMA’s Online Collection, which further emphasizes the incredible potential of this process.
As they say, two heads are better than one!