What Is a Fine Art Collage?

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  • Written By: Jerry Morrison
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2019
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A fine art collage is a work whose intent is to articulate an idea or experience, to imply a relationship or demonstrate an aesthetic form. Primarily a visual art, collage assembles a diverse number of forms and unifying elements into a single work. This is most often done by arranging and pasting the constituent elements onto paper or canvas. It is a fine art collage when it succeeds in expressing an idea or arouses an emotional response. If the work speaks to the viewer, then it is a fine art collage.

What constitutes fine art is often depicted as otherworldly, somehow divorced from daily concerns. Rembrandt painted for hire, Shakespeare wrote to fill playhouses, and ancient Greek potters made urns for everyday use. A collage may be created on commission, used in advertising, or simply made to tie a room together. This particular art form can be made from any number of materials.

Artisans have been applying decorative cutouts, jewels and metallic embossing to written or painted works for hundreds of years. During the 19th century, collage was more of a folk art or craft, practiced in the creation of scrapbooks or used to adorn household items. Collage, as an artistic technique, did not come into widely accepted use until the early 20th century. It is at this time that what would popularly be considered fine art collage began to appear.


Some of the first modern works of collage were a test of the bounds between painting and sculpture. Elements were inserted to interrupt or extend the plane of the canvas, or to provide contrasting texture. The incorporation of photography and items from popular culture gave fine art collage an immediacy and temporal dimension. Individual elements were recognizable and had meaning in their own right, as well as in relationship to the work as a whole.

Fine art collage has continued to develop and find means of expression through the use of other media. Literary collages employ images and excerpts from other works to advance a narrative or to promote a viewpoint. Documentary filmmakers often use collages of historical photographs and documents in their work. A fine art collage can take the form of a homage to an admired genre in film or be the examination of a theme or technique in a musical work. A traditional collage on canvas might be portrayed with newly developed materials and processes.


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