Saturday Studio: Exquisite Corpse

Do you remember Mad Libs? The staple of 90s car trips and fun classroom activities that asked you to insert verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs randomly to complete the story? This is a word game, but artists also have a drawing game similar to this called Exquisite Corpse, a name based on the original French game, Cadavre Exquis, played by the Surrealist leader Andre Breton in the early 1910s. It has various names – Combination Man, the Drawing Game, Picture Consequence – but its origins are in French Surrealism. Salvador Dalí, whose illustrations for Les Chants de Maldoror and the Divine Comedy are currently on display at FWMoA, was also a Surrealist. Though his illustrations for the Divine Comedy are more mystical, those for Les Chants de Maldoror (see below) were inspired by Surrealism and the wildly imaginative dreamscapes the artists produced. Let’s dive deeper into this unusual game for this week’s “Saturday Studio”!

Surrealists were always looking to reach deeper into the subconscious, so the Exquisite Corpse game relies on spontaneity, chance, and a sense of humor. Many people can participate in one game, but you really only need two. The first person traditionally draws the head of a creature or person, then folds the paper so that the next person cannot see what they drew. The second person draws the torso, having no idea how their drawing relates to the first. They also fold the paper and pass it along. The next drawing is of the legs and feet. Each artist cannot see what was drawn before, so the fun comes in the unveiling! Once the page is unfolded, the full extent of the comical creature is revealed! Some end the game there while others work to make it a more cohesive drawing by adding shading, color, and background environment. Each round of drawing leads to more open minded creativity, as artists race against a clock to create their doodle!

Surrealists made the game even more chaotic by following the folding rule but not the “build a creature” design. They would often create automatic drawings, just letting their pencil glide across the paper in whatever way felt right to them. The next artist would do the same, only barely connecting any lines that might peek over the fold. This created the quintessential Surrealist piece, one devoid of structure and order, only reliant on the cooperative nature of the game. It is an experiment, a break from one’s own patterns of thought or drawing style, and a safe place to test how two or more artists might collaborate outside the game on a larger project. 

So while you’re still stuck inside, either from the heat or from COVID-19, gather your family together for a fun and silly drawing game! Break out the colored markers, fold some pieces of paper, and let your imagination run wild with whatever pops into your head, whether realistic or abstract! 

To begin, you’ll need a sheet of paper. We used printer paper, but you could also use drawing paper or construction paper. Fold your paper into thirds (hot dog style). Each third represents one “round” of the game, where you draw a different body part. The first “round” is the head, then the body, then the legs.

TIP: Be sure that the people you are playing with cannot see your drawing! The best part of this game is the unveiling! We put up books to keep our drawings hidden, but propped open folders would work, too!

It’s time to draw! Choose how long you’ll give participants to draw. We decided on two minutes, because we didn’t want to have time to overthink our creations. Start the timer and begin with the head. Once you’ve completed it, fold that portion down so others cannot see it, but be sure to remember to draw two (or maybe more!) lines to show the next person where to begin. Then, pass clockwise. Do this for each third. Once everyone has unfinished, unveil!

We ended up with a cat-house, a fish-horse, and a snowman-pirate! What can you draw? Unveil your zany creations to us here on the blog or on our social medias: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

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