Collage: Picture, Presentation, Presenting

The terms “picture” is both a verb and a noun, i.e., to *picture* (verb) and a *picture* (noun). As to the other two words in the title of this blog, *presentation* is a noun and *presenting,* a verb.

In each case a singular object is involved when it is used as a noun, and the suggestion is that when the word is used as a verb it relates to what is done with the object. A picture involves one or more objects; a presentation involves one or more items which are presented to a person or group of persons. The rules of our language-use are fairly clear in this respect.

Painting of flowers by Renoir

Objects can be referred to or can be depicted or presented (verbs) to constitute a scene, or as part of a developing story. In such a case a new dimension gets involved. Let me make this explicit: the new dimension relates to whether what is presented is a narrative which involves the objects, or an arrangement of the objects. The former tells a story; the latter does not relate objects to each other but only positions them without hint of a story to account for the arrangement.

Thus a bouquet of flowers, whether painted by Renoir or photographed in a flower shop, depicts how someone has arranged the flowers into a bunch and placed them in a vase.

But a still life of a kitchen table with a variety of carcasses as well as prepared meats, fish, and vegetables, perhaps even a bottle of wine (as often painted by 17th century Dutch artists) also narrates a series of happenings, although only the end result of such activities are shown.

Still life by Pieter Claesz

In these cases the narrative is implicit, but is nevertheless plausible since no one says that these objects just somehow or other got there by falling by chance from the sky. “Something happened,” the viewer says, “to create this arrangement of mostly edible objects but what happened can only be surmised.”

Still life by Salvador Dali

There are other presentations where there appears to be no meaningful, acceptable antecedent happenings which account for what is currently seen to lie strewn on the table! Many paintings by Salvador Dali fall into this category.

We recognize each object – more or less, despite occasional distortions – but the scene depicted is unfamiliar, unusual. We say, “needs interpretation.” This is another way of saying that “what I see is not what there is.” It refers to the case where the narrative may not be plausible; that there is more than meets the eyes — or ears! In short, the warning is, “Do not take things literally, for things are not necessarily as they appear to be.”

There is therefore something here which should be referred and given another name. It is the collage, a set of objects depicted — some perhaps very familiar as in the traditional still life — and other less familiar items which are assembled in an unusual way, perhaps difficult to interpret.

A collage is not a plausible scene in the common sense meaning of that term, but simply an array of distinguishable objects, many of which may be very familiar to the perceiver. One then is faced with task of converting the array of objects into something which this to can be interpreted and which thereupon could make sense, become plausible to some extent. It may always appear imperfect and perhaps only partially interpretable, but the viewer realizes that it could reassembled and become plausible — become a possible world, or a world which could be more plausible if additional parts were added to the whole.

We do not make pictures of the world, but on this current analysis we construct pictures from collages. We interpret things and try to make sense of them.

This is the first of a series of blogs exploring Collage.