Do you remember your first art-making experience? Outside of finger-painting, most likely you were sat down with a batch of brightly coloured paper, safety scissors and a pot of glue to make a collage. Now you’ve grown-up and technology has grown-up too, collage extends beyond using paper. Enabling acute manipulation and a huge range of artistic possibilities, computer programmes now mean anyone with a bit of know-how can assemble a collage digitally.

Kurt Schwitters, 'Opened by Customs' 1937-8
Kurt Schwitters
Opened by Customs 1937-8
Paper collage, oil and pencil on paper
© DACS, 2002

One of the joys of collage is undoubtedly the messiness of sticky glue, soggy paper and the unpredictable nature of the final product. So, what would you say happens to collage when made digitally, is it a collage or something else entirely?

In 1919 artist Kurt Schwitters coined his own term of Merz to define his work that used found objects and everyday materials, stating: ‘new art forms out of the remains of a former culture’. In Opened by Customs Schwitters mingles pieces of wrapping paper and fragments of newspapers with pieces of rubbish. Curator Karin Orchard in her exhibition catalogue essay wrote of Schwitters’s Merz:

Following his experiences in the First World War, Schwitters decided to create something new from the rubble of the old world and henceforth concentrated on collages: ‘You can also shout with items from rubbish heaps, and that is what I did, by pasting and nailing them together’… In the hands of Schwitters, Hannah Hoch, George Grosz, John Heartfield and the other dadaists disparate materials from all sorts of sources retain their own identity and are combined to create an entirely new self-sufficient composition. Collage and montage become groundbreaking, structural concepts in modernism

Film and Video Umbrella said on our blog yesterday that their online Merzbank project was inspired by an anticipation of what forms of collage Schwitters might have been making were he alive today. They suspect ‘he would have been working digitally, with digital materials, and digital debris’. 

Richard Hamilton, 'Just what is it that makes today's homes so different?' 1992
Richard Hamilton
Just what is it that makes today's homes so different? 1992
© The estate of Richard Hamilton

In 1992 pioneer of British Pop, Richard Hamilton explored the realm of digital collage in his work Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different? A remake of an image Hamilton created in 1956, the work was made when the BBC invited Hamilton to take part in a television series to demonstrate an artist’s use of a computer to generate art. Deciding to recreate the experience of making the 1956 collage in a way appropriate to the 1990s, he remade the image using the computer graphics workstation Quantel Paintbox and of the process he recounted: ‘My learning curve was … like a vertical wall … ‘.

With the rise of image-based social-media platforms such as Pinterest, which is akin to a digital scrapbook, and photo-app Instagram, do you think these kinds of platforms will enable us all to become digital collagists? What kind of work do you think Schwitters would make if alive today and what is the relevance of collage in the digital age?


A medium is just a vehicle and none are limited by any other than an Artist's imagination. Traditional collage fragmented the picture field and that proved to be much closer to how we both process and reassemble information... in a fragmented way. Digital tools and techniques challenge our notions on a creative level as the unbound freedom from matter is a bit overwhelming in that one can push and push and still not find compositional barriers that are intrinsic to traditional materials and techniques. Our biggest problem then surfaces in figuring out how they should be produced as objects. That particular issue is not a given and may well rest in technologies that have not yet been developed.

Digital collage can be everything from two-dimensional paste-up to 3-D printing constructs.

Collage though makes use of uniquely tactile and aged materials, something digital art largely does not do.

IMO, photoshopping pictures is not collage by any stretch of the imagination. Nor does digital visual information age.