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The Art of Collage: How We’ve Curated The Perfect Mess

Those scrapbook kids were really onto something.

Youtube / @Contemporary Art Issue

Beautiful chaos is the pinnacle of social media. You must be completely authentic, but only if it looks pretty. You need to photograph the mess you make, but only if that mess is socially acceptable. So you tear up your life and scatter it across the world’s screens: the modern-day collage.

Shuffling Towards Collages

For a couple of years, Instagram “photo dumps” have characterized the age of casual posting. Nothing screams, ‘I don’t care how you perceive me, but please perceive me as artistically nonchalant’ more than an eclectic carousel of low-quality images. By no means do I think the photo dump is going down the toilet. However, I predict that the collage is our next step toward creating this effortless facade.

Unsplash / Jon Tyson

At present, the collage is reserved for a select few. This July, Pinterest launched its new app: Shuffles. Currently, the app has an invite-only status and allows users to create collages with photos, cutouts, and animations. The app is marketed to those who want to visualize interior makeovers, experiment with fashion, or make plans using mood boards. However, this isn’t the first time collage has been used.

Ta-Dadaism: The Origins Of Collage

Collage art made a major resurgence in the early 20th century due. Its roots in Dadaism and Modernism mean that this art form is not only miscellaneous but political. Following World War One, collage allowed artists to work with newspapers, propaganda, and photographs. In this way, they could to implicitly comment on the state of politics at the time.

YouTube / @Contemporary Art Issue

One hundred years later, history is repeating itself. Emerging from the terrors of war, the 1920s began in a perilous state. The Spanish flu pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, 675,000 of these deaths occurring in America. Following this, the country spiraled into an economic recession. Sound familiar?

However, society soon cast aside despondency and depression. In poured a cocktail of celebration: consumerism, technology, music, and art all experienced dynamic changes. Everyone forgot past woes. Well, everyone who wasn’t a wealthy white male.

The Roaring (with inequality) 20’s

Though the 1920s may have been an era of liberation, it was also one of vast inequality. While some spent these years in lavish hedonism, most families lived far below the sustainable income of $2,500 due to a stagnation in wages, a depression of the farming sector, and an inability to secure loans.

Not only was society torn apart based on class, but there was also rampant racism. One out of countless examples of this is the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. During these 18 hours of violence, a white mob carried out a racially motivated attack on the residents of Tulsa. The massacre killed hundreds and left thousands homeless and unemployed.

The roaring 20s was a decade of widespread change and fierce divisions – a messy collage of dichotomy. In an article for Freize, Jörg Heiser discusses the link between trauma and collage. Heiser draws inspiration from the 2017 Netflix series Wormwood, in which the protagonist Eric develops the ‘collage method’. This states that collage can help survivors deal with their post-traumatic stress. They can make sense of their trauma through images.

YouTube / @Rotten Tomatoes TV

Right now, we’re in a climate of unease. The future is unpredictable. Our ecosystems are falling apart; our world leaders are in constant conflict, the cost of living is rising beyond our control; and at any second, a deadly virus could wipe us out. Society has been ripped apart. Different races, socioeconomic classes, nationalities, genders (…the list goes on) are living in disparate worlds.

Shake(speare)-ing Things Up

‘…any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose

end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the

mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own

image, and the very age and body of the time his form and


Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Act 3, Scene 2.

In this scene, Hamlet lectures the actors he has instructed to perform for Claudius, his stepfather. Here, the ‘purpose of playing’ (art) is to hold ‘a mirror up to nature.’ To this day, we use art to depict and examine the world before us. It only makes sense that collage is our chosen art form in a world torn apart by grief.

The Modern Collage

Not only is collage the art form of the lost and confused, but it’s also the art form of the people. Although the Shuffles app runs on an invite-only basis, codes are relatively accessible. This format ensures that the art retains a sense of authority and exclusivity but isn’t elitist or irrelevant to the lives of those who view it.

On social media, users often create collages with images of their own lives. If we return to our initial idea of a ‘perfect mess’ now, it holds greater meaning. We desperately want to post the rough edges, dimly lit corners, and sticky surfaces of our lives. This is because social media is an art form, and art mimics reality.

Through photo dumps, collages, and unedited pictures, we’ve found a way to piece together these fragments in a way that’s accepted by others. This acceptance means validation. Not only of our art but of our lives. And in a time of such insecurity, this is all we really want.

Written By

Hi, my name is Mads Brown (they/them). I'm a third-year English Literature student at University College London. I write for the Culture board at Trill Mag, and my favourite topics to cover are literature and the arts. Alongside writing, I really enjoy theatre, playing guitar, and walks in nature.

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