As an avid admirer of Surrealist painting, especially the works of René Magritte, I've always been intrigued by the unconventional and thought-provoking nature of this artistic movement. Bringing Surrealist techniques into my classroom has been an exciting journey that has revolutionized the way my students engage with creativity and each other. I’m excited to share how I incorporate three Surrealist techniques—Exquisite Corpse, Cubomania, and Frottage—into my lessons to encourage imagination, foster community, and inject a playful spirit into our activities. These techniques have become my secret weapons for breaking free from creative ruts, nurturing collaboration, and making learning a joyfully low-stakes adventure.
Exquisite Corpse Activity for Classroom Community Building
Exquisite Corpse, originally developed by Surrealist artists, is an ideal technique for building a sense of community at the start of the school year. In this activity, students work in teams of 3 or 4, typically at their tables, to create a collaborative creature. Each student contributes a part of the creature by drawing, then folds the paper to hide their contribution, leaving only minimal visual cues for the next person. This process continues until the creature is complete.
I love to do Exquisite Corpse on the first or second day of school in all of my art classes as a way for students to get to know one another and tap into their creativity. It is a low stakes activity and students can chat as they draw. I typically have students use 11” X 17” photocopy paper and colored markers and discourage the use of pencil so that students have to commit to the marks they make (here is my full art materials guide with links to everything I purchase for my classes). The Surrealists were champions of free-association and spontaneity in art making so I tell my students not to overthink the process.
To extend the activity, students engage in character development by writing information about the creature they created, including its traits, background, life's goal and name. This additional step adds depth to the collaborative artwork and encourages students to exercise their individual creativity while working together toward a shared goal. It also gives students a chance to be silly and playful together. Typically, during this phase of the activity, my class bursts into spontaneous fits of laughter.
Cubomania: Encouraging New Perspectives on Colors and Textures
Cubomania is a technique that challenges traditional perceptions of reality by disassembling and rearranging images or elements. In the classroom, it can be utilized as a powerful sketchbook exercise to inspire students to observe colors and textures in a fresh way.
To begin, students select images—such as photographs, magazine cutouts, or prints—that capture their attention. They then cut these images into irregular shapes of varying sizes. By rearranging and gluing the shapes onto a blank page in their sketchbooks, students create collages that reinterpret the original images. This exercise prompts them to explore new connections between colors and textures, fostering experimentation and novel insights.
The resulting collages from Cubomania can serve as excellent reference images for future projects, such as colored pencil drawings. Students can draw inspiration from their collages, exploring different color schemes and incorporating the textures they discovered during the exercise.
Frottage: Interactive Texture Exploration and Understanding Pictorial Space
Frottage, a technique involving the creation of rubbings from textures or objects, offers a hands-on approach to exploring textures and developing an understanding of pictorial space.
To engage students in texture exploration, provide them with soft pastels, different types of paper, and encourage them to actively seek out interesting textures within the classroom or school environment. By placing paper over these textured surfaces and rubbing the pastels, students can create texture rubbings that capture the unique patterns and qualities of the surfaces they encounter.
Building upon this, introduce the concept of pictorial space by explaining the foreground, middle ground, and background. Students can then create landscape collages using their texture rubbings, arranging them in a way that depicts different layers of pictorial space. This exercise combines tactile experiences with a deeper understanding of composition and spatial relationships, allowing students to create captivating collages that showcase their textured landscapes.
By integrating Surrealist techniques like Exquisite Corpse, Cubomania, and Frottage into the classroom, educators can foster creativity, encourage collaboration, and engage students in meaningful ways.
Embrace the potential of Surrealist techniques in your classroom and witness the transformation as students unleash their creativity, expand their horizons, and develop a deeper appreciation for the power of art.
I'm a high school/middle school art teacher with 16 years of experience. I'm here to help art teachers free up more time and space in their lives through lesson ideas and ready to go content rich, engaging curriculum.