We’re Inspired by…. Joseph Cornell

“Collage = Reality.”  –  Joseph Cornell


Shy New Yorker Joseph Cornell was the undisputed king of collage whose career spanned 40 years. He was a day-dreamer, self-taught as an artist, with a great thirst for knowledge in general. Deeply religious and pleasantly nutty, he believed that “Mind…is the only real substance”. And we love him!

He was linked to the Surrealist movement but had a style that could not be pinned down and became renowned for his ‘shadow boxes’ – collaged assemblages within wooden box frames. The creative categorisation and arrangement of small items fascinated him, and he kept an extensive and ever expanding collection of found objects in his cellar-studio which he referred to as his laboratory.


His ‘Object (Soap Bubble Set)’, with its fossils, alludes to the grand sweep of geological time unfolding, and presents it as if it were a bubble, gone in the blink of an eye. We notice that his careful arrangement of seemingly naive media often revealed profound insight.

Something else that we love about his work is that its exploration of the world radiates with a child-like innocence. From his pieces you sense he had a tremendous ability to transport himself, and become utterly absorbed into what the moment or object evokes. Again, this reminds us to the freedom you find in children’s minds, and his work can link us adults back to that.


Cornell’s work is here to remind us, we think, that that ability to voyage with the mind exists in us all, even if we sometimes forget to use it.

“Beauty should be shared for it enhances our joys.” – Joseph Cornell

This blog is part of a series about artists who inspire, including Cornelia Parker, Gehard Richter and Wassily Kandinsky. Which artists inspire you? We would love to hear about them.

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