Creativity Exercise: The Exquisite Cadaver
In 1925 a group of artists sat together to play “Consequences” – a game of adlibs. Each player took a turn to write a phrase on a piece of paper that would ultimately become a nonsensical story.
These artists were Surrealists, a group of visual artists who enjoyed tapping into their subconscious’ creative power to create their art. Now, how do Surrealism and business relate to each other? Like this group of artists, people in business need to cultivate their creative and imaginative power to stay innovative and at the top of their industries. And, just like these artists, they can tap into it through creative games.
In this group were Surrealist forefathers Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton, who were known for pushing themselves past their own expectations. They were constantly coming up with new games to help access the dream state of their subconscious – trying to do activities that pushed them to their creative limits through spontaneity and experimentation.
On this night in 1925, their game of adlibs led to the sentence, “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” And from there, the activity of the “Exquisite Corpse” was born.
But this isn’t just an old game from the 20s that people no longer use. Modern artists like Jake and Dinos Chapman (known for ‘defacing’ Goya etchings with cartoons) use this to help them with their art today. We can also look at virtual examples of open source code and memes as a 21st-century version of the game. Instead of having participants in one physical space, the internet’s shareability allows them to collaborate internationally.
How To Play
The Exquisite Corpse is similar to that of the adlib game Consequences, except with drawing instead of words. While the result is not predetermined, the initial goal is to create a body, with each person being in charge of one part. However, the end goal does not necessarily need to be a body – it can be whatever the team chooses.
To start, the first person draws the head or the starting point. Afterward, they fold the paper so the following person cannot see what they drew. That person draws the next part – let’s say the torso. They repeat the process as they pass the paper from person to person until the body is complete. For some added fun (or to just stay on schedule), you can add a time limit so that everyone is pushed to go with their gut instinct.
After everyone has gotten their turn, the team can unfold their paper to see the final product. Be prepared: it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing piece of art. But that’s the point. The exercise is not about creating something “beautiful.” It is about the thought process it took to create the final product.
So the next time you are working with your team and need to spark creativity, like in a product development meeting, take out a piece of paper. Do what we do, and use some of the tricks artists use to get ahead.
The idea is that you must tap into your creativity to individually create something completely new, but still work as a team to complete the work. Although you may not know how the drawing will turn out, you can still positively contribute by focusing on bringing your own creativity and perspective to the table.
Going through the process also disrupts your regular way of thinking because you are presented with a blank canvas to create your own art, while still adding to something as part of a team.
Why Use It
Creativity: Forces you to think outside the box and be spontaneous.
“It [the Exquisite Cadaver] offered them the possibility of creation and thereby opened, permanently, a door on the unknown.” (Simone Kahn, poet)
Experimentation: You get to play with new techniques that you may not have otherwise used.
“You allow yourself to break from whatever your style might be in order to be as inventive as possible.” (Gina Beavers, contemporary artist)
Teamwork/Collaboration: Everyone’s contribution adds up to a complete picture.
“[The games] strengthen the ties that unify us…[and] allow us to take our common desires into account.” (Andre Breton, painter)
Want more? Check out our exercise on Speculative Thinking here and stay tuned for more business exercises in the future!