Joseph Cornell was unusual. He created, most famously, shadow boxes. He also made collages, film and Rorschach test-like splotches. Was he a Surrealist? Was he even an artist? 

  • How are these similar to and different from a collage you may have made?

  • What does it look like these are made out of?

  • What shapes, objects, or themes do you see repeated in Cornell’s artwork?

  • Do you think the objects within one box go together? Why or why not?

  • How is Cornell’s art like theater or dreams?

  • What do you like about Cornell’s art? What do you dislike?

  • Cornell primarily created his art from found objects. Do you think he can be called and artist? Do you think he can claim authorship?

  • Cornell said he was not a Surrealist. What elements of his art look surrealistic? Which elements do not?

  • Cornell often made boxes about a specific person or as a gift. How does that impact his art? How does this make his art similar to or different from other artists?

  • Cornell made shadow boxes (some inside pillboxes only 1.75″ in diameter), collage on paper or masonite, Rorschach-like ink blots, and even film. Which medium is best suited to collage and assemblage?

  • Have you seen contemporary art or media that reminds you of Cornell’s work?

All images courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum