“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again”
André Gide

After the interesting reading of Austin Kleon‘s “Steal like an Artist” I discovered some works that feature the idea of Genealogy of Ideas.

Genealogy of Collage

In this talk Kleon puts an example to his statements from the book “The Genealogy of Ideas” (p.9) and “Climb your own family tree” (p.15).

Kleon’s example is his own poetry book called “Newspaper Blackout”. Kleon created these poems following the same method. He took a piece of newspaper and started isolating some words and blacking out the rest. It is an inverted Collage, instead of pasting pieces together you play hiding parts to reveal subparts. Blacking out is similar to striking through.

Genealogy of Newspaper collage

  • Kleon himself sees a relationship with the FBI censorship in this method.
  • A reader’s letter informed him that there was an artists that worked similarly covering parts of book pages: Tom Phillips (1937)
  • William Burroughs (1914-1997)
  • Brion Gysin (1916-1986)
  • Tristan Tzara (1896-1963): Cut out pieces of a newspaper and put it on a hat to create a poem.
  • Caleb Whitefoord (1734-1810). First person in the history to make poetry from the newspaper (source: Kleon’s blog).


Tzara’s poème dadaiste

Pour faire un poème dadaïste (Sept Manifestes Dada, 1924):

Prenez un journal. / Prenez des ciseaux / Choisissez dans ce journal un article ayant la longueur que vous comptez conner à votre poème. / Découpez l’article. / Découpez ensuite avec soin chacun des mots qui forment cet article et mettez-les dans un sac. / Agitez doucement. / Sortez ensuite chaque coupure l’une après l’autre. / Copiez consciencieusement dans l’ordre où elles ont quitté le sac. / Le poème vous ressemblera. / Et vous voilà infiniment original et d’une sensibilité charmante, encore qu’incomprise du vulgaire.

Tristan Tzara, 1924.

Missing genealogy members

In his genealogy, Kleon is forgetting some important members like Duchamp and Picasso-Braque.

Marcel Duchamp’s Erratum Musical (1913) is a form of collage previous to Tzara’s poem. Erratum musical is created choosing random words of the dictionary combined with a randomly generated melody.

Braque and Picasso started pasting pieces of the real world on the canvas as early as 1910-11. Braque was experimenting with capital letters in 1910 and Picasso with a piece of imitation-caning oilcloth later on 1911.

Anything is original

The Term Genealogy of Ideas can be traced to Foucault and Nietzsche.

Ideas are not completely original. As Kleon says the individual contribution is original but the artists don’t start from scratch.

Genealogy of The Beatles


1967 The Beatles released their 8th album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Its cover is a genealogy of ideas: 70 figures that influenced the Beatles in their philosophy from all around the world and different times. Common to all is that they shaped their time with a new consciousness (Leitmotiv of the Hippy-movement and Dr. Timothy Leary).

Genealogy of Apple


In the same manner, 1997 Apple Computer Inc. introduced a new Brand campaign called “Think different” that was in general terms a Genealogy of Ideas of Apple-Job’s Philosophy. Steve Jobs’ heroes are depicted in the campaign “The Crazy Ones” like: Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart & Bernt Balchen, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso and Shaan Sahota. Some of this people appear again in Sgt. Pepper’s album cover.

Genealogy of Salvador Dalí


Two years before the Beatles released their Sgt. Pepper’s Salvador Dalí painted his L’apothéose du dollar. This picture is a Genealogy of his Ideas, of his Heroes. It is his ideologic family. The celebrities are: Duchamp, Watteau,  Louis XIV, Vermeer, Velázquez, Goethe, Gala, Don Quijote, Dante and Beatrice, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Meissonier, Napoleon and Praxiteles. He combines his Genealogy with his anagram “avida dollars”, which is a reference to André Breton.


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