Get More Creative: The “Cut-Up” Technique

Or what David Bowie and the Dada art movement have in common.

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

David Bowie was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. During his career, he created 25 studio albums, 9 live albums, and more than 100 singles. He was one of the most consistent artists out there, always involved in a new project, constantly putting out more content. His work focused on praising the outsiders, creating songs about aliens, misfits, astronauts, sex adventurers.

Dada was an art movement formed during the First World War in Zurich. It came to life as a negative reaction to the horrors of the war. Dada art is defined by its satirical and nonsensical nature, as the artists felt the war was questioning every aspect of society. The movement’s purpose was to destroy art’s traditional values and create new ones for replacement.

Now let’s see where these two meet.

Being creative over and over again is a hard task that not many artists manage to complete. Some of them try to ride the wave as much as possible during their glory days, fearing the moment they have to go back to start all over again. So, how did Bowie do it?

It’s all in his technique of generating ideas. According to the 42courses blog,

He would cut out random words and phrases from newspapers and hand-written notes, mix them all together and then rearrange them in new combinations.

These hybrid creations would then spark new ideas and themes for his music.

This technique has its origins in the Dada movement of the 1920s. But there weren’t many artists who used it back then. Decades passed until William Burroughs, an American writer, made this technique popular. During the 1950s and 1960s, Burroughs experimented with taking pieces of text out of context and randomly putting them together. The results would be then published as the final versions.

Inspired by his success, more artists started to use this technique. Among them was David Bowie. Check out his

Experiment with this technique now. Take one piece of paper and scissors. It can be anything from a random printed piece of paper to a magazine article, journal page, and so on. Cut the middle down and then cross the middle. Now you have 4 sections, which we’ll call: 1,2,3,4. Mix them up however you want. And bam! You have a new page. See if these novel connections determine ideas to pop up. If not, mix the pieces again.

Next time you find yourself in a creative slump, try out this method. Besides David Bowie and William Burroughs, many great artists boosted their creativity through this technique. Among them are Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Iggy Pop, and Joy Division.

It started with Tristan Tzara’s initiative “to create a poem on the spot by pulling words out of a hat” during the 1920s. Now, the cut-up technique is one of the best ways to escape the creative block. But who should be using this method? Well, according to Burroughs, “cut-ups are for everyone.”.

As it forces your mind to create new connections and move in unexpected directions, the cut-up technique might be the tool that brings you closer to your next big idea. To read more about it, check out this article, this article, or this article.

Marketing at Evozon | MA student in Communication and Advertising | Constantly learning and growing