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Chance Creations: Collage, Photomontage, and Assemblage

Explore three Dada methods that left it (mostly) to chance.


The Hat Makes the Man

Max Ernst
(French, born Germany. 1891–1976)

1920. Gouache, pencil, oil, and ink on cut-and-pasted printed paper on paper, 13 7/8 x 17 3/4" (35.2 x 45.1 cm)

To make The Hat Makes the Man, Max Ernst cut, pasted, and stacked images of men’s hats clipped from a sales catalog. The suggestively phallic towers and tongue-in-cheek title inscribed on the work, “C’est le chapeau qui fait l’homme” (“The hat makes the man”) were likely inspired by Sigmund Freud’s book The Joke and It’s Relation to the Unconscious (1905), in which the famed psychoanalyst identified the hat—a requisite accessory for bourgeois men—as a symbol for repressed desire. The visual pun adds a new, bawdy spin to the cliché.

In this work and many others, Ernst clipped illustrations from advertisements or articles, arranged them partially by chance, and then drew or painted around his absurd configurations. “These changes,” Ernst recalled, were “reproductions of what was within me, recorded a faithful and fixed image of my hallucination. They transformed the banal pages of advertisement into dramas that revealed my most secret desires.”1

William Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1968), 49

A form, sign, or emblem that represents something else, often something immaterial, such as an idea or emotion.

The part of the mind below the level of conscious perception. The Surrealists derived much inspiration from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s theories on dreams and the workings of the subconscious mind.

A person whose political, economic, and social values are believed to be determined mainly by concern for material wealth and conventional respectability (noun). Characteristic of those persons (adjective; often used synonymously with "middle-class").