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Exquisite Corpse

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This method is intended to disrupt the waking mind’s penchant for habit and logical order and support collective/collaborative imagining, intuitive insights, and metaphorical thinking.


This method is based on surrealist parlor games from the 1920s and is focused on gaining insights and supporting dialogue about specific themes, projects, or issues from multiple perspectives. It gives space to individual perspectives and avoiding “group-think” and/or domination of visioning by more vocal people and it creates a lighthearted vehicle to share multiple perspectives and approaches that arise in transdisciplinary work. Each participant draws part of humanoid being on a sheet of paper, folds the paper to conceal their contribution, and passes it on to the next player for their contribution. Each part drawn represents some aspect of the groups project or a specific theme, or issue: the head (logic and ways of communicating with the outside world); the torso (feelings, concerns, and caring); the waist to the knees (deeper motivations and impulses); the feet (specific actions - the how and what). For example, the head could be a salamander, representing its ability to work in different environments (on land and in water) or the feet could be sensible boots that are covered with sequins, representing practical actions done with eccentric flair, etc. The drawing should be accompanied by keywords, characteristics, or phrases, which can augment the meaning, especially for those who don’t feel comfortable drawing.


  1. Participants start in groups of 3-4 people and are provided with several pieces of white rectangular paper and colored pens. Each papers are folded into 4 parts so that it creates 4 parallel sections - the top will be for the head, the second section for the torso, the third for the waist, and the fourth for the feet.
  2. The facilitator explains the background and concept of the exercise and the expected time each person will have to draw each part of the body (approximately 3 minutes). Some examples can be given as a way to invite people to stretch their imaginations and exaggerate a bit. 
  3. When the timer starts, each person begins to draw a head on the top of their folded paper with some phrases or keywords that represent what this being might say or how their mind works - what types of questions are important, what are some rational arguments they might make, etc. 
  4. After 3 minutes, each person extends the outline of the neck approximately 1 cm into the section of the paper below the head, so that the next person knows where to start their drawing. Each person then folds the paper in such a way that the next person cannot see the head (only the neck marks).  
  5. Everyone then draws the torso and arms, using the neck lines as the beginning point, including words or phrases that represent how this being might feel emotionally, or what they care about.
  6. Once again the outline or edges of the torso are marked approximately one cm into the next section. The paper is folded again so that the next person cannot see either the head or the torso and it is passed on.
  7. This process is repeated with the waist to knees (what is motivating the being, what their deeper drives might be) and the knees to feet (what kind of actions they might take and how). 
  8. Finally, all of the characters are unfolded and participants have the chance to see them as a whole. 
  9. Groups are invited to discuss differences and commonalities and to consolidate themes and ideas that emerge (including paradoxes). 

Suggestions for group discussion

If, for example, the image is supposed to represent the way the group perceives itself or the strengths of the project, people could be asked to think about the range of qualities and characteristics that are their own versus how to embrace and take advantage of a richness and diversity that emerges when they work collaboratively/ transdisciplinarity. People might note paradoxes that emerge and discuss whether this creates problems or is a strength, or both. 

“We were at once recipients of and contributors to the joy of witnessing the sudden appearance of creatures none of us had foreseen, but which we ourselves had nonetheless created.” - Surrealist poet Simone Kahn [from Rosemont, P. (Ed.). (2000). Surrealist women. A&C Black.]

Place on U
20 minutes to 1 hour
Materials Needed
  • A good size of paper is ¼ of a flip chart
  • Colorful pens

Human-Nature Connection
Systems Thinking
Emotional Intelligence
Ideation & Brainstorming
Online Engagement
Tip and Experiences
  • Make sure to reassure people that the point is not to think through this rationally, but just to dive in. The drawings don’t have to be perfect or even good. This is just a way to stimulate creative thinking and act as a starting point for further conversation. 
  • It might be helpful to show examples
  • Ask participants to imagine that they are surrealists - that in this world a clock can melt and a fish can have feet. Mention that famous surrealists Frida Khalo, Simone Kahn, André Breton, Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, and Marcel Duchamp played this game regularly for inspiration and fun.  

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