As a method, collage is about appropriating existing images, in an interactive process that creates new meaning.
At some level, this is also what happens in creating a landscape painting, a portrait, or an original photograph. The artist “sees” the concept in nature and appropriates it.
This is expressed in Michelangelo’s famous quote: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Aside from the technical skill needed to express it, art is about the artist’s “vision”.
As a philosophy, collage is about the impossibility of apprehending reality without some form of symbolization. It is about exploring our interaction with reality and symbolization.
This exploration is not something separate from our other activities. It is just an intensified focus on something we do all the time.
The environment we live in is not just the earth we walk on and the air we breathe. We swim in an ocean of concepts, words and images. Conceptualization is both a psychological phenomenon (the brain “simplifies” reality to allow us to act on it) and a social phenomenon (we commnunicate through concepts).
Concepts are not neutral. In fact, concepts can be a battleground for the ongoing struggle between divergent social forces. One group gains control through the appropriation of meaning. For instance, the conceps of “pro-life” or “pro-choice” are used to redefine the meaning of abortion.
At a very basic level, defining “good” vs “bad” is about creating a rationale for or against a given power structure.
Conceptual explorations, like puns, can be playful or subversive, or both. Eye-rollingly silly, or very profound, or both.