Categories Mix

by F. Brantschen


We draw several pairs of opposite categories and then mix them together in the form of a digital collage

DURATION: 4 teaching hours

Paper, pencil, marker. Scissors. Glue.

Computer with image editing software, e.g. Photoshop or an open source software such as Photopea.


Basic Knowledge of editing images in Photoshop (selecting, cutting and separating parts into different layers) of advantage.


Categorizing is one of the main tasks of our perception process. We categorize consciously but also automatically and unconsciously.

Categories are necessary to order and make sense of an information-saturated world. They help us create a mental map of the physical world that allows us to orient ourselves. On the other hand, when we categorize we activate conventions and stereotypes that can lead us to misjudgments

To mix our categories we use as a reference 3 perceptual strategies shown in the lessons: juxtaposition, inversion and decontextualization-recontextualization. As soon as we place our categories in other contexts, next to others or invert their values, we create ambiguities and counter-versions that can help us to discover their intrinsic nature as social constructs.

This exercise helps us to relativize our own categories and eventually question them. Playing with ambiguities helps us to make our assumptions about reality more flexible and to discover other points of view. Raising awareness of the importance of learning to deal with ambiguities is key to the development of our creative thinking.


1. Automatic drawing (sketching)

10 min. The students spontaneously and automatically draw the categories given to them by the teacher. They have 1 minute for each category. The drawing should be done quickly without thinking too much. In this way, the students activate their own conventions, which we will play with later.
Friendly / Mean
Big / Small
Smart / Dumb
Ugly / Beautiful
Masculine / Femenine
Sacred / Profane
Hunter / Hunted
Wrong / Right

2. Inspirational input: perceptual strategies.

15 min. This input will serve as inspiration for students to create their mix. They are encouraged to mix at least 3 categories.

What strategy do we use to mix the images? We show examples of 3 complementary strategies we can follow:

– Juxtaposition

– inversion

– Decontextualization and Recontextualization.

The idea is to play with our own categories and look for a twist that will allow us to put our view in relative terms and see our categories from a different angle.

3. development of the idea

30 min. These first sketches are used to develop the idea. As we mix them, we observe how they interact with each other. The sketches can be cut out, manipulated, and redrawn using the strategies explained above.

Once we have sketched the idea or have a vision for our collage, we search the internet for the images we need for our representation.

4. technical input

25 min. Depending on the level of the group, technical input will be given. Beginners will be introduced to the basic tools of image selection and transformation as well as working with layers. If they are more advanced, they will learn to work with layer groups and adjustment layer.

5. digital image editing

80 min – 100 min. Now we can start cutting and editing the selected images. The idea we developed in our sketch can be improved or refined


20 min. The perceptual strategies or other variations that emerged during the process are discussed.

Some of the collages made by the students during this process:

  • Test

In the end, after having seen and discussed the results, we can make a reflection around the theme of tolerance to ambiguity as a perceptual strategy.

We live in an increasingly interconnected, complex and diverse world. It is difficult to order the world in an absolute, binary, or black and white way. That’s why developing tolerance for ambiguity in a safe, free, and playful space like the BG classroom can help us cultivate a creative mindset and go beyond our assumptions.

In the book Psychology of Creativity, Manuela Romo talks about tolerance to ambiguity as one of the main traits present in creative personalities, here is an excerpt:

“Resistance to the natural tendency to master uncertainty, to close problems as soon as possible, to define situations. Because knowing how to withstand the pressure of ambiguity will allow us to return again and again to problems with new approaches or new information that may be relevant to solve them. Tolerance to ambiguity has more the nature of a cognitive style than a trait. But it connects to a personality trait that, in a stable way, also helps define the personality of the creator: the complexity dimension. One projection of this attraction to complexity and ambiguity is psychological androgyny; on masculinity-femininity questionnaires, creative people score ambiguously, in the sense that women are higher in masculinity than the norm and men in femininity. This means that they tolerate this ambiguity in gender roles, so that women can be dominant and men sensitive, as well as having a wide variety of interests that go beyond what is typically described as masculine or feminine (Csikszentmihalyi 1998).”