To play Sentence Drawing Sentence, a group of people sits in a circular formation, usually around a table.  Writing implements and paper are distributed.  The game starts with each person writing a sentence on their sheet of paper.  The paper is then passed along to the next person at the table.  It is their job to make an illustrative or interpretative drawing based on the sentence.  Next, the initial sentence gets folded over and hidden leaving only the drawing.  This gets passed to the next person.  Their job is to write a sentence based on this drawing.  The drawing is then folded over and the process repeats as the paper goes from person to person until it reaches the person who wrote the initial sentence.  The result is a page with alternating sentences and drawings.

Sentence Drawing Sentence is a modification of Exquisite Corpse, practiced and popularized by the Surrealist art movement in the 1920’s. The game Pictionary also incorporates similar modes of translation between text and image.  Perhaps SDS has the most similarities with the game Telephone (aka Operator) where a message is passed around a circular group of people, being whispered from person to person. SDS also goes by the names Writesy Drawsy, The Sentence Game, Paper Telephone or Eat Poop You Cat.  Participatory versions of these can be found online.

It can also fit into the canon of cartoon and comic art, pairing words and pictures. The popularly known Cartoon Caption Contest at the end of each issue of the New Yorker Magazine is essentially one step in a SDS sequence. Subsequently, a completed SDS page reads in a fashion similar to a comic book or picture book.  The folds in the page tend to play the role of the turning pages of a book, each revealing something new.  At the heart of cartooning is breaking down imagery to a more fundamental, iconic state.  Games usually progress fairly quickly, only allowing a short amount of time for drawings to be made.  Thus, imagery gets simplified, and a looser, more raw state of drawing is unearthed.

There is a strong sense of immediacy in this process.  Many instinctual decisions are made under time constraints.  The Surrealists believed this to be a Freudian window into the unconscious.  Drawings are made as a result of repressed desires or, from a Jungian perspective, to fulfill an archetypal legacy.  Participants often unearth psychic connections, through eerie similarities in the most subtle aspects of their drawing or writing.  While not always siding with Freud or Jung, many will agree that SDS can be used as fodder for much debate about how humans, in this case groups of friends, communicate and translate ideas.  Additionally, the idea of plural authorship comes into play when the page is unfolded and the conversation is revealed.

Sentence Drawing Sentence explores of the transfer of ideas back and forth from pictographic to typographic language.  When this transfer occurs, blanks are filled in, things are abstracted, and symbols gain importance.  This process embraces elements of improvisation and embellishment. Individual relationships also come into play.  Personal histories and inside jokes can often play a strong role in a drawing or sentence.

Often seen as a parlor game or a party game, SDS is often played for the purpose of amusement.  Despite this, It is important to constantly re-examine how we move between image and text, and how we separate the two, so that we do not take this process of translation for granted.  Furthermore, SDS is a fun opportunity for people to come out of their shells.  In this sense, SDS is a valuable personal and artistc process masquerading as an amusing social activity. Participants are often bashful and become intimidated at first: “Oh, I’m not an artist” or “I can’t draw.” Often the best, most clever drawings are made by these “bad artists.”  People may assume that they will judged based on quality of their drawings.  However, the collaborative nature of this activity seems to always consume most competitive inclinations.

SDS also poses a question to the meaning of the idea of a game.  When it is introduced to people as a game, a common response is “How do you win?”  In SDS no winners or losers are declared, and there is no need for this way of thinking at all.  When we hear winning and losing in a larger, mass media driven discourse, it is often in reference to sporting contests with clearly delineated sets of rules. This sort of rhetoric gets more subjective when it is assigned to winning the war in Iraq, or winning the war on terror.  These sources are attempting to ingrain in us that it is possible to create a winner and loser in situations like this, without acknowledging the complexities and impossibilities of each situation.  The game or practice of Sentence Drawing Sentence embraces the idea of collective play without the problematic nuisance of labeling a winner and loser.