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Is reality based on what we actually see or does it lie in the subconscious of our minds? A proponent of surrealism would probably agree with the later hypothesis. Antirational, antiauthority, antiestablishment/ conventionalism coupled with the element of surprise and the bizarre characterize the surrealist movement which commenced in the med 1920’s. With the liberation the mind and creative acts of revolts as the inspirational impetus, Surrealism was influenced by many fields and schools of thought. The paramount correlation/relationship between Surrealism and Psychoanalysis can be accredited to Austrian physician, Sigmund Freund.
Psychoanalysis emphasized and studied human psychological behavior and its function. At its nucleus was the methodological/systemized investigation of the mind, theories of human behavior, and how to treat emotional/psychological illness. The cornerstone of Surrealism derives from emphasis of the hidden unconscious, free association, and dream analysis – concepts developed and studied by Freud via psychoanalysis.
A cadre of artists and writers became a part of and had great influence on the movement. Some include Andre Masson, Giorgio de Chirico, Luis Bunuel, Andre Thirion, Georges Sadoul, Maurice Heine, E.L.T. Mesens, and Wassily Kandinsky. One of the century’s most prolific surrealists was Spanish artist, Salvador Dali (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989). Dali’s multifaceted repertoire – painting, sculpture, filmmaking, photography, etc. – helped catapult the surrealist movement to another level from a visual arts perspective. As with all surrealists, Dali’s objective, via his work, was to revolutionize the human experience in respect to psychological truth. That which is ordinary became compelling once its normal significance was removed.
Of all the works featured, his oil painting, Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll (66.5 x 86.5 cm/1945)” made a memorable impression on me. The majority of the background is in a somber gray in color. It is as if you are in a room that has experienced an explosion – through patches of wholes you can see the clear blue sky. The room has become a bomb shelter. There is a human face, from the neck up, slightly tilted to the right in the center of the painting.
In place of facial features (eyes, nose, etc.), is a fighter plane dropping bombs. The holes in the neck infer detonation. The head is light grayish, blue and the bomber plane is black. Slightly above the head, is one of the outlets to where you can see the blue sky. The outlet is in the shape of a feminine face with a sad yet slightly smiling expression. In addition to the facial features, there are birds flying on her face. Adjacent to the left of the head is what looks like a broken heart.
Baseball is featured a great deal in Dali’s work. Although he did not have a full understanding of the game, the uniforms and pageantry fascinated him. Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll is one of the many paintings to depict Dali’s fascination with this American tradition. At the base of the neck, under the broken heart, is a baseball player and crouched behind him is the catcher. In front of the baseball player is a figure which has its back to you. The figure has an object in its hand, like a sword. It is as if the figure and the baseball player are fighting. To the left of the figure is a pit where a bomb has exploded – dark smoke and yellowish fire come out.
Above the pit is a distorted, oblong face. You can see the teeth with the tongue protruded out. It is somber gray in color as well. The second outlet to sky is above this head. Elephants, whose legs are melting, appear as if they are walking on stilts. At the base of the neck, to the right is another baseball player who has just slide into base. Over the sliding baseball player is another sky outlet. All that appears is the roof of infrastructure.
There are floating objects/shadows in painting which consist of an umpire, another baseball player, and vases. In the right hand corner is the side view of a man’s face with his mouth is agape. He has a horrific expression on his face. In the left corner there is a long vase like object resembling stacked bowling pins. Many of the images appear to be slightly melting away – another characteristic feature in many of Dali’s work.
Content, concept, and style are the cornerstones of all forms of visual arts. The concept is the idea, the content is the subject matter based on the idea, and the style is how the artist goes about expressing that idea. Dali’s expressionist style lies in color and shape. His ideas and subject matter can be found in the images he presents. Color, shape and com-position/images are the prominent artistic elements that make Melancholy appealing.
The use of oil paint is a common fixture in surrealist paintings and contributes to its inspiring and stylistic allure. Oil paint most importantly enhances the deep rich color emanating from the figures which make them more striking. Translucency aids in its expressive capacity as well. The so called nonsensical juxtapositions of the images (vases, elephants, baseball players, etc.) make the work glaringly fascinating.
This is a motion or flowing painting in that the melting effect makes everything fluid and shapeless. You melt and float as you look at the figures placing you in a dreamlike state. This interesting technique connects the viewer with the figures. Whether intentional or not, one could deduce this as intriguing approach used by Dali. Death/ destruction promulgated by the atomic age – the primary idea, however, make this dream a nightmare. Melancholy is indeed an unusual yet poignant piece of artwork.
Is reality the eventual manifestation of mind/thought whether subconscious or conscious? “Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll” answers this question with a resounding yes and substantiates one of two reasons why I selected the painting.
This work was done shortly after the U.S. atomic bombings of two Japanese cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6th and 9th, 1945). The devastating affects of these bombings continue even to this day as experienced by the survivors who are referred to as the Hibakusha or the explosion-affected people. Through incongruous yet relative imagery, Dali makes a statement. The atomic bomb/bomber plane, the baseball/ baseball players, etc. represent the United States. All rose to prominence in the U.S. The battle between the baseball player and the figure could embody the war between the U.S. and Japan.
The baseballs could serve as a metaphor for the bombs. One of the largest of land animals on earth is the elephant. They are known for their exceptional memory as well as wisdom/ intelligence and considered an exotic emblem. They are a frequent icon in Dali’s work. Like the other figures, they are melting as well. They may represent the atomic bomb and that such weaponry does not necessarily guarantee invincibility. The face with the bomber plane could infer the desolation of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their inhabitants. The strength/resilience of the Japanese people having to overcome such tragedy may lie in the smiling feminine face.
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Secondly, Melancholy caused me to bring into focus and analyze my opinion/ philosophy concerning the importance and value of visual art to the individual and society. The importance and value lie in the fact that is encompasses a holistic experience – physically, mentally, and spiritually. It serves as a form of individual as well as communal creative expression. Visual arts mirror the soul of a person and a culture – the multi-faced aspects.
Society has become so advanced from a high tech perspective that we tend to take each other at face value. Creative expression via visuals arts is vital for it provides a balancing component to the mundane elements of life. Mental and physical experiences constitute the existence of an individual – their life. Most importantly, life’s experiences consist of things that not only one has to do but wants to do as well.
Visuals arts can be synonymous with hobbies – pursuits/interest outside one’s regular occupation which brings about joy, a sense of accomplishment and inner strength. Visual arts serve as vital component to the sustenance of one’s being. It reflects the multifaceted qualities of an individual and their specific purpose as well uniqueness. The impact of visual arts has been far reaching with negative and positive connotations.
Whether it is a painting, film, dance, song, poem, novel, play, etc., an artist must always keep in the mind the affect the content, concept, and style has on the individual and society. Inner fulfillment is essential, but if what is being expressed is negative and brings harm to the individual and society as a whole, then how fulfilling can it really be? That is the question that must be asked of all those who partake in the various forms of creative expression through visual arts.
Dali seems to have incorporated some of these tenets in his artistic philosophy. His work conveys his enjoyment in what his does but at the same time makes a statement. Out-rageousness was an intrinsic part of his persona/work. Dali did not seek to be outrageous, however, for outrageous sake. Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll as with his other works convey that there was a method and message to his madness – a madness that did not promote madness but rather exposed it.
Dali’s work reflects the negativity/harm individuals and societies can impose on humanity. It is amazing how something as minute as an atom, almost invisible to the human eye, could be used in such a way to destroy the uranic/heavenly and idyllic/peaceful state of another people’s existence As one culture was enjoying their favorite past time – baseball, another across the waters was being seared to death by atomic bombs.
Dali might be saying that war does not bring about peace only death and destruction. Heaven and hell may not exist up in the sky or below the ground. They may reflect a state of mind and condition on earth. Prayer-fully there will come a day, when another man’s heaven will not be another man’s hell.
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