Monday, May 01, 2006 


According to Wikipedia, surrealism is a “cultural, artistic, and intellectual movement oriented toward the liberation of the mind by emphasizing the critical and imaginative faculties of the ‘unconscious mind’ and the attainment of a state different from, ‘more than’, and ultimately ‘truer’ than everyday reality.” With this in mind, the surrealist movement became a popular trend in the early 1920’s that was associated with art and all forms of life such as politics and entertainment. One of the well-known surrealists that many consider to have ended the movement with their death was the great Salvador Dali who was introduced to the era in 1929. Dali used vivid colors along with random images to create several of his masterpieces that appeared non-realistic. Through Dali’s many paintings, one can see and completely capture the art of surrealism and how Dali used the art movement in order to convey his ideas to his viewers.

Known as Dali’s most famous work and one piece that represents what all surrealism is about is “The Persistence of Memory” painted in 1931. In this painting, Dali placed four “melting clocks” into one of his favorite landscapes with a mountain and a body of water in the background. As surrealism emphasizes ones imagination, Dali arrived with the idea of the melting clocks to be placed in his work. The idea of this painting is to convey a sense of time and its relevance to ones life. While looking closely at the painting, one will see a fly sitting on top of one of the four melting clocks. Although the clock is already melting as time does, Dali placed the fly upon the clock in order to say that time “flies” and will pass you by before you know what happened. To go with this thought, in the clock right next to the one with the fly, ants are placed on another sticking to the same theme that time slips away so quickly. In the article “Salvador Dali: Images of the Surreal” by Kit Basquin it is suggested and supported by many others that Dali had a unique obsession with painting odd insects in his works that all connected to his fears. While this might seem unconventional, the surrealist era allowed for Dali to get a message out through painting one of his fears. How else could one relate time flying by with a watch? Dali used his fears and sped up time through simply placing an insect upon one of the clocks. An interesting observation in this work is the fact that although the fly and ants are placed in there, it is not just suggesting that time goes by quickly. The melting of the clocks, according to Basquin, gives us the idea that “time relentlessly continues despite the mechanical failure of an object or being.” Although the clocks are the primary objects in this piece of art, the background gives off a sense of serenity and the idea of not worrying about time. The setting appears peaceful and calm as if time didn’t matter, but this draws little attention since the clocks stand out at the front of the work. The title of the painting becomes the easiest way to sum up this entire piece. “The Persistence of Memory” is named this because like the melting clocks and time no matter what was failing to work or count time, time constantly passed by and when looking back in memory it appears that not only did it pass by, but also it flew by. Dali used his imagination to bring together an art piece that conveyed its message throughout the entire work while it did not use advanced ways to express the idea but just his own thoughts and perception of time.

One of Dali’s greatest attributes was his perception on images, history, and random things as well as his willingness to express his thoughts. Another well-known work of art Dali created was “The Madonna of Port Lligat,” painted in 1950 of Madonna and her son Christ. In this painting, Dali centers in on Madonna and Christ, but places several objects in the painting to be explored with deep thought. Like a typical Dali painting, we once again are placed in a mountainous background in a dry area with the sun gleaming down. Being a surrealist, Dali doesn’t necessarily need an intriguing background because he is trying to express his thought of the main subject and in this painting that would be the mother of Christ and Christ himself. Items related to the ocean from shells to sea urchins are placed all over the painting surrounding Madonna and her baby. It is hard to gain any relevance of these items due to the fact that Dali never came out and discussed any of them, but one might be able to see some significance for themselves. An interesting part of the painting that catches the viewers attention are the rectangular holes in both Madonna’s and Christ’s torsos. Dali thought of the two as tied together and as one, so both share the deformity in the painting but it is noticed that Christ appears in Madonna’s stomach as if she had not yet given birth. This resembles that they are still one. While Madonna is perceived to be praying, Dali places a cross and mini ball into Christ’s hands indicating power. Dali’s thought of Christ’s power can be seen because the ball is rotating above his hand as if it was a mini globe and Christ had the opportunity to bless them with his holiness if he so chose. Dali also confines the two by placing them within a concrete barrier in the shape of an arch. He separated Madonna and Christ from the regular world and set them aside as something more than normal. Dali’s unique use of objects defined the surrealism movement at the time because it expressed his views on the subject in his own personal manner. He was able to create flow in his work but relate it all to the same theme through his own image bestowed in his head.

Dali mastered the era unlike any other painter due to the fact that he was partially believed to be crazy but mainly seen as a genius. In surrealism one can do as they please because it is not necessarily a real thing but it is how the artist’s view images. While Dali painted in this movement, one will certainly always be able to find one of his works demonstrating his bizarreness and surrealist tendency of painting objects such as shells with the baby Jesus. To be able to grasp the message of one of Dali’s paintings along with other surrealism works you must know the artist. No one might ever gain the full knowledge on why a seashell and an egg tied together dangle above Madonna but it must be thought about. This movement is about guessing; one cannot figure out another’s thought process and as to why one object was placed here or there or even in the painting at all. Although everything relates, it is just as if it might be encrypted with some secret knowledge that one must examine and engage thought in, in order to put it all together. Dali put art together like no other during his time and “The Persistence of Memory” shows this. This piece better interpreted than many of his other works follows the solo theme of time constantly passing us by. From painting clocks that appear to be melting to placing tiny insects upon them Dali suggests his thoughts on messages such as time. One’s thoughts are a vital source needed to go along with surrealism, without personal views success could not have been achieved during a movement such as this.

As the surrealism era became the number one artistic trend in the late 1920’s, people no longer could find an explanation for what it was they might have found themselves looking at. With a great artist like Dali, it was not the painter’s job to signify the meaning of everything in the painting but it was necessary that they strictly go off imagination and thoughts that were not necessarily realistic. Dali brought an impeccable imagination to the time from using all sorts of objects in his paintings from shells dealing with Christ, to rhinoceros horn relating to his sister, and reflecting an elephant from a swan. From statues, paintings, movies, and other aspects dealing with surrealism, Dali excelled in all fields. The imagination, beliefs, and originality that Dali possessed took him to the top of his era and made him one of the most well-known painters of all time.

“The Grand Master of Surrealism Salvador Dali.” USA Today 1 May. 2005,



In 1946, Gertrude Abercrombie painted one of her several pieces of art tied to the surrealist movement. According to the Ackland Museum’s website, Gertrude did not technically classify herself with any movement but said, “I like to paint simple things that are a little strange.” Found in the African Art section in the Ackland museum one can find the painting “Charlie Parker’s Favorite Painting (Originally Design for Death)” by Abercrombie. Her celebrity friends such as Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn heavily influenced Abercrombie’s style of painting. Many believed her painting’s ideas came from the lyrics these famous artists once sung. In this painting Abercrombie portrays racial violence while at the same time using different techniques other than a noose to spread her ideas to on lookers.

When first looking at “Charlie Parker’s Favorite Painting,” a tree, ladder, stool, and noose are the primary objects that jump out and grab ones attention. By painting a portrait with a noose in it during the current time, it automatically coincides with racial issues due to the fact of civil rights and inequality at the time. Gertrude focused on the objects in her painting to convey the main idea of her work, but at the same time, the entire painting has meaning. It is not just there to fill up space. Taking a deeper look into the painting’s isolation becomes a key factor to go along with the theme. Gertrude painted an old dead looking tree isolated by itself with no hints of life to be seen. This isolation occurs due to the fact that African Americans believed to be alone at this time in the world without any support. Resting against a branch of the tree stands a solemn ladder signifying help. This ladder resembles support from within the African’s own community due to the fact that they could not gain any help from others at the time. While the tree and ladder resemble segregation and lack of support at the center of the painting the main objects dangles by itself. Abercrombie places a noose and a stool in the middle and this stands for the fight against the African Americans or the force they faced. At the time, blacks were denied of all of their rights by whites and were continually threatened if they pushed the issue of equality. The noose is painted as one of the more realistic objects due to the fact of its power and thus is why it becomes the focal point in the piece. While Gertrude does a great job of sending messages through objects in her painting, her style also tells a lot.

Gertrude’s use of colors and painting techniques allows for her to give deeper meaning to her painting than just the objects. Going along with the isolation theme in “Charlie Parker’s Favorite Painting” it is seen that dark and obscure colors engulf the piece. The land in the painting appears to be gloomy with a look of fog to lessen the hopes while it reflects the dull sky. One can see only one cloud here that appears pitch black as if it was one primary problem that might haunt the African Americans. At the top the dull sky becomes lit up by the moon, which stays there shining directly upon the tree holding the noose. The moon’s gleam acts as a spotlight upon the tree while constantly reminding us that this problem was here and would remain for quite some time. Placing this moon and light along with the use of dark colors Gertrude effectively conveys her feelings on the problem and how she believed it was a very significant issue.

Abercrombie used the entire painting to signify the theme she wished to attain. While one can recognize that the painting coincides with race, if one takes a deeper look into the piece Abercrombie gives them the chance to see her thoughts on the problems that African Americans face. While a noose hangs in the center as a force fighting for inequality, the rest of the picture surrounds the idea of hardship and troubles people confronted at the time. Through the use of proper techniques and placement of influential objects all can see Abercrombie’s perception of the current issue.



As appealing as all artwork can be to the human eye, each conveys a powerful meaning through the details that bring the image together. Each piece of art deploys a message by the artist intended to tell a story of the painting and its meaning. While only artists know the exact intentions and meaning behind their work, they place clues all around the piece to try and convey their ideas to the public. One piece that particularly caught my attention is Claude Monet’s Houses of Parliament, London 1905. In this piece, Monet brings together several aspects of art to illustrate his viewpoint in the painting and allow the viewers to analyze the painting for more than just a picture of the Parliament.

In the early 1900’s, Monet painted three similar paintings of the Houses of Parliament, all from the same view. While all the paintings were of the same object, the last painting of the Houses of Parliament catches my eye due to its unique view. In the third painting, Monet brought a gloomy tone to the painting while in the first two works of art, one can see peace in the river and the buildings seem to be normal. As Monet was painting this, he was looking through his apartment window out over the famous Thames River directly towards the Houses of Parliament; this is what one is able to see in the paintings. It is the vast difference in the third painting compared to the others that draws my attention to the work through his use of color, texture, and other various forms. Monet’s work was influenced by the impressionism era at the time in France where painters focused on the lighting and used different forms of colors and strokes to create their own perception of an image.

In the painting the Houses of Parliament, Monet brings together his impressionism ideas of using curves and different shades of lighting to convey his own perception of the Houses of Parliament. In this painting, one can see the swooping lines that create the buildings in the background in dark eerie colors. The work is composed of all different dark shades of colors providing it with somewhat of a depressing feeling and a gothic setting. While the sky hovers over the entire picture with the dark puffy clouds, throughout the entire painting one sees a dark maybe even negative view of the setting. The piece draws attention from one single section of the painting through a narrow stretch in the center of the work where we see light. Out of nowhere, Monet places a sign of hope into his work by lighting up a little spot in the clouds where maybe the sun had broken through. From this light, sections of the river sparkle and reveal a sight of aspiration for one that good things are to come. The image appears as if it was under some static sight while Monet was painting but this was part of his style in order to go along with impressionism. The curvy buildings and dashing waves provide us with the dangerous tone but his subtle use of light brings us to safety.

As part of the impressionism era, it is hard to understand if paintings really had any meaning due to the fact that this era painted pictures of images and the primary concern was the lighting in the painting. While they focused on mainly the image, much like Monet if they had a message to get across they used the lighting to get this across. As previously stated at the time of the painting I believe that Monet saw the Parliament maybe in a time of need or corruption but placed a light on them. As the majority of the painting consisted of threatening colors it was his use of light when he let the sun break through the clouds and illuminate the buildings that showed that maybe he believed there would be good times ahead.

Through the Houses of Parliament, Monet left room for the painting to be interpreted but lacked any message with strong significance. This remarkable piece brings forth an array of shades and tones that capture Monet’s own perception of the image being painted. While painting as an impressionist leaves one with few chances to be interpreted, Monet successfully selected colors to go along with the theme of the painting. One can find the hope at the top an always look for great things to come as in Houses of Parliament where the small speck of light breaks through and radiates the entire work.

Sunday, April 30, 2006 

What is Art Anyhow?

Yellow Painting (Abstraction)
Oil on canvas, 1946


“Art is art, everything else is everything else” – Ad Reinhardt.

Art can be defined as the creative work of an individual that stimulates the mind of another. Works of art communicate feelings directly from the mind of the painter to the mind of the viewer, with no intent to explain why the impact occurs. As a result, art appeals to individuals because of their ability to be defined by the person, without requiring a great deal of intellect in order to be interpreted. Art appeals to the creative side of the individual, evoking various feelings and emotions that are stimulated by the works of art. Abstract art in particular, focuses on capturing images that are non-representational of real life objects, with the abstract expressionism movement of the forties emphasizing on the expression of the physical art of painting. However, one artist’s work in particular suggests that art is created in order to represent itself. Ad Reinhardt’s work embodies the idea the meaning of a certain work of art does not have solely depend on the how it depicts the world around us. In other words, his work is made to be appreciated for its own sake as simply paint on canvas.

Reinhardt’s work serves to separate art from having to fulfill the duty of representing something that we want to communicate. Art in itself has the ability to foster creativity and thinking by allowing the viewer to interpret the images in any way he likes. This interpretation should not be dependent on the message of the painting or on the nature of it. Art by itself, for being art, should be able to be enjoyed without having to adhere to the expectations that there are about what it should be, or about what it should convey. Apart from other abstract expressionist who try to capture the art-making process itself, Reinhardt’s work capture the very fundamental quality that makes art appealing without having to specify a certain meaning for the viewer to interpret. His work contrasts the methods and works of other artists of the Abstract Expressionism movement such as the action painting of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and Clyfford Still’s color field paintings. While the action painters sought to express the art making process on canvas, Reinhardt’s work captures the fundamental basis that makes art appealing not only to the eye, but also to the mind. This is shown in particular by his “black paintings”, characterized by a seemingly black canvas, which are actually composed of basic geometric shapes in different shades of black. Reinhardt’s work prior to his black paintings was mainly composed of colorful geometric patterns characteristic of the minimalist movement. His abstractions were composed of patters and shapes that were meant to express simplicity in meaning, compared to other abstract works that are characterized by lacking any set arrangement or order in the painting. From his minimalist works, Reinhardt’s paintings shifted to a series of abstractions in which he further simplifies his works, enlarging patterns to take a whole canvas. Further works lead to color abstractions that give the initial impression of being a painting that is completely made of one color, when at close inspection the artist’s pattern can be seen in the slightly different shades of color used. His work then exhibits a trend in which Reinhardt further simplifies his work and separates himself from other painters who seek to represent an aspect of the world with their art. His artistic apex reached when he concentrated on his black abstractions during the early 60’s until his death, he describes his work as “a free, unmanipulated, unmanipulatable, useless, unmarketable, irreducible, unphotographable, unreproducible, inexplicable icon” of human art. By making paintings for a purely artistic purpose, Reinhardt produces artwork that does not depend on the viewer for a specific meaning for an assignment of beauty; his work is solely art for the sake of art. He manages to separate his art from possessing photographic qualities to capture the artistic perception of the world; Reinhardt’s work in essence is appreciated for what it is instead for what it conveys. While other artist’s works contain intricate representations of the world, seeking to capture emotions, feelings, and actions on paintings, Reinhardt’s works capture the very fundamental essence of what makes illustrative art appealing and attractive. His simple patterns and use of homogeneous colors on later works force the viewer to appreciate the painting for the paint and oils that are attached to the linen of the canvas. He does not try to represent depth, faces, shapes, or objects; he only captures simple patterns and simplifies them ever further as he carries on with his development as an artist. Emerging from full abstractions with a variety of shapes and colors, Reinhardt’s work does a full journey to develop into the single-color paintings and simple patterns that produced the final signature of his black paintings. Being reduced to nothing more than a black canvas, his work possess evocative qualities even though it lacks aspects that some individuals would expect art to posses. However, the development of art has led to an interpretation of it as being a fundamental method of human expression. In other words, art is viewed as a method of self-expression that evokes ideas and fosters our perception of the world. But in Reinhardt’s sense, why can’t art also do the opposite? Why can’t it force a re-evaluation of our expectations of what art should be and allow for the understanding that art does not really have to be anything else than art?

Through his career, Reinhardt produces work that has to be approached with an open mind in order to be appreciated fully. The artwork that characterizes him can be considered a culmination of the earlier artistic movements that aimed to liberate art from the expectations of the times. Before movements such as cubism and surrealism, painters were concerned with capturing human perception on canvas by recreating the moments and scenes that were associated with a certain emotion and shaping their paintings to convey that certain message. When cubism and surrealism emerged, they challenged that notion of art being a reflection of the world. Cubists started by including all perspectives on one picture, and surrealist followed by molding their perspective to reflect how their world reflected on art. Reinhardt’s work fits into this scheme by providing artwork that is a reflection of itself. As a result, his work can be considered the culmination of a movement to liberate art, and as such, a movement to allow a greater freedom of expression with illustrative art.

Ad Reinhardt’s work is characterized by the black paintings that culminate his development as an artist. Although his works range from colorful abstractions, to minimalist patterns, to his black abstractions, the fundamental theme and idea stays the same. Much like cubists incorporated paintings from all possible points of views and the surrealist championed their representation of the unreal, Reinhardt’s art can be seen as the last step in separating art from being tied down to representing reality or its derivatives. His work can be viewed as the ultimate refinement of art, producing artwork that represents the artist’s idea of unbounded artistic expression, free from conventions and expectations. Unlike other artists of his period, Reinhardt’s paintings capture the essential component of art, nothing else and nothing more. In comparison to other abstract artists who use abstraction with the intent of expressing an intangible or abstruse idea, Reinhardt used abstraction to separate art from the world, so that instead of expressing an idea, it becomes an expression of the idea on paint and canvas; it becomes and idea used to express art.

Reinhardt, Ad. Art-as-Art : the Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt. New York: Viking P, 1975.
Rowell, Margit. Ad Reinhardt and Color. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1980.


What do you see?

What is art? Everyone has a differing opinion in this matter. Since there are so many various forms of art, it is difficult to discern what art truly is, or what is merely a finger-painting created by your kindergartener. I find that abstract art perplexes me to a spectacular degree due to its abnormal shapes and construction. One of my favorite country singers, Tracy Lawrence sang “It’s All How You Look at It.” I believe that this philosophy can be applied to art. Wallisy Kandinksy was a Russian abstract artist whose piece “Yellow-Red-Blue” demonstrates the suprematism movement. This trend focuses on the use of geometric figures such as circles and squares. In “Yellow-Red-Blue” Kandinsky is portraying a person losing touch with reality. However, an individual’s own interpretation is dependent upon their emotions and previous occurrences.

Past experiences effect how you perceive the world around you. For example, when I was five I was attacked by my neighbor’s dog and ever since then I have been overly sensitive towards dogs. When I encounter a German shepherd, the type of dog they had, I tense up and recall that moment. Kandinsky noted in his autobiography that he “experienced objects, events, even music primarily in terms of color, and he did not conceive of color in its physical and material aspects but rather in its emotion effect” (Selz 128). Therefore he connects his reality and emotions with his creative style and color palette.

With this in mind, this painting causes me to flashback to the days when I watched the hit television program, “Full House,” virtually every afternoon. In the final episode of the series, the youngest daughter, Michelle, fell off her horse, hit her head and lost her memory. The lines that are coming out of the geometric figures on the left, which resemble a face, create movement. This directs your attention towards the chaos which fills the right half of the painting. I interpret this diverse clutter as the memory or sanity that someone has lost. These objects represent the different experiences that are captured within your brain. If my memory were to be lost I would hope that my thoughts and memories would resemble the beauty and creativity thrown upon this canvas.

The geometric figures which dominate “Yellow-Red-Blue” are responsible for conveying the overall theme of the piece. Kandinsky was greatly influenced by the teachings of Theodor Lipps, who emphasized that “illusionary effects in geometric configurations as a result of distorting perceptual forces or tendencies that emerge when abstract forms are brought together in a pictorial frame” (van Campen 135). Therefore, it was Kandinsky’s intent to spark emotions and memories in the minds of his viewers. Kandinsky places these shapes strategically to resemble vaguely familiar objects such as the head which sends up a flag in my mind to my past experiences. However, the other arrangements of shapes possess various connotations.

The energy in this work of art is visually stimulating. A great deal of the painting can be inferred from the expression on the theoretical face of the piece. The red and black circles comprise the eye of the silhouette, and although it bears a resemblance to a hamster, I recognize the wideness and intensity of the eye as a look of fear and concern. However, the degree to which this emotion is perceived depends upon the individual. According to those around me I misconstrue the intensity of people’s emotions. Oftentimes I believe that my mother is perturbed with me and in actuality she is not. Therefore someone else could view this as a person who has achieved some form of inner peace.

When viewing this piece, I tried to revisit it with a fresh mind upon each screening. In one instance, I analyzed the work after watching “Fried Green Tomatoes,” which is infamously known as a chick-flick. In this movie one of the main characters, Ruth Jamieson, was abused by her husband. With this event fresh in my mind, I identified the face on the left as an abusive, angered husband, while the disheveled mess on the right was a battered and bruised wife. The two lines toward the center of the piece, one with a pinkish semi-circle and the other with a number of white semi-circles, although not aligned with the face, appear to be a mouth. The upper line would be the lip while the other circles are teeth. I believe that the distance between the lines shows that the husband is furious and yelling at his wife. In addition, the lines that I had once thought resembled the movement of memory loss now represent anger. They are stiff and rigid, which is similar to the posture of someone who is enraged. This fury is transferred to his wife, whose geometric figures tell an even deeper story.

The color palette which Kandinsky employs evokes a variety of feelings. When viewing this piece as an abusive domestic situation, I see the black and blue as the essence of bruises and the spurts of red as blood. The body for the most part is painted black and blue which would suggest that she was beaten. Also, there is a circle that is in the general region of an eye socket which is red. This suggests that she was struck in the face. All of these inferences were drawn from my recollection of this movie. Therefore, interpretations of abstract art are left up to the viewer to decipher with the use of their memories and experiences. Had I experienced a program such as a children’s show or even a sporting event before analyzing “Yellow-Red-Blue” my interpretation would have been substantially different.

It is interesting to consider all of the different experiences that yourself and others have encountered and how they would alter your view on art. Minds are shaped as we grow up and come into contact with various situations and circumstances. For the most part, everyone has had a time in their life that has been difficult that causes them to react in a distinct way to different conditions. I believe that traumatic experiences would signal feelings of deeper and a more intense interpretation of abstract art. In addition, the artist themselves more than likely draw upon events in their own life when crafting their pieces. The deepest meanings tend to lie within abstract art, and are for the most part, the most challenging to find. However, everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of the piece, which attributes to the power of the abstraction.

Kandinsky’s abstract and conceptual style leaves a great deal of meaning for his viewers to unearth. Geometric shapes and bright colors are brought together effectively in “Yellow-Red-Blue” in order to initiate memories that will help to form various analyses of the piece. My understandings of the painting resulted from childhood memories and recent thoughts. Based on this knowledge, I believe that abstract art, although the artist may have a single message in mind, is in actuality open to interpretation. Art is objective, unlike many things in life, and you can look at it any way you see fit.

The Aesthetic Theories of Wassily Kandinsky and Their Relationship to the Origin of Non-Objective Painting
Peter Selz
The Art Bulletin, Vol. 39, No. 2. (Jun., 1957), pp. 127-136.

Early Abstract Art and Experimental Gestalt Psychology (in Historical Perspective)
Crétien van Campen
Leonardo, Vol. 30, No. 2. (1997), pp. 133-136.