art history

The Copulating Grasshopper: Salvador Dali and the Paranoiac-Critical Method

by
Daulton Dickey.

Salvador Dali swore he remembered life inside the womb. He called his recollections “intra-uterine” memories. Two images he claims to have seen inside the room later reminded him of eggs.

Eggs helped to define his style: imagine a timepiece as soft and flimsy as a fried egg. Imagine how’d it look if you laid this timepiece on a branch or on the edge of a table. Such perversions of reality led to his most famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory,” indebted to eggs—and Dali’s insistence that he could remember life inside the womb.

He made brilliant, always unexpected associations. Even if we bracket his wild claims—such as remembering the womb or biting off the head of a dead bat to shock a maid—we can discern a method to his singular vision. Dali himself explicitly tells us how to do it. (more…)

Gustave Courbet and The Origin of the World (L’Origine du monde)

by
Daulton Dickey.

Courbet and the Academy

In France in the nineteenth century, an elite group dictated art. The Academy, as it’s known in English, held strict ideas about art–all of them derived from the classical world, the Renaissance, and the baroque era. The men who ran the Academy dictated artistic tastes by preserving the past. New artists didn’t stand a chance if the Academy refused to exhibit their work.

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

Their power constituted a form of cultural totalitarianism–and few people challenged them. If you were an artist in the nineteenth century and you wanted them to consider your work, then you had to follow their rules. Paintings could only depict mythological, historic, or religious scenes or stories. Artists had to conceal brushstrokes. They couldn’t depict modernity. They could stage models or paint modern landscapes, but they had to present them as ancient or historic stories or allegories.

An artist violating these and other rules didn’t stand a chance with the Academy. And if the Academy rejected you, you’d probably never make it. (more…)