AHIS 2: The History of Western Art
3 January 2015
The Nightmare and The Persistence of Memory
As the centuries have come and gone, we have been quite fortunate to enjoy art that is continually changing. This comparison essay will give some insight into how art has stayed the same. The first piece, The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Fussli), is an oil on canvas completed in 1781 in the Romantic style, measuring 3’4″ x 4’2″. This piece was first exhibited in 1782 at the Royal Academy of London, it now resides at the Detroit Institute of Art. The second piece, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech), is an oil on canvas completed in 1931. This surrealist painting was first unveiled at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City, 1932. The piece is only about as big as a piece of printer paper measuring 9″ x 1’1″. This work is on display at the Museum of Modern Art, also in New York. These pieces represent the very nearly identical way of thinking through the ages; our fears, hopes, memories. Countless pieces have been created, from paintings to buildings (architecture), which give us a glimpse of life for the person that created it. Although these pieces were made by different people at different times, the overall image is relatively the same. From Fuseli’s demon to Dali’s clock. It is clear after studying these pieces that art may have changed drastically in medium and style but the deeper meaning and purpose stay the same throughout history.
(The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781. Detroit Institute of Art.)
Fuseli’s The Nightmare, which is considered his best-known piece, was completed during the Romantic period, in 1781 after the Industrial Revolution, during a time of pain and suffering for the lower class that worked in factories. As a rebellion to the order and balance of neoclassicism, artists began to depict emotion over all else; art became more about the emotions triggered by a piece and less about the actual subject. Fuseli’s piece depicts a woman sleeping with a demon on top of her chest and a horse’s head with empty eyes in the background. This work features a very dramatic scene. Movement can be perceived in the horse peaking in and the demon pressing down on the woman. Fuseli also utilized chiaroscuro, the woman being brightly colored against the dark red velvet curtains, which was common in romantic art. Romanticism focused on emotion, this piece has plenty. The woman appears to be in a state of euphoria, the demon looks as if it was just caught doing something bad, and the horse has a smile, as if it is laughing at a private joke. The scantily clad woman seems to represents our vulnerability while sleeping. The demon may resemble sleep paralysis, which was thought to be caused by demons. The horse may just be a satirical representation of nightmares; it was not in the original charcoal drawing for this painting, although Fuseli added it later(Knowles 64). We cannot be sure of the exact thoughts Fuseli had as he painted The Nightmare, as he has never commented on his motivations. Artist of Romanticism often used emotion and exotic imagery to rebel against the rationalization of Neoclassicism, the barely dressed woman and the sexuality of the piece are evidence of that rebellion.
(The Persistence of Time by Salvador Dali, 1931. Museum of Modern Art.)
Surrealism has been described as art focused on dreams with depictions of “realistic forms in fantastical context.” Dali expressed that his reason for joining the surrealist movement was a “reaction against the “integral revolution” released by the post-war dilettante anxiety”.(250). Determined to create what he wanted, Dali saw surrealism as an “adequate outlet” to express himself.(250) In creating this piece, Dali started with a landscape of Port Lligat. He then “saw” the image of soft watches and proceeded to create them on the canvas, a process that took only two hours.(Dali 317) The watches were inspired by melting Camembert cheese, there is speculation that the deeper meaning of the watches is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity but Dali himself has said it is not. Dali also incorporated ants into this piece, as he did in many others, crawling on the pocket watch in the lower left corner. The ants may be representing decay, perhaps the decay of humanism as a result of so much death from war. Dali was known to be anti-war and often reflected this in his art. The form in the center of the painting is Dali himself, he often painted himself as a deformed figure; this may be a result of his thoughts that he “was not normal”.(222) The watch placed on top of the figure in the middle may represent the weight of dreams on one’s psyche. Surrealism is quite evident in this piece, from the melted watches to the disfigured form to the ants. Symbolism was used abundantly in surrealism to depict dreams, making it hard to determine the meaning of a piece without some knowledge of the artist themselves. Dali saw surrealism as a way to get people to remember him and his work; his need to be seen and recognized may be a result of him being a “spoiled child”.(2) Julien Levy bought this piece from Dali; Levy told him that his art was “non-public and unsalable”, and he intended to keep the piece in his private collection.(Dali 318) Now Dali is now considered a master of the surrealist movement and The Persistence of Memory is one of the most iconic pieces of the Surrealist Movement.
The two pieces are drastically different, yet quite intriguingly the same; both depict a dream state in which the main subject is being held down by the dream itself. The fact that both pieces show the main subject with a dream piece on top of them, Dali’s watch and Fuseli’s demon, may be representing our inability to overcome our own thoughts and fears. Both Fuseli and Dali represent their version of a dream using symbolism that has been speculated on since the creation of the pieces. Both works were considered strange or odd to most people in their time periods, yet both have been used throughout history for various reasons, from clothing to satirical comic strips. Although the styles are different as well as the subjects, the underlying meaning is quite shockingly similar. Dreams are a place of hope, memory and fear and this is depicted by both artists. Hope is represented by Fuseli in the lightness of the woman and Dali uses the blue skies. Memory is shown by Dali as the image of Port Lligat, where he spent time, and Fuseli includes the furniture that is in style at the time. Fear is obvious in Fuseli’s work, as the demon and the horse both are representative of fear, while Dali has used the dead olive tree that may signify a fear of dying, as trees live forever compared to man. Lastly, Dali has included watches that may signify the fact that we only have so much time and we need to embrace that. Fuseli’s use of the empty eyed horse may be his way of showing us the unknown, and how fearful it can be. These pieces are separated by 150 years, yet they represent much of the same thing, it is quite intriguing to look at history and see how humans have repeated and recreated past cultures and styles.
Although these pieces are similar in their meaning and message, they are very different in style. Fuseli created very realistic subjects in The Nightmare, where Dali created things no one had ever seen before. The image of melting watches made little to no sense to most people. Fuseli created an image of a familiar place, a bedroom, while Dali chose a landscape that is nearly alien in comparison. Fuseli’s image shows much less detail then Dali does, which is very interesting. Fuseli created The Nightmare as a large wall painting; Dali, on the other hand, created a very small piece, many are surprised at how small it actually is. It is a wonder how Dali got so much detail on such a small canvas.
I have always had a fascination with art as a storytelling device, there is no better way to tell a story than visually. The humanities have given us an abundance of stories, the hard part is trying to decipher the details after the original storytellers are gone. Works that were considered controversial when they were completed are now considered masterpieces. I can imagine Fuseli’s shock at his work being placed in museums around the world or Dali laughing maniacally over all the praise for his non-public art. As a history major, I am very interested in the humanities. While studying the humanities it has occurred to me that the this is our history, the history of humans. I hope to one day get the opportunity to help determines a piece’s meaning and underlying secrets, revealing new masters of the arts for the next generation. I feel that to be a great historian I need to consider the people of a time period and not just what rebellion, or revolution, or invention, that comes out of it; all these things are produced by the people that were there. To understand their purpose or reasoning we need to understand the social atmosphere of the time. Once you have the pieces you can then begin to put together the puzzle that is our history.
The Nightmare and The Persistence of Memory are two pieces, from two time periods, that appreciated two different styles of art. Yet, Fuseli and Dali have both depicted humanistic fear, hope and imagination in quite similar fashion. Like in many aspects of history, art too tends to be repeated and re-imagined through the ages. Fuseli and Dali are considered masters of their styles, it is apparent in these two images why they are considered so. As storytellers, Fuseli and Dali may never be completely understood, but, after much study I am convinced that the deep meaning in art, music, and all other facets of documentation are much the same through history; no matter the age we live in, we always maintain man’s fears and ideals.
Works Cited Page
Dali, Salvador. The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. New York: Dial Press, 1942. Print.
Knowles, John. The Life and Writings of Henry Fuseli, Esq. M.A.R.A.. London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831. Print.
Fuseli, Henry. The Nightmare. 1781. Detroit Institute of Art. Detroit, MN. SNHUBlackboard. Web. 7 February 2015.
Dali, Salvador. The Persistence of Memory. 1931. Museum of Modern Art. New York, NY. SNHU Blackboard. Web. 7 February 2015.
Art History II: FIELD TRIP ESSAY(80 points)Due May 17thThis assignment supports the following outcomes: o Obtain knowledge and analyze significant movements and genres in Western art and architectureo Be able to analyze works of art in terms of subject matter and style o Be able to communicate ideas about art using the appropriate vocabulary in written formato Appreciate recognized works of art based in Los AngelesAssignmentFor this assignment, you will complete and submit a written report on a field trip to:an art museum (visit a minimum of five works, and choose two)You should plan to go to the museum and spend a significant amount of time ‘looking’ before you select two works of art on which to write. This is a project that will require some thought and possibly a second trip to the same location. Therefore, I recommend that you plan your trip well in advance of the due date.After visiting the location, you will write an essay about your visit. In the essay you should: 1.Describe/summarize two works of art viewed. List the title of the works viewed, the name of the artist(s), and the year the works were created.2.Relate the artwork to the type of art, the genre, and the time period the art is from. How does the artwork you viewed exemplify its major characteristics? 3.Through comparing and contrasting two pieces of art, which have been made during two different time periods and styles, you will evaluate how two works can express very different or similar styles, contexts, and cultural meanings.4.Write your own reaction to the artworks. What did you expect before experiencing the artworks? Explain if your expectations were valid. What were your reactions to the artworks? Did you like the artwork or architecture? Why or why not? Include information about how going to the location fostered your appreciation of recognized works of arThe essay should have 1-inch margins, be double-spaced, and use 12-point Times New Roman font. It should be 3 to 4 pages in length (approximately 700 to 1,500 words), not counting the title page, image page, and list of works cited. Research sources must be cited properly within the essay and also listed on a Works Cited page. All research sources must be properly cited and documented in MLA style. DeliverablesSubmit essay from your field trip as a hard copy and online. Additionally, the essay must be accompanied by at least one of the following:brochureticket stubphotographs of the locationResourcesLocal art museumsAll documents and websites provided in Files/Important documents in CanvasCourse recommended textbookThe Field Trip Essay will assess your knowledge of great works of Western art and culture from the Early Renaissance to the Realist movement and, in particular, your ability to think critically and contextually about the arts. Through comparing and contrasting two pieces of art, you will evaluate how two works of art can express similar or different styles, contexts, and cultural meanings. In this paper, you will communicate ideas regarding Western art and culture using the specialized vocabulary explored within the fine arts and humanities content learned throughout the course. While the primary goal of this paper is not research, you are strongly encouraged to consult a few quality research sources to assist you in identifying your works and analyze their styles and historical contexts. Please see Canvas File folder for suggestions on which sources to consult.You will select two different works of art. The two works should have some common elements (such as subject matter, theme, or visual structure) but have to be made during two different time periods and styles. Include at least one image of each work on the first page of your paper, before you start writing your introduction. If possible, provide multiple images of your chosen pieces (from websites and online sources), with different angles or views. In the paper, you will address how the style, theme, and meanings of a work of art relate to its various contexts (historical, social, political, philosophical, artistic, etc.). You will also examine the ways in which the style of an artwork affects the way it looks, and address how each piece expresses the visual features, formal elements, and thematic concerns of its particular style movement.Begin your essay by stating the name of the museum where you saw the exhibition or place where you visited architectural works of art. Be sure to include your own observations and ideas
about each work. Although the museum’s literature and gallery wall labels may help you to understand each work, do not rephrase or quote excessively from their literature. If you must quote or you chose to use key information taken from the gallery wall label be sure to cite it correctly (see below)! Most importantly, relate the artist/s or artworks to other artists or movements that have been or will be studied over the course of the semester. Lastly, give your opinion of the chosen works of art. How successful is the artist’s work in addressing a theme? How was it installed? How might it have been improved upon?Please note that titles of artworks should be italicized or underlined.Proofreading is also essential as spell check does not catch everything (i.e. their/there,peace/piece). The essay needs a thesis sentence, proper agreement of nouns and verbs, verb tenseagreement, correct spelling, correct punctuation, and a conclusion. You also should demonstrateyour ability to use specific art history terms when necessary. If you need help expressing yourideas you can go to the Tutoring Center for technical advice on grammar, format, etc. Needlessto say, any plagiarism from printed texts or the internet will result hi an “F” on the assignment.Any two essays that are significantly similar also will receive an “F”.Include a bibliography that lists at least two sources for each chosen work of art.What to footnote? Historical facts, definitions of terms or anything that can be consideredcommon knowledge does not need to be cited. For example, Columbus landed in the Bahamasin 1492 is a known fact and does not need a footnote. However, an interpretation that is not factbut one person’s opinion must be cited. Since an interpretation is debatable and not a provablefact you must cite the author as the originator of this idea. Give credit where credit is due.Observations, IDEAS, opinions or interpretations that are taken from another source EVEN ifyou put those ideas into your own words MUST be footnoted in the same way as a direct quote.Footnotes should appear at the end of the sentence (not the paragraph) that includes the cited information.11For subsequent footnotes that draw from the same source, the author’sname and page number will suffice.2 If the subsequent footnote is a reference to the same authorand the same page number as the one that came immediately before then the term ibid is used.3If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me.Suggested locations for AHIS 2:1) LACMA2) Getty Center3) Hammer Museum1 Henry M. Sayre, Writing about Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995), 76-83.2 Sayre, 81.3 ibid, 81.
4) Norton Simon Museum