Un Chien adalou (“An Andalusian Dog”) is a sixteen-minute surrealist short film produced by film director Luis Bunuel and the artist Salvador Dali in 1929. The film has no plot to speak of, and there are no transitions between any of the scenes. However, the movie contains some of the most arresting images ever filed, including a graphic scene in which a straight razor blade is plunged into a woman’s pupil. Un Chien adalou was Bunuel’s first film and was initially only shown to small audiences in Paris; however, it soon became extremely popular and ended up having a successful eight month run in French movie theaters.
The chronology in the film is disjointed, and employs the use of “dream logic,” jumping from “once upon a time” to “sixteen years later” in a series of tenuously related scenes. The narrative flow of the movie was meant to mimic the concept of “free association,” recently popularized by the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. Eternal themes such as life, death, love and lust are woven through the disjointed scenes, but there is no framework through which one can contextualize the imagery.
Un Chien adalou was designed to startle its audience, and it impressively manages to achieve this feat some 70 years later. For such a short film, it has had an impressive artistic legacy; film scholar Ken Dancyger has convincingly argued that Un chien andalou is the progenitor of the music video genre, which became extremely popular in the 1980s. Premiere magazine ranked the opening scene the 10th most shocking moment in movie history, and David Bowie famously had this movie open for all of his concerts during his 1976 World Tour. He declared that the movie was used in order to “set the tone for the evening.” Most recently, the film within the film in the popular horror movie The Ring was strongly influenced by Un Chien adalou.
The Lascaux cave paintings, located near the French village of Montignac, were discovered on September 12, 1940 by four teenagers-Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, as well as Marcel’s dog, Robot. These cave paintings, considered amongst the finest ever discovered, date from 17,000 BCE, and contain many of the most famous images from the Upper Paleolithic period. Famous chambers within the subterranean cave site include The Great Hall of the Bulls, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Lateral Passage, the Painted Gallery, the Chamber of Engravings, and the Chamber of Felines.
The Upper Paleolithic period, which began in roughly 40,000 BCE, corresponded with the replacement of Neanderthal Man with our more modern Homo sapien ancestors, and thus represented a giant leap in the intellectual development of mankind. The paintings at Lascaux reflect this progress; not only are many of the paintings notably realistic, but they are huge in scale (one of the bulls in the Cave of the Bulls is a whopping 17 feet wide). In all, there are roughly 2,000 figurative pictures, including 900 animals (currently 600 of these have been identified). Moreover, the site contains numerous abstract paintings and symbols.
The Lascaux cave painting complex was first opened to the public in 1948. However, by as early as 1955, carbon dioxide produced by the nearly 1,200 daily visitors had visibly damaged the paintings. In 1963, the cave was finally closed to the public in order to salvage the paintings. However, since the construction of “Lascaux II” in 1983, which includes an exact replica of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery, visitors have been able to experience some of the magic of the original paintings (and located only a short walking distance from the original to boot).
Yup his painting looks pretty unconscious to me....
The modern artist… is working and expressing an inner world – in other words – expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces. -Jackson Pollock
Cultural icon and American painter Paul Jackson Pollock was a major founding father of the abstract expressionist movement, and he stands as one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. His radically abstract works evoked passionate admiration and scorn in equal measure, and he was derisively nicknamed “Jack the Dripper” by his detractors, a slight that did not go unnoticed by the sensitive painter.
Despite the considerable fame he achieved during his lifetime, Pollock regularly suffered from severe bouts of depression and alcohol abuse, and his friends eventually pressed him to enter psychotherapy to help him get his drinking under control. While therapy appeared to be of little assistance in helping the troubled artist curb his self-destructive impulses, Pollock became fascinated with Jungian concepts that he was exposed to in treatment.
Pollock embraced Jung’s theory that art originates from the unconscious and seeks expression through concrete representations of cultural symbols and archetypes. Pollock’s interest in these concepts occurred at a time when psychoanalysis was beginning to have a major impact on people’s understanding of the human psyche and the construction of the self.
Jungian symbols and archetypes can be seen in Pollock’s pioneering “action paintings,” which he worked on during the late 1940’s. These “action paintings” represented a radical deviation from the norms of classical European art, as they were not intended to portray specific objects or elicit specific emotions in the observer. Instead, these paintings were intended to penetrate the subconscious of the observer and tap into the primal drives that motivate the creation of universal archetypal symbols. Pollock strove to create these paintings “unconsciously” and spontaneously, so that he could better evoke a sense of raw emotion and primal action in the observer.
Salvador Dalí is most famous (rightly) as a painter, one of the most important figures in the history of “surrealism.” But while surrealism is popularly known an episode in art history, its founders (such as the writer André Breton) conceived of it as a far more wide-ranging phenomenon. It was supposed to impact every aspect of day-to-day life, no matter the consequences. In the Second Surrealist Manifesto, Breton takes this to an extreme in one of his most famous, or rather infamous remarks: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”
Happily, surrealism did not inspire all too many acts of random violence. Its cultural impact, however, extended far beyond painting—especially into film.
Dalí himself had wide-ranging experience in the movies.
Walt Disney hoped to follow-up Fantasia (a personal favorite of his) with a work that focused on Latin, rather than classical, music. The working title was Destino. The film was never completed, but the clip above is a reconstruction of a scene Dalí proposed.
Dalí’s most famous foray into film was Un Chien Andalou, his 1929 collaboration with director Luis Bunuel. It’s pretty brutal: rotting horse carcasses; eyeballs sliced with razor blades. Watch at your own risk…
No Donuts in Norway ?!? This can't really be happening....
Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s haunting expressionist painting, “The Scream” has often been used to describe the distorted way in which a person with depersonalization disorder (DPD) experiences their environment and themselves. DPD is characterized by periods of feeling powerfully disconnected or detached from one’s own body and thoughts. Sufferers sometimes describe these periods as “dream-like,” and feel as though they are watching themselves from outside their body. Luckily, people with the disorder remain cognizant of reality, even while experiencing the sensation of DPD. Thus, they are aware that things are not necessarily as they perceive them to be. Episodes of depersonalization can last anywhere from a few minutes to many years, and is often comorbid with depression and anxiety disorders. DPD has also been linked to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, which are often employed by sufferers as a coping mechanism to help them feel more ‘connected’ to their environment.
The diagnostic criteria defined in section 300.6 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are as follows:
- Persistent or recurrent feelings of being detached from one’s mental processes or body; as if an observer;
- During depersonalization, reality testing is intact;
-Depersonalization causes significant distress, and impairment in social, occupational, or other functioning; and
-Depersonalization is not the result of another disorder, substance use, or general medical condition.
The DSM-IV-TR specifically recognizes three possible manifestations of depersonalization disorder: Derealization (experiencing the external world as strange or unreal); Macropsia or micropsia (an alteration in the perception of object size or shape); and a sense that other people seem unfamiliar or mechanical. While acknowledging that a number of genetic and environmental factors might play a role in the development of the disorder, most mental health professionals believe that DPD is usually triggered by abuse, trauma and/or drug use. Thus, DPD can be best understood as an extreme defense mechanism, which is triggered in an effort to ward off additional negative stimuli.
There are currently no hard and fast rules with respect to the treatment of DPD. The goal of most treatment plans is to pinpoint the particular stressors that trigger the episodes of disassociation, and determine ways to lessen their impact. Therefore, mental health practitioners usually employ a combination of psychotherapy, cognitive therapy and medication (which is usually administered for the purpose of treating underlying anxiety, and not DPD directly).
After the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and The Scream by Edvard Munch, Grant Wood’s American Gothic may be the most parodied portrait in the world. The portrait was seen as, on the one hand, a satire of grim, staid rural America, and, on the other, as a celebration of American spirit and steadfastness. The reason for the variety of interpretations is clear enough: the simplicity of the image—an old man with a pitchfork and a younger woman in front of a house. That’s it—an opportunity for endless interpretations, and endless fun.
The first major parody of American Gothic was a 1942 photograph by Gordon Parks. It depicted a cleaning lady with a pinched face like the farmer in Wood’s painting, holding a broom in place of the pitchfork, and a mop standing in for the woman.
As well as photography, parodies of American Gothic have made there way into film, most famously in the 1975 cult-classic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
Even that parody seems a little high-minded though. Silliest use of American Gothic? It would be hard to beat the poster for the now-cancelled T.V. show The Simple Life, with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie:
George Seurat’s best-known and most beloved work, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1844, was received to great critical fanfare at the eighth annual Impressionist exhibition of 1886. However, soon after earning the plaudits of the notoriously exacting Parisian art scene, many of the lively colors that distinguished Seurat’s greatest painting began to noticeably deteriorate. This change was most apparent in the once-vibrant yellow pigment of the painting, which rapidly began to darken into a murky yellowish brown.
In painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1844, Seurat heavily relied on the then-new and cutting edge pigment zinc yellow (zinc chromate), most notably in creating the effect of the sun dappled lawn, but also in mixtures with other pigments used in the piece. In the late 1880’s, many new, untested pigments were introduced to the artists, who were understandably eager to expand their palates. These brilliant hues seemed to provide artists with the previously unavailable spectral colors for which they had longed for, and zinc yellow’s vibrant sunny hue proved especially attractive to light-obsessed and experimental impressionists like Seurat.
Some painter’s manuals, notably G. Field’s, Chromatography (1869), warned that these new pigments were likely to deteriorate with time, “[T]he yellow and orange chromates of lead, withstanding as they do the action of the sunbeam, become by time, foul air, and the influence of other pigments, inferior to ochres.” Field inveighed against the zinc yellow that was to darken Seurat’s other masterpiece, The Bathers at Asnieres (1883-84), muddy the lawn of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1844 and wilt Van Gogh’s brilliant sunflowers. However, Field’s cautionary words proved no match for zinc yellow’s vibrant charms, and many artists elected to throw caution to the wind in the service of experimentation.
In an effort to stave off further deterioration, art conservators and curators have permanently placed A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1844 behind special glass that blocks all utraviolet light. As for the fate of zinc yellow, it was found to be highly toxic and is rarely used in art anymore. However, it has found new life as a corrosion resistant agent used by the U.S. Navy aircrafts, to protect aluminum from corrosion by sea salt.