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We’re going to start a series of blog post about Salvador Dalí’s lithograph suite, Changes In Great Masterpieces. This series is an exploration through recent masterpieces in the history of art. Through Dalí’s eyes we are invited to a modernization of these works by such masters as Rembrandt, Vermeer, & Velasquez. Each of these works is not only a brilliant technical achievement in the art of painting but also a highly intriguing and fascinating commentary on psychology and philosophy. Great works of art make statements. These works represent statements about our inner most being. Ultimately Dalí, through his works, portrays himself as a psychologist. He sees himself as a student of Freud. That means everything that goes through his brush is first filtered through his surreal-psycho analysis. We’re going to see if we can take a peek at what Dalí felt when he looked at these paintings.
We’ll start our conversation with Dalí’s print, Velasquez: Maids of Honor (Las Meninas). In each work from the series Dalí takes the original painting and adds some small but important detail. Think of Dalí’s addition as a highlighter, he wants you to see the real and original work but focus on something particular. Simply put, he’s presenting you a classic work with modern highlights.
Las Meninas is often regarded as one of most complex and intriguing works of art ever. The work is layered with composition and juxtaposition. There are many places one can go to to read about this work from an art history standpoint. We don’t want to dissect the entire work, just simple elements that point to psychological suggestions. We want to examine it through Dalí’s lens.
Here are the two works below
This work has been described as a “snapshot”, in that the characters of the piece aren’t “posing” in the traditional sense. It is attempting to show life in the middle of activity, or life as it is. At the left of the piece we see the artist, Velasquez, working. He pokes his head out to take a look at his subject. But what is he looking at? It has been suggested that the mirror in the back of the room holds the reflection of a king and queen, and that it is this pair that Velasquez is painting. But they too are also looking “outside” of the painting and into our reality. The artist is gazing back at us.
As viewers we gaze at the work of art. At the same time we interpret it, we are in a sense its creators, and its meaning comes from our interpretation of it. What Velasquez, in the painting, is painting our gaze of the art, that is, our interpretation. You and the artist and the subject is the art. The art does not stand alone; it needs a viewer to bring it to life in order to “mean something”. We started off with this work in the series because it is exactly what Dalí presents in the series, his interpretation.
What Dalí is emphasizing through Velasquez is that; art isn’t anything unless it is viewed, the viewer is necessary for the painting to be art. Only in that moment when the viewer and the work are present and when one sees one’s self as the viewer of art does art begin it life as a work of art. More importantly, this is how we live our life. A pen is only a pen when it is used as a pen, when it is “penning”, a hammer is only a hammer when you are “hammering” with it. Our lives are moments of mini-environments we create with our interaction with things, art is solely there to interact be interacted with, it has no other use other than as a subject to be reflected on. I believe what Dalí is suggesting is that art is best medium to present truths about the world because its only purposeful function is as an arrow pointing to truth, because it is simply a mirror of our interpretation of the world.
When we create a piece of art it will automatically be infused with our world view. It is like a fossil, it will be able to tell you something about the world it comes from.
In the original work the doorway is occupied by a shadowy figure. We are unsure if this figure is gazing at us, leaving or entering the room? It is in between our realization. Dalí has replaced this figure with what appears to be a servant in the room behind the studio. The message is clear; there is definitely someone in the other room. The doorway is clear, you can enter. Dalí felt that this work represented a transition in the history of art, a transition that would eventually lead to psychology. Dalí addition simply asserts that we are no longer in transition; we are firmly entrenched in a new world, a Freudian world.