F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M is for Miró


Joan Miró – Harlequin’s Carnival (1924-25)

Larger image: Here

The triumph of industry and scientific achievement was pervasive in the modern world. The shift from religious faith to scientific faith found a western world willing and wanting to apply the scientific method to everything. Applied to war, science and industry left Europe nearly destroyed with unseen horrors and millions dead. Looking inward, the science of Psychology was born from Sigmund Freud in Vienna. Here the mind is segmented and notions of the conscious versus the subconscious are suggested. Freud went further to attribute certain behavior as inherent in the subconscious and developed the practice of psychotherapy to, somewhat ambitiously, determine the working of the mind. Freud was famous for his writing on dream interpretation and considered dreams to be very real insights into the subconscious.

In many ways, surrealistic paintings like that of Miró are an exploration of the subconscious or a more generalized theme from the mind’s eye. It can sometimes be hard to determine anything “meaningful” from a surrealist painting and as much can be said of the subconscious. If anything is universally true for dreams, it is that there aren’t anything like being conscious. In one sense, while a dream may hold elements of reality so may it be askew in some way. This inevitably led to bigger philosophical questions about reality and mental life. Overall, there is a willingness to except the mental world as real as anything else. The surrealist painter was now conveying something very real but born of the imagination rather than the perceptible world.

Miró’s Harlequin’s Carnival, conceived of in Paris, comprises very odd constructions of color, shape, and form. Far from the natural landscape, Miro sets his subjects against a stark colored background in an almost cartoon setting. The figures and relationships between figures are nonsensical but distinct. There is a touch of the familiar with musical notation, arrows, a window, a guitar, faces, a ladder, and insects maybe. For all of that, little is in normal context. What I find so interesting is that while I am bewildered with nearly everything I see, I also find my eye to be captivated and entertained by what I’m seeing. The colors are chosen among a few and placed upon the image in such a way to move the eye and balance the composition. Outside of that, there is little here that makes sense to me. For that, I could look at something like this for a long long time and always be entertained. Another appeal, is a hint of Bosch in Miro’s work that I recall from the fantastical figures within the Garden of Earthly Delights. Most important, there is no indication that this image is anything in particular and that is preferable to something rather obvious and left to be unconsidered any further.



  1. I like the connections that you made between the explorations of the subconscious through psychology and psychotherapy and the development of surrealist art. Very intuitive, I had never made that connection before, although, it makes perfect sense. You do a very good job of discussing the elements that came into play in the development of the surrealist style and mindset of the subconscious. However, I do not remember reading where you got your information from I recognize the information from a psych class I took and believe it to be factual, but do not forget to mention your sources. Other than that, you do a great job of giving your opinions and reactions to the piece that you chose, I agree that it is easy to spend much time trying to understand the meaning of the multiple figures. I however, do not enjoy this type of art. That is the main reason I chose to talk about a photograph in my blog, but back to your piece. I find it interesting that the artist uses mainly primary colors and minimal shading. Why do you think that is? It has me thinking. Good Blog!

  2. Interesting connection to Freud and this painting. The idea of the subconcious is never more clear than to view a surrealist painting. Just like our dreams it doesn’t have to make sence. Good analysis of the composition. I thought of posting about a surrealist painting as well because they are so “out there” they represent the time well.

  3. Nice post. You do a good job exploring the psycho-analysis connection and I really like the way you drew the comparison with Bosch. I wish you’d gone further with the industrial vs. natural landscape ideas.
    Personally, this painting reminds me of a sort of crazy, ideal, dream world of a child’s room. There’s the window, and the basic, plain colored floor and walls but within there’s all these brightly colored toys, and they’re morphed and almost alive looking like an active imagination in a young child can create. Too, I guess the description I just gave could very literally stand for the subconscious. The room being the mind, the window being the eyes/senses, and everything inside thoughts and dreams.

  4. But even in a classical painting you cannot easily state any meaning. You look at the Mona Lisa and you can say it is a lady smiling.

    You can start enumerating what else there is or who the lady really is, but that would not be a way to find any meaning.

    Worse: they talk about Michelangelo’s Pietà and say it is “a triangular composition” with the vertical axis … and the horizontal axis…..in the shape of a cross….

    So you see them actively avoid meaning!

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