About Surrealism and Tonalism

Surrealism

I’ve admired the Surrealism movement of the 1920’s and thirties, not for its cynical shock value, but for its core idea that juxtaposition can alter our perceptions and create new visual experiences and thoughts. The Surrealism movement had quickly burned itself out, not because its core idea was empty, but it seemed to me to lack integration with our understanding of the wider world of art. In this failure to rest on any historic precedents, it fulfilled a very modern notion – the idea of complete originality. Like finding a true black in nature, this notion is an impossibility because it doesn’t exist. To disengage the viewer from any relationship with art history is a push toward a most modern experience of isolation and emptiness. I recently saw an exhibit at the University of Michigan Art Museum titled:  Copies and Invention in East Asia (on till January 5, 2020). This exhibit challenges “ our understanding of originality, and presents copying as an act of imaginative interpretation.” Throughout the long history of Asian art, copies of a master’s work were venerated as important and valuable works of art, and the artists even went so far as to use the signature of the original artist, with the complete understanding that this was simply part of the copy. These copied works were hung in important places and honored as highly as the original work itself. It was the modern idea of originality that brought us to this distorted and floating version of surrealism.

tonalism

Reflections, a painting by Charles Harry Eaton
Reflections, by Charles Harry Eaton

“The Escape of Time” photo rests on the Tonalist Movement in America, roughly 1880 – 1920, with its emphasis on subtle and blended forms and colors, and placid and contemplative feeling. In an article for Artsy.net, Tonalism historian and author, David Adams Cleveland, who wrote A History of American Tonalism, describes this 1910 Charles Harry Eaton’s Reflections as a depiction of “scintilating light and a visual feeling of pulsing movement, as if the landscape is a living-breathing organism” – a quality I can only hope to achieve. But I hope to give Surrealism an historic and well understood context with which to frame the gently unexpected.

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