art (3)

AES68 The Persistence of Memory

You’ve probably seen this painting before. It’s one of the most famous and recognizable paintings in history, painted by the famous Salvador Dali. It’s influence on culture spreads much further than the art world, it’s been the inspiration for many things including some rock album’s cover art. The Persistence of Memory was painted in 1931 when Dali was only 27 years old, and he finished it in a mere 2 hours.

The painting itself is actually smaller than you might expect, around the size of an A4 sheet of paper. I always thought it’s the size of a regular canvas painting. Anyway, Dali was a student of Freud, and for this painting he was also possibly inspired by Albert Einstein’s relatively new (no pun intended) theory of relativity, of the dilation and uncertainty of time. It is the breaking down of something that is a fundamental basis of our existence.

Dali described his paintings as “hand painted dream photographs” ; it's the peak of surrealism, reaching for something beyond reality, delving into the subconscious. The Persistence of Memory conveys a dreamlike scene that defies logic, like dreams often do.

The landscape is a desert, devoid of life and radiating heat. Looking in the background we can find a rock formation and an ocean, but it is perfectly still, as if time itself has broken down.

There is a clash between the organic and natural scenery in the scene, and the seemingly man-made angular and geometric shapes. Resting upon them is the centrepiece of the painting, the melted clocks and pocket watches that immediately draws our eyes in.

Inspired by watching cheese melt in the sun, the melted clocks stand in contrast with what we normally expect, seeing something that’s supposed to be solid and reliable behave this way makes us feel strange and uneasy. Because it’s not just a melted clock, it deals with the concept of impermanence, nothing lasts forever, maybe not even time itself. 

We can also see a strange creature lying down in the middle of the painting, it has eyelashes, a nose and a tongue. This would be a self portrait of Dali himself, sleeping and dreaming, the imagination of his subconscious running free. 

Art is about evoking emotion, everyone can infer different meanings and messages from the same piece of art. Trying to meticulously pick everything apart and explaining it rationally is simply not the way it’s meant to be interpreted. This painting definitely is one of the greats because it invokes curious feelings within us, with imagery and symbolism that really makes us think. Another dream, perhaps.

Read more…

AES54 The Death of Socrates

“To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.” - Socrates


This is a famous painting made by french painter Jacques-Louis David in 1987. It shows a story famously written by Plato about the execution of Socrates. This great greek philosopher is one of the most influential intellectuals of all time, his teachings of philosophy are still being read even today. The painting itself is the apex of the Neoclassical art movement of the time, displaying the subjects strongly and severely, and yet it is subtle and beautiful at the same time.

Now for the story of this scene, Socrates was put on trial for supposedly corrupting the Athenian youth with his ideas, and for his refusal to acknowledge the sacred gods of the city. At the conclusion of his trial, he was sentenced to death by consuming hemlock, a deadly poison. Now Socrates could have easily escaped into exile and lived, but he made a choice to stay and teach his students what would be his final lesson, that death is not something to be feared. This painting shows us the execution of Socrates.

Jacques-Louis David didn’t really provide any identification for the characters present in the painting, but it can be picked up from the context alone. The person who stands out the most is Socrates, he is sitting upright in the middle wearing white flowing robes, depicted vividly in stark geometric lines as strong and iron-willed, gesturing defiantly against fear as he reached for the poison that would end his own life. 

His followers to the right side, despairs to see their teacher’s last moments. While Crito, his oldest and most faithful student, clutches at Socrates’ thigh while he looks him in the eye.

The executioner in red robes, shamefully looks away from Socrates as he offers him the goblet filled with poisonous hemlock.

In the left side background we can see Socrates’ wife Xanthippe being escorted out in distress, sparing her the horror of watching her husband’s execution.

But the old man sitting at the edge of the bed is actually the most important part of this painting. That man is Plato, even though he was not present at Socrates’ execution, since he was still a boy at the time. Plato is the person responsible for popularizing Socrates’ teachings, the two are so intertwined that it’s hard to even tell where Socrates’ philosophies ends and Plato’s begins. This can make us look at the rest of the painting in an entirely new perspective. 

This whole scene can be read as taking place in Plato’s head, his idealized reimagination of how it happened. It calls upon the very nature of memory, how we tend to create an ideal in our minds, the imperfections of a scene are smoothed over, giving us a perfect frozen moment in time and reality.

To courageously confront death and stay true to our own ideals. To stand fearlessly in the face of inevitable ruin. This painting shows us a person with moral strength and character to a degree that many of us have never seen before. There’s a lot to appreciate in this painting, and even without knowing the story and context it is still a powerful and beautiful piece of art, withstanding the test of time.

Read more…

Art is a testament to our humanity. It is the expression of which we separate ourselves from machines and animals. Without it, life would be monotone, boring, senseless. Our emotions and imagination is the beating heart that drives us to create. But unrestrained imagination and unchecked emotions can also be a bad thing, and can even be a source of great evil.

Today, I want to talk about Francisco de Goya, a very influential painter from Spain in the 18th century, and about his famous work during that time. I have written about the Enlightenment before, an era where ideas of rationality, knowledge and science were championed. Goya painted this in his country of Spain, where the majority of its society was more conservative and reluctant to change. He saw the Enlightenment movement spreading throughout Europe and North America, and was frustrated to see his own country rejecting those ideals, so he made a series of paintings to criticize superstition, corruption, intolerance, ignorance and religious dogma of the society around him, and he named this collection of paintings Los Caprichos. 

And so we arrive at the most famous painting that came out of Los Caprichos, titled The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters. It shows an artist that peacefully fell asleep, while beasts and monsters of the night eerily crawls out to fill the scene. This shows that when reason is asleep, terrible things like ignorance, hate, fear and superstition are free to run out and play. When people become ignorant, fear can drive them to acts of evil and hatred. We should never let our emotions and imagination control us, without our reason and clear thinking to keep us from stumbling down dark paths. Goya’s message is that imagination united with reason should be the inspiration that drives us forward. Never lose sight of beauty, but do not be seduced by the countless lies and false promises that lie ahead of us. Imagination allows us to take flight, but reason will keep us from flying too close to the sun.

“Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and source of their wonders.” - Francisco de Goya

Read more…

Lingkar Blogger Smipa | ayo gabung

Bagi rekan-rekan yang sempat mampir ke laman ini, mari gabung ke Lingkar Blogger Smipa, ruang di mana kita bisa belajar menulis dari teman-teman lainnya.

Mari gabung juga di Atomic Essay Smipa