”They are scared of the inner truth about themselves, more particularly, about acknowledging psychic conflict and trauma as well as the primary creativity evidenced by fantasy (especially dreams). I think the early modernists – Gauguin, Redon, Max Ernst, de Chirico, etc. – were less scared because the world seemed scarier than the unconscious. Militarism and materialism, authoritarianism and capitalism, were more devastating than anything in the unconscious, even though they had unconscious roots – another reason to explore the unconscious. As for the postmodern rejection of the unconscious, and the treatment of it as another “discourse,” it was inevitable that one had to withdraw from it, on the principle that if one looks into the abyss the abyss will look into you (Nietzsche). One can look only so long into the depths without becoming dizzy and falling in, which is why the postmodernists prefer not to look deeply but stay on the everyday surface of life.” ( Donald Kuspit )
Hope. Its a very ambiguous word. In Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, hope is ambivalent and non-linear relationship with the soul; a somewhat pacifying, contrived and artificial construct that can assume a life on its own. Its co-existence with humanity is tenuous and fraught with risk. In the Medusa painting, the shipwrecked are saved by chance, the Argus had returned to scour the scuttled Medusa for provisions left on board and the rescue of its crew was an afterthought, incidental, to what Hannah Arendt would call the pulse of life.Perhaps overly generous, Géricault wanted to give optimism and pessimism a level playing field on which to decide the forecast for human destiny. He depicted the very moment at which the survivors sighted a rescue vessel on the distant horizon, and on this vision fate’s wager rested. The viewer’s prejudice might choose whether the ship is approaching or moving further away – except that almost everyone who’s ever seen the painting already knew its course.
“How rarely do our emotions meet the object they seem to deserve? How hopelessly we signal; how dark the sky; how big the waves. We are all lost at sea, washed between hope and despair, hailing something that may never come to rescue us.”
— Julian Barnes
Max Ernst, was in this tradition, a Jacob wrestling with an angel; a choice between a nebulous idea of hope and surrendering to the betrayal of despair. Psychological confrontations within a fluid social context made for a art that expresses his suffering, however intense, as not the result of inner conflict inseparable from psychic development , but rather a matter of politics and history. A psychological violence mated to a bitter and restless social vision. Much of Ernst’s work is about violence — not the impersonal, anonymous violence of war, but the equally traumatic and much more intimate and intricate emotional violence of the family. It is just as stark and devastating as war, and, unlike it, impossible to escape.
Expressionism is an art which seeks, as critic Wieland Schonied puts it, “to fuse feeling and the object of feeling.” The real subject of expressionist art is not the object itself but the artist’s feeling about the object. It is above all an art of “passion, the ecstatic assimilation and appropriation of the world.’’ Critic Christos M. Joachimides is also correct in asserting that “judged according to the aesthetic canon which developed from Post Impressionism, art as an existential assertion of the self is ugly art.”
Even before World War I, German art had taken an expressionist turn. Often savage and always tinged with a sense of the tragic, it was an art deeply influenced by the existentialism and irrationalism of Friedrich Nietzsche. In many ways, the reason that the expressionistic, existentialistic, dialectical theology of Karl Barth’s Letter to the Romans, in all its drastic negation, caused such a sensation in Germany in 1922 just after the war was that the expressionist and existentialist mood was culturally far advanced there before the war. For many, the war simply confirmed the prophesies of the great German expressionists, What is true of post-World War I theology is also true of German philosophy. The most influential German philosopher between the wars was Martin Heideggear, whose indebtedness to Nietzsche and his spiritual kinship with the expressionists were obvious. How could a Max Ernst accept the notion of hope?
For obvious reasons, social ideologies are biased in favor of hope. First, and most obviously, hope can relieve suffering, so people
naturally prefer it to despair. Not only do we prefer hope to despair in ourselves, we have similar strong preferences for others.
Also, the powerful people in a society have strong interests in fostering hope and its consequent effort, and in undermining
despair and the associated lassitude that threaten any social order. In Western societies, this has long been a major role of the Christian church, which praises hope as one of the three cardinal virtues, and attacks both despair and its proponents. These efforts
meet individual needs’ and simultaneously undermine any attempts to challenge the current hierarchy, thus providing support
for the church from a range of levels of the hierarchy.The religious subversion in Ernst’s work is evident to the point of tedium, saved by clever juxtapositions that redeem the basic three chord progression. That, objective reality is no more a sure bet than any illusion of hope and the inner dimensions of s
Almost against his will, Ernst, like many romantics at heart, ultimately succumb to what Ernst Bloch would develop in his ”The Principle of Hope” which captured an essence of the non-nihilistic left.
”For Bloch, history is a repository of possibilities that are living options for future action, therefore what could have been can still be. The present moment is thus constituted in part by latency and tendency: the unrealized potentialities that are latent in the present, and the signs and foreshadowings that indicate the tendency of the direction and movement of the present into the future. This three-dimensional temporality must be grasped and activated by an anticipatory consciousness that at once perceives the unrealized emancipatory potential in the past, the latencies and tendencies of the present, and the realizable hopes of the future. Above all, Bloch develops a philosophy of hope and the future, a dreaming forward, a projection of a vision of a future kingdom of freedom. It is his conviction that only when we project our future in the light of what is, what has been, and what could be can we engage in the creative practice that will produce a world in which we are at home and realize humanities deepest dreams.” ( Douglas Kellner )
…Where the authority of the church has faded, the task of marketing and marshaling the forces of hope passed to psychology, with its exhortations to be optimistic, its treatments to boost self-esteem, and its dire warnings about negative attitudes causing all manner of suffering, as an inverted fear principle. The conventions are clear; participants in a society are generally required, both by the power structure and each other, to support efforts to find hope and avoid despair. By this means, deep illusions are perpetuated, illusions that may, paradoxically, cause unhappiness and the maintenance of inequity.
The first illusion is that hope and despair are opposites. Of course, in a sense, they are- one arises when things are going swimmingly, the other when there seems to be no route to success. But on another level, they are intrinsically intertwined partners in the dance of desire, differing only in whether or not the object of desire is more or less likely to be reached. Despair cannot exist without hope. In fact, much real depression is caused by inability to give up a useless hope. The other illusion is that hope is a beneficial virtue and despair is a harmful sin. In fact, both exist only because, in certain situations, they offer benefits. The benefits of hope are obvious, its
costs concealed. The costs of despair are clear, while its benefits are covert. The bias is so powerful that the words hope and
despair contain intrinsic judgements. What if, instead of hope, we emphasized the futility of many efforts? What if, instead of despair, we praised sensible giving up? But we have no ready words for these purposes.
It would be difficult to think of another pictorial world that so clearly parallels the world of Franz Kafka. Here, as there, we
enter a terrain filled with what Freud called “manifest dream content.” Indeed, the obsessions and compulsions Kafka and Max Ernst, explored are comparable to the material that concerned Freud in his interpretation of dreams. Yet unlike Freud, the two artists were not interested in explaining the incomprehensible. Rather, they were intent on describing a strangeness beyond comprehension.
”His resistance to a world captured in visual media was the basis for his style. For style is not merely a technical category, but all ethical one. As Joe Bousquet once put it: For all of the liberties he helped us conceive of, for every notion he discredited, Max Ernst paid the highest price. His life withstood continual tension between a creative furore that nothing could contain and an extremely rigorous method based on almost incredible demands.” ( Werner Spies )
There was something very awesome when Max Ernst turned his mind to subject matter such as cataclysms that overtake an entire generation and then leaves it to mold and rot away. Ernst’s has been one of the most powerful imaginations to deal with he theme of Paradise Lost. But it should be said that in his later years, his outlook was far more persistently benign, with the climate of his final period being that of a Paradise Regained. A requiem for a lost and found paradise, a special place sheltered from The Fall.
Such paintings as ”Two Cardinal Points” , a vivid desert landscape done in 1950, reflected the new harmony of his postwar life in Arizona. And few images of felicity are more compelling than those that Ernst created after his return to France from the United States at the end of the 1940’s. Even the titles of his pictures, like Spring in Paris, show how pleased he was to be back in a still convalescent Europe. Max Ernst the demonologist seemed to drop out of sight and Max Ernst the lyric poet took his place. It was as if some dark spirit had been exorcised from his work. That spirit comes back from time to time, just as it does in life; but Max Ernst gave the public a distinctly easier ride with it.
”My wanderings, my anxieties, my impatiences, my doubts, my beliefs, my hallucinations, my loves, my rages, my revolts, my contradictions, my refusals to submit to any discipline, even my own, the sporadic visits of Perturbation, My Sister, The Hundred-Headless Woman, none of these have succeeded in creating a climate favourable to the working out of a calm, serene body of work. Like my behaviour, my work is not harmonious in the sense of the classical composers, or even of the classical revolutionaries. Seditious, uneven, contradictory, it is unacceptable for specialists in art, in culture, in behaviour, in morals. It has the power, on the other hand, to enchant my accomplices, the poets, the pataphysicians, some illiterates” – Max Ernst, 1959.