paranoid spittled walls

This exaltation of the violent compulsive spontaneity so reified by the Dada movement, Andre Breton and Max Ernst in particular was put to almost absurd extremes into an effort to appropriate Leonardo Da Vinci into their nihilistic process of attacking the old icons of past glory. Essentially, a deconstruction of the spiritual values in his work, the infinite sequences of subtle sublimations and slow, reflective release of inhibitions into the realm of automatism was a leap of incredulity without any basis.

The interest in creating out of Leonardo a perverted figure that fit with the new archetype of the artist was an act of repression of Renaissance art; trying to fit Leonardo into a theory the same way Freud study of Leonardo drew and quartered the artist into a figure he easily transcended. The tormented artist of romanticism would now devolve into a deviant psychotic, criminal, whose most profound subjectivity must by necessity be antagonistic to intelligent society. From the Academy to the madhouse.  Leonardo said nothing about spitting on a wall, an urban legend promulgated by Dadaists who were, according to Richard Huelsenbeck centered on wine, women and advertising…

So did Piero di Cosimo and Leonardo da Vinci. Breton was fascinated by their recommendation that, in Breton’s words, “one should allow one’s attention to become absorbed in the contemplation of streaks of dried spittle or the surface of an old wall until the eye is able to distinguish an alternative world which painting is capable of revealing.” “Leonardo’s paranoiac ancient wall” is an “ideal field of interpretation,” as Breton said, for it has “extraordinary power of suggestion.” Surrealist painting is “this wall perfected. All you need do now is study the resulting image long enough for you to find a title that conveys the reality you have discovered in it, and you can be quite sure of having expressed yourself in the most completely personal and valid manner.”…

---Leonardo mentions nothing about "amorous memories"; this derives from Freud's idea of the dream as a wish-fulfillment, often a forbidden or repressed or denied sexual wish. Frottage, which has the connotation of rubbing up against an object or person for the purpose of sexual discharge, is Ernst's witty, ironical way of building perverse sexuality into the automatist process. --- Read More:

…An obscure, formless, very material — and “dirty” — surface unexpectedly becomes a source of inspiration. The dirt on the wall — and it is important for Breton and the Surrealists that the wall be “dirty,” covered with spittle or decaying, that is, peculiarly obscene — is the catalyst of creativity, much as a grain of sand or other foreign matter stimulates or “provokes” an oyster to grow a pearl. According to Breton, the wall is “a recipe” for creativity that is “within everybody’s grasp,” even as it is “among the ‘Secrets of the magical surrealist art’,” suggesting that everyone is secretly a Surrealist. Everyone is potentially a “seer,” able to spontaneously “see” in the surface of the wall what otherwise remains unseen and hidden in the self. The surface of the wall becomes a screen on which one projects, with a kind of involuntary wisdom, one’s innermost feelings in the form of fantastic images, which may be meaningful to no one else but which are as emotionally seductive or evocative….

---In a 2005 essay published online by Britain’s Surrealism Centre (Issue 4 winter 2005), David Lomas does a tremendous job of putting Salvador Dalí’s version of science in perspective, and the focus is all through the prism of Leonardo Da Vinci’s world. Sigmund Freud’s “psychoanalytic novel”, “Leonardo da Vinci: A Memory of His Childhood”, was a must-read for the surrealists, not least because it delved into Leonardo’s dual career as an artist and a scientist. André Breton often urged artists to stay up to date on the latest scientific discoveries in biology and physics, the better to express reality, albeit surrealistically. ---Read More:

(It is worth noting that Leonardo says nothing about spittle or the wall’s age, which Breton, with typical Surrealist extravagance and provocativeness, added to Leonardo’s statement. For Leonardo, ” [g]azing fixedly at the spot on the wall, the coals in the grate, the clouds, the flowing stream” were equally stimulating of the imagination. However, it is the case, as Vasari relates, that Piero sometimes intensely studied a wall on which sick people regularly spat, finding in the spit stains all kinds of fantastic scenes, including beautiful landscapes. Breton no doubt appreciated the irony of this, that is, the fact that creativity was inspired by pathology, however indirectly. Piero’s “alchemical” transformation of putrid matter into refined art shows that he was a Surrealist, and understood the basic imaginative task and uncanniness of art.) Read More:


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