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Don't be so reasonable...
Yves Tanguy (French, 1900-1955)<br><i>Through Birds, Through Fire but Not Through Glass</i>, 1943<br>Oil on canvas
zoom Yves Tanguy (French, 1900-1955)
Through Birds, Through Fire but Not Through Glass, 1943
Oil on canvas


In 1924, the French poet André Breton (on-dray breh-TOHN) called on writers and artists to explore a world beyond everyday reality. This was the beginning of Surrealism (from the French for “beyond real”), a movement that influenced many artists in the 1920s and 1930s. In this picture, Yves Tanguy (eev ton-GHEE) used a clean, crisp style to paint weirdly lifelike shapes set in an eerie landscape. But the Surrealists did not set out to imagine a fantasy world. Their goal was to present a view of the unconscious mind.

The concept of the unconscious was new at the time. The psychologist Sigmund Freud (froyd) had recently described mental life as a conflict between the civilized, thinking mind and inner desires we are not normally aware of. Freud thought that understanding this conflict could help cure mental illness. The Surrealists, on the other hand, hoped to bypass the thinking mind completely. They wanted to allow the unconscious mind to express itself, free from the control of reason, morality, or good taste.

It has been said that Tanguy “painted like a sleepwalker.” He did not try to explain the mysterious images he produced. Often he let his friends suggest puzzling titles. For example, this picture is called Through Birds, through Fire but Not through Glass. For the Surrealists, explaining an image was just one more way for the thinking mind to control the unconscious.

April 2006