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Art by accident
Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983)<br><i>Head of a Woman</i>, 1938<br>Oil on canvas
zoom Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983)
Head of a Woman, 1938
Oil on canvas


Laboring over a picture, especially a realistic picture, struck some Surrealists as contrary to their goals. When an artist tried to give form to the unconscious, the very act of painting added a layer of thought. How could art-making become more spontaneous?

Writers used “free association” and simply wrote down words that occurred to them. Or they cut out words from the newspaper, shook them up in a bag, and pulled them out one by one to form poems. Visual artists came up with their own “automatic” techniques, based on chance or accident. The painter Max Ernst created images by rubbing a crayon across paper pressed down on a rough surface. Man Ray made photographs without a camera, by laying objects directly on the photographic paper.

Joan Miró (zjo-AHN mee-RO) had an interest in such automatic processes. He started his pictures with aimless doodles and let images develop from the doodles. “In the act of painting, a shape will begin to mean woman, or bird . . . ,” he said. “The first stage is free, unconscious.” This figure of a frantic, ghastly woman gives form to Miró’s feelings about the civil war just starting in his native Spain.

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1. Joan Miró developed his characteristic style based on “automatic” techniques of Surrealism.
Yousuf Karsh, Joan Miró, 1965, photograph
2. Man Ray invented the “rayograph,” an image made by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing it to light.
Man Ray (Emmanuel Rudnitsky), . . . istan/islam, 1924, gelatin silver print “rayograph”


April 2006