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Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague

Leonora Carrington
Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague, 1955
Oil on canvas
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Bequest of Maxine and Kalman S. Goldenberg
©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Enormous insects, glowing, ghostly figures, the stage-like scene, the strange title: What is happening in this painting?

The words "Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague" appear on the pages of the open book. Also the painting's title, these words are as curious as the many other intriguing and mysterious details. The artist, Leonora Carrington,did not want her work explained; she seems to have been more interested in the questions it raises.

A Non-Conforming "Surrealist"
Microcosm & Macrocosm

Dream a Little Dream: This painting has a dream-like quality. Make your own artwork, showing a dream that you had, or invent a dream. What colors will you choose to represent your dream? Or do you dream in black and white?  

Games of Chance: Play the game Chutes and Ladders, or the original Snakes and Ladders. What makes these games of chance? In both games, the snakes (or chutes) refer to bad behavior, and the ladders to good. The games teach morality lessons and show life's journey being complicated by a random dice roll. Refer to the Wikipedia page on Snakes and Ladders, and play the impartial, non-chance game mentioned in the Mathematics of the Game section.  

Shapes & Lines: This painting is very dynamic. The artist has chosen to set the scene at an angle, which focuses attention on the seated woman on the far left. Notice the repeated use of triangles (tables, loom base) and the triangle of the ceiling formed by the "cutaway" scene. To see how Carrington used the artistic principles of line and movement, look at the insects in the lower-left corner, then follow the action to the loom, to the figures at the table, to the bust on the pedestal, and finally to the woman by the curtain. Learn more about line and shape by viewing these sections in Artist's Toolkit.  

Dear Diary: Pretend you are the writer of the diary in the painting, continuing from the words in the book Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague. What happens in the following pages?  

The Play's the Thing: This scene is very theatrical. The people and insects are characters, they inhabit a set, and have props and costumes. It's as if it is a moment frozen in time, and we are interrupting it. What was being discussed in this scene before the woman on the right (and you) walked up? Name each character and write a short, 10-minute play that brings the audience up to the point in time of the painting. Assemble at least seven classmates, read the lines, and act it out. Freeze-frame the characters at the end, in their positions of the painting.  

Surrealist?: Leonora Carrington is often identified as a Surrealist. Check out the collection of surreal art in ArtsConnectEd. What do you notice about it? Write a definition of Surrealism from what you see. Or choose an artwork and write a poem or description of it. Visit the MIA (it's free!) to see Carrington's painting. Don't forget to look at the Surrealist art in the same gallery!  

May 2012