Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Melting Clocks and Marching Elephants

As I glanced over the posts of my esteemed colleagues, I noticed that there was a prevalent theme of encountering art in early childhood. Clearly if McCloud was seeking to touch something deep within his readers regarding their conceptions of art, it seems to have worked. As I read through his philosophy of comics, and particularly his discussion of time in Chapter Four and the connection between emotions and style in Chapter Five, I was strongly reminded of one of my favorite artists: Salvador Dali. I first encountered Dali when I was very young; my friend had The Persistence of Memory hanging in his room. I don’t think either of us knew what it may have meant or even who painted it, but it was something that resonated with me even them.

Dali was surrealist. There is disagreement over the definition of surrealism, but in general it is a form that tries to visualize the thought process absent all reason and aesthetic rule. It was a movement highly influenced by Freud; another definition might be that it is a style that seeks to give form to the unconscious. If Dali drew comics, he’d be on the right side of McCloud’s pyramid, fairly close to the top. It is his conception of time, however, that is his strongest link him to Understanding Comics: Dali was highly influenced by Einstein’s work and the idea that time was relative and not fixed. This lead to perhaps his most famous artistic symbol: the “soft watch” or the “melting clock.” In any given painting, Dali represents many different time periods on a single canvas; birth, growth, death, and decomposition are intertwined and seemingly unified in his depiction of the unconscious. In his painting Soft Watch at the First Moment of Explosion, he depicts exactly that: a moment frozen in time that is simultaneously able to convey movement. This is very similar to McCloud’s analysis of the comic book image: it is a static, but uses various artistic techniques to convey movement and time. Whereas Dali captures a single moment representing many “times,” comics allow the reader to move back and forth through time at will. In both cases, it is the role of the “other” to construct the parts into a whole. The form is constructed specifically for the reader; its complete significance is relative to the person reading it.

The literature we have read this semester tries to do something similar with form and purpose. McCloud speaks of the idea specifically in Chapter Seven: artists choose particular forms based on what they want to convey and their conception of “art” per se. It makes sense then that Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera mixes so many different genres of literature; at least one of her purposes is to challenge the idea of the borders individuals and societies erect between each other and its impact on our humanity. In our tattoo section, we discussed the particular “forms” that tattoos take (like those of the Samoans) and how the form varies with the purpose of the tattoo. The connection between all of these elements – Dali, McCloud, and the rest – seems to be that the form and purpose cannot be separated; in at least some cases, the form may have even been an unconscious choice on the part of the author. Since all works of art will ultimately be seen outwardly, the consequence of the form on the observer must be taken into account.

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