The birth of Modern art began during the Industrial Revolution in the mid- 18th century

The birth of Modern art began during the Industrial Revolution in the mid- 18th century. During this time period, art began to evolve with new sets of ideas, attitudes, and theories that challenged traditional art, and impacted society and culture. One of the most prominent movements in modern art was Surrealism, which was an intellectual, experimental, and expressive movement. One of the most recognizable artists of the surrealism movement was Yves Tanguy who had his own signature style that made him a legacy in Modern art.
The Surrealism movement emerged in late 1910s and early 1920s after the wartime Dada Movement. Surrealist Artists such as Yves Tanguy wanted to leave behind the wounds of the war and retreat from reality. Unlike the Dada Movement which was an anti-art movement born out of disgust for society at the time, Surrealism’s emphasis was on positive expression. It was a whimsical art movement that focused on individual vision and the subconscious realms of experience (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Surrealism is defined as “Psychic automatism in its pure state by which we propose to express- verbally, in writing, or in any other manner- the real process of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason and outside any aesthetic or moral concerns.” Surrealists artists including Tanguy, were strongly influenced by the founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theories focused on the subconscious and hidden structures of the human mind and how it affected personality. This focus on the subconscious mind became a major source of artistic inspiration for Surrealists (The Art History Archive).
Characteristics of Surrealism included hyper-realistic images with strange, symbolic and dreamlike qualities that were based on feelings and memories. Another common characteristic of Surrealism was the juxtaposition of objects that don’t go together. Many Surrealist artists also used hypnotism and even drugs to unlock their unconscious images in their mind. There were two types of Surrealism art, figurative and abstract. Figurative surrealism included realistic representations of the actual world while still using imagery from the subconscious mind. However, even though it derived from real object sources, it often was still logically incomprehensible in many aspects. In contrary to Figurative Surrealists, Abstract Surrealists broke free from convention and figurative work. Abstract Surrealism composed of unrecognizable and undefined shapes and images. An example of an artist who worked primarily in the Abstract Surrealism style was Yves Tanguy. He is best known for his timeless, dreamlike landscapes with forms that were completely invented with no link to reality (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Yves Tanguy was a French born American painter born in 1900. In his early adult years, he sailed with the French merchant marine. After that chapter of his life closed, he returned back to Paris in 1922 where he began his artistic journey. He began sketching in cafes and working odd jobs to support himself. In 1923, he went to an art gallery where he saw a painting by Giorgio de Chirico that had such an impact on him that he began teaching himself how to paint. It didn’t take long for him to develop his own personal style and technical skill. In 1925, he joined the Surrealist group and started participating in major Surrealist exhibitions. Tanguy moved to the United States in 1939 where he lived and painted the rest of his life (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Yves Tanguy’s artistic style involved applying the principles of automatism, which refers to creating art without conscious thought. His paintings depict vast, abstract landscapes that are so unique and immediately recognizable. Typically, these landscapes contain many strange, abstract objects. However, Tanguy paints in such a hyper-realistic way that he makes these objects seem tangible. (Parker, Charley)
A quintessential example of Yves Tanguy’s artistic style is his painting “The Satin Tuning Fork” which is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The medium of “The Satin Tuning Fork” is oil on canvas and its dimensions are 39 x 32 in. It was painted in 1940 and when viewing this piece at the MET, you can see that it is in very good condition. The composition is made up of a dreamlike landscape with many abstract objects. The most prominent object in this painting is something that resembles a tuning fork in the foreground. Tanguy used foreshortening in the tuning fork, which is a technique of perspective that creates the illusion of an object receding into the distance or background. The angle at which he painted the tuning fork and how it got smaller as it appeared to recede into the background gave this painting a real sense of depth and space. Tanguy also used at atmospheric perspective which is another technique that creates the illusion of depth and space by muting or weakening the colors as they appear to recede into the background. The colors of the wavy ground are almost black in the foreground and begin to fade to an almost white in the background. There is no exact horizon line in this painting which makes the composition appear to stretch into infinity.
On the tuning fork there are two abstract figures that resemble human-like forms. They appear to be dressed in drapery with green and red colors. Although there is some color in the painting, overall it is a monochromatic. There are no visible brush strokes in this painting and the only line work noticeable is the contour lines that outline the abstract figures and shapes. The actual texture of this painting is very smooth along with the implied texture of the composition. All of the figures and the atmosphere in which they appear are smooth and flowing. The way in which he applied all of his techniques gave this painting a very quiet and lonely feeling.
Along with all of Tanguy’s other paintings, “The Satin Tuning Fork” has no explicit interpretation. Throughout his artistic career he offered little to no insights into his artwork. Tanguy’s said “I cannot, nor, consequently, want to try to give a definition, even a simple one, to what I paint. If I did try, I would risk very much closing myself in a definition that would later become like a prison for me”(Yves Tanguy) Even though he did not discuss the meaning of his paintings, we do however know that his work reflected his obsession with childhood memories, dreams and hallucinations. One benefit of not knowing the meaning behind his painting is it causes the viewer to engage with the painting using their own imagination and emotions. (Encyclopedia Britannica).
The feelings that were evoked in me when I examined this painting were a sense of solitude and calmness. Even though this painting was gloomy because of the muted color palette, I also felt a sense of positivity. While looking at this painting, I felt as if I was in a realm that had infinite boundaries and possibilities. It reminded me that my life also has infinite boundaries and possibilities.
Yves Tanguy had such an impact the Surrealism movement and shaped the course of art history. What set him apart from other Surrealist artist was his naturalistic precision of how he depicted the unconscious mind. His work exemplified incorporating one’s individual vision and imagination into their artwork. The goal of Surrealism was to break free from the oppressive boundaries of rationalism and that’s exactly was Yves Tanguy did. Thanks to Yves Tanguy and other Surrealist artists this avant-garde movement still remains influential to the art world even to this day.