Free «Realism versus Surrealism» Essay Sample

In the fifteenth century, most of Europe was affected by Renaissance. Artists learned a naturalistic manner, which served to emphasize the lighting and shadow, as well as wide-open space and anatomy in drawings. These kinds of acquired skills made drawings more realistic. Renaissance drawings show the objects more realistic than any other paintings of that time. Leonardo Da Vinci was affected by Renaissance very much. That is the reason why Leonardo paintings are created in the realistic style. In contrast, Frida Kahlo was affected by the Surrealism that started in the early 1920s in Paris.

Surrealism was a social movement rather than just literary or artistic. At this time many artists pursued the abstract image, which was affected by surrealism that was keen on exaggeration. There are many common features between Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Cropped Hair, which make the two paintings look very similar. However, these two paintings are very different in their composition and face expression. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Cropped Hair have a similar content, however, Mona Lisa is shown in more realistic style, while Self-portrait with Cropped Hair in surrealistic style.



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Mona Lisa is a well-known painting, which represents Leonardo’s high level painting skill. Mona Lisa's identity, the beginning and completing dates of the painting have been debated.1 Many researchers say that it is early sixteenth century portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. The painting was made using oil paints on a panel of poplar wood. Mona Lisa painting shows smoke blur feeling because Leonardo used sfumato technique (sfumato is the Italian word for smoke).2 Also, Leonardo seems to have used several translucent layers of color to produce depth, because there is no obvious evidence of brush strokes or fingers usage. It is still remains to be a mystery how Leonardo applied the paints.

Self-portrait with Cropped Hair is a self-portrait by Kahlo in 1940. Kahlo is a well-known artist in Mexico; just as well as Diego Rivera's wife.3 Kahlo was an iconic Mexican artist in surrealistic art, she draw a lot of abstract paintings and became very famous as a first female artist. She painted the Self-portrait with Cropped hair after she got divorced from Rivera. In the painting she is dressed like a man and has short cropped hair. The painting is very rough compared to Leonardo's Mona Lisa. This rough style seems to help in depicting the overall atmosphere of sadness and loneliness. It is an oil painting and there seems to be no special technique in drawing. Surrealistic artist are not following realistic style; instead they make object more exaggerated and overstated. That is the reason why her drawings do not show any realistic painting skills. Kahlo’s painting is an expression of herself through seeking her inner identity among her diverse characters.

The Mona Lisa painting shows us more natural realistic style than Kahol’s Self-Portrait. Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo whose personality has been debating until now among scholars.4 In the painting she is sitting on the chair with her arms folded. Two main features of Mona Lisa that show realism are the corners of her mouth and her eyes.5 When I look at the mouth I cannot find any smile on her face. However, if I focus on other parts of Mona Lisa’s face, I can see a smile there. Margaret S. Livingstone, a professor of neuroscience at Harvard University, explained that Mona Lisa’s smile has a biological explanation that is called fovea vision. As Livingstone said, “Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius who captured something from real life that doesn’t get noticed in real life.”6 According to Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter, “The eyebrows and curve to the pores of Mona Lisa’s face would not be more natural than any other paintings.” By that he showed his impression about the colors and the texture that Leonardo used in the painting. In addition, “the nose with rosy and tender texture, the mouth with red tinted lips, and the face could not be more natural.”

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In contrast, Kahlo’s Self-Portrait shows more surrealistic style than Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Kahlo painted herself with short hair in a man’s shoes and oversized suit. Many surrealistic paintings are using an uncommon subject, however, Kahlo’s painting shows something of a different vision, which includes her experience of being hurt by her husband Rivera. Kahlo tried to separate herself and metaphysical-self to observe and represent this “self” in different circumstances. The distinction of her art is that she expresses herself as subject of paintings. The significant fact, though not really obvious from the beginning, is that her husband influenced her paintings very much. According to Gannit Ankori, an art historian, Rivera had encouraged Kahlo to use votive or the retable painting technique for her painting. Moreover, Rivera had encouraged Kahlo to paint from her imagination rather than realistic objects.7 In her painting, written lyrics of Mexican song can be found on the very top of painting. It says, "Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore." This lyrics describes Kahlo’s hurt spirit when writing this lyrics. Since she imagined herself to be her husband, Kahlo painted herself with oversized suit to imply a mirror image of Rivera.8 In addition, she exaggerated her body size and cropped her hair on the floor in the painting.

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Salomon Grimberg, a psychoanalytic art historian, writing about Frida Kahlo, said that surrealist works usually feature the elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur.9Even though Kahlo would say, "I do not know if my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most frank expression of myself,"10 I think that her paintings are affected by surrealistic style rather than realistic one, because I could not see any realistic features in her painting. Her painting is giving me nothing more than a mere feelings of loneliness and fear...

Even though Mona Lisa is realistic, many people say that it includes some surrealism that can be found in the imaginary background and Leonardo's intention. Leonardo attempted to define perfect beauty in Mona Lisa’s face. However, in the painting Mona Lisa's eyebrows were missing. Was it intended or not, he seemed to implicate some deeper meaning inside about perfect beauty. That is the reason why many people can consider that this drawing include some surrealism elements. However, nobody knows if Mona Lisa really did not have eyebrows. He recorded detailed description on how to make perfect portrait including the Treatise on Painting. Leonardo suggested the method that helps to draw the face in most attractive way, such as adjusting direction of the light and finding best side of sculpture.11 It shows that Leonardo really wanted to draw realistically. He also employed people to sing and perform in front of her to make her remain happy and merry while he was painting. He tried to take away sadness of Mona Lisa and keep her happy because he tried to hold happy moment in his painting. If people do not have any expression on their faces, it is considered to be dead expression. So Leonardo tried to make Mona Lisa’s face happy because smiling face would be more realistic. Vasari explained that “in this work of Leonardo's there was a smile so pleasing, that it was a thing more divine than human to behold; and it was held to be something marvelous, since the reality was not more alive.”11 I think that Vasari’s opinion is right; however, if Leonardo did not follow the realistic way in his drawing, nobody would find any marvelous feelings in his painting.

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In her turn, Kahlo tried to express real anger in her Self-Portrait. She said her painting is not following surrealism; however it is a completely surrealistic style oil painting. She tried to paint herself with male figure of her husband Rivera. Such thing is unusual for realistic drawing; it is fit with a surrealistic definition that makes object exaggerated and overstated. Since Kahlo discovered that Rivera had affair with her sister Cristina, she denied herself and tried to understand her husband by painting her as a male.12 It tells us that she followed abstract rules of the unreal object. She tried to express and represent the whole complexity of her personality and diversity of unity. Moreover, she tried to express her anger, sadness, and disappointment by showing scissors and her hair all over the floor. Of course this chaos image is not real. If we get to know more about the Kahlo's life history, we will feel more sympathy and understanding for Kahlo’s thoughts. Her drawing is showing the bitter unfairness in women's life; it turned out that her happiness fully depended on her husband. We can find a lot of implied meanings from the abstract painting.

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After examining Mona Lisa and Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair I perfectly realized that difference between realism and surrealism. Leonardo tried to follow realistic form in portrait of Mona Lisa. He depicted and found some perfect beauty in the happy face of Mona Lisa, and many people nowadays can see and feel how beautiful this painting is, as we can get realistic feeling right after we see the Mona Lisa without any background information. In contrast, Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair shows exaggerated and overstated image of herself, because she wanted to express her feelings through the mirror-image of deeply hurt soul. That is the reason why we can get a very bitter feeling from her painting, if we perfectly know her autobiography and background information. It is what makes the difference between realism and surrealism. We can get some feelings right away after we see the realistic paintings. In contrast, to understand surrealistic paintings, we need to have more information and history details in order to get an insight into author’s thoughts that are presented in the painting.


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