Turning the Gaze Toward Modernity: Francisco Goya

The famed Spanish painter Francisco Goya was uniquely placed in both time and space.  His particular talent and gifts for observation and commentary have left posterity an incredible insight into life during a very revolutionary period of time.  What are your thoughts on Goya within the context of his words and his visual imagery posted below?

“Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of source of their wonders…I have had three masters, Nature, Velazquez, and Rembrandt…But where do they find these lines in nature?  I can only see luminous or obscure masses, planes that advance or planes that recede, reliefs or background.  My eye never catches lines or details.”

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.


25 thoughts on “Turning the Gaze Toward Modernity: Francisco Goya”

  1. Goya was truly one of a kind for his time. He had a mind that was never seen before. As he states in is quote, he questioned how one learns to paint details of nature verus the human form. He didn’t view his works like most artist before him did. He couldn’t understand the thought of “this line here equals the arm.” What he saw was life and objects as a whole, rather than in parts and pieces. He saw the changes in color and shapes as a sense of constant movement that was just out of the corner of his eye. And this vision is what influenced his art. Goya let his hands move of their own course, but let his mind guide his hands so as not to lose himself in his works abyss. Goya had the gift to create different places and worlds that felt real and closer to the viewer with out creating something too unbelievable.

  2. As an artist, I completely understand what Goya is saying. When drawing or painting, the shadows and light that create the portrait or object make the form. Looking closely at Velazquez or Rembrandt they created beautiful paintings from light and colors. Attempting to explain what we naturally see and replicating that onto a canvas or paper is the true nature of art. The tangible existence of an object makes an artist want to create that object in a concrete form on canvas, but the truth is that the world is made up of light and reflections and recesses just as Goya stated, there are no lines or details to be found by the eye.

  3. I find it interesting that Goya uses the word “imagination” in the beginning of this quote. For me, imagination is the key element in Goya’s work. The Sleep of Reason piece and Saturn Devouring His Son are two overly imaginative works of art. He not only sees the soul in his imagery but he produces an enormous amount of feeling. A feeling of fear, anger, question, mystery, violence, and complete madness. If you look at his art, it is true, the lines and details of his work do not stand out half as much as the feeling that comes from the entire work of art. The Black Paintings have so much raw emotion, you really feel like Goya is screaming at you through his art. There is so much awful pain in some of his art, that it really makes me wonder if Goya had been referring to himself as becoming the monster in the quotation above…

  4. In my interpretation of Goya’s words, he is putting a high emphasis on nature and the effect it has on his work and other artists that he considered masters. He is inspired by what is already in front of him- light, shadows and the background- but has not yet been transformed into a final piece. Just as Michelangelo saw figures trapped in stone before it was carved, Goya let the undefined “masses” he saw outline his subjects. Nature created the subject for Goya, and he already had everything that he needed surrounding him- it was his inspiration for everything he produced.

    He also discussed how imagination played a large role in his work- and how imagination cannot survive without reason. Without reason, imagination can take one to dark places. This could relate to Goya’s dark style- in particular his ‘Saturn Devouring His Son,’ this was clearly produced from intense imagination. It can also refer to art and mankind in general- how imagination is important, but must be paired with reason to be interpreted positively, as Goya stated, as “the mother of the arts and the origin of source of their wonders.”

  5. I find what Goya says to be true. Lines and details do not exist when creating a piece, but instead it is the lines and shapes that bring it to life. His work was all that he saw as he saw it, not some representation of what he though others wanted to see. Goya used these light and colors to reveal his interpretation onto the canvas or page. Even though he work does have enough detail to make them extraordinary, I find that his manipulation of shadows and highlights adds strength to his work. The illuminated figures draw the eye while the shadows help to draw the eye towards it. In the work posted the sleeping figure at the bottom is accentuated by the shadows of his nightmares that surround him. There is no color, only shapes and shades, it just happens that these things make up the image.

  6. Goya’s style was nothing that had ever been experienced before, and was a revolution in the art world itself. At this time the world in Western society was changing greatly. I believe this played a huge role in Goya’s art. In the Neoclassical era money was abundant and people were indifferent without a care in the world. This was depicted through the arts. In the time era that surrounded Goya ideologies and principles had begun to be challenged by the citizens as well as artists. Goya painted what he saw, however dark or questionable it might have been. He did not manipulate scenarios to create a positive thought out of something that might have a harsh reality. He simply painted what was in front of him, revealing its true intensions. Goya’s daring styles were polar opposites of the previous art genres and themes which ushered in a completely new approach on art.

  7. I am a great admirer of Goya, but I must admit that I’m not at all certain about what he’s saying in this particular blog offering. His commentary seems quite self-contradictory and confusing. With all the other blog questions, I’d form an idea for an answer within minutes to, at most, a day. But this Goya statement has been a definite puzzle for me. I’ve read and re-read it, and have done so several times over the past week, and it still doesn’t make sense. Perhaps, I’m misinterpreting it, or reading too rigidly, and not giving his words enough latitude. Perhaps it’s mis-worded, or there’s a problem with the translation from Spanish.

    The very opening line of his statement gives me difficulty: “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of source of their wonders….” Here Goya says only the imagination coupled with nature can produce wondrous art, and that the imagination alone produces unacceptable results (impossible monsters). But dreaming itself regularly presents imagery without accompanying reason, and yet can well serve artistic purpose. Further, if our Gardner textbook is to be believed, these words seem highly unusual for the Romantic artist most of whom basically reject reason, logic, reality, common sense, and social and cultural convention, and instead value far more the imagination, dreams, nightmares, unreality, and irrationality. It seems the Romantic especially relishs the imagination entirely untethered to reason, and that impossible monsters are the optimal creation.

    Also, I have just enormous trouble believing his admission that he “can only see only luminous or obsure masses, planes that advance or planes that recede, reliefs or background. My eye never catches lines or details.” Or, where he asks, “But where do they [Nature, Velaszquez, and Rembrandt] find these lines in nature?” All of this meaning that his own painting and drawing is not by his own hand, but instead his artwork is the doing almost solely of Nature, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. That he’s only peripherally involved in his art, and that his eye never see lines or details. Never? (Not to split hairs overly, but since he himself is a part of Nature, then it is indeed his own hand that has created his artwork).

    Perhaps Goya speaks in this fashion simply to pay ultimate homage to Nature, Velazquez, and Rembrandt; politely and humbly denying and negating any possible effect of his own considerable abilities and talents. Maybe this is the Goya’s quaint (and rather dated) manner of giving highest praise possible to his three inspirations.

    Artists constantly search and strive for creativity, in whatever form it appears, through imagination with reason, or without it. Impossible monstrosities are especially welcome.

  8. Francisco Goya’s work has a certain spark of intrigue and level of depth unlike any other artist’s work I’ve seen. He had the talent to merge concrete reality with surrealist visions that linger in the imagination. He conceptualized images that simply haunt the minds of others. It forces us to contemplate the gruesome truth about human reality. The eyes of ‘Saturn,’ for example, carry uncontrollable urgency. The figure seems to have abandoned his rational ‘human’ mind in a desperate attempt to save himself. This is very different from the self-sacrificing imagery of David. This is very different from humanism. The ‘lines and details’ in his quote might reference limitations of the mind. Perhaps he couldn’t completely adhere to the laws of reality. I feel that Goya didn’t want his audience to overlook the disturbing aspects of human existence. The monsters of his mind were likely the driving forces behind the war and destruction surrounding his life. This seems evident in paintings like ‘The Execution,’ and ‘The Family of Charles IV’. Again, the eyes are wild with either fear or detachment. Perhaps he saw monsters in some of the figures he was commissioned to paint. The complex way he saw the world definitely manifests in his art; both literally and figuratively.

  9. Reading this quote, it feels like Goya is describing such things as negative space and abstract shapes instead of precise lines and accurate representations of nature. His art seems so inconsistent. On one hand he does classic portraits of royal families, but on the other hand he seems to depict madness and unnatural things. I can see that Goya wants to imitate Velasquez and Rembrandt in some respects by being a regular painter, but he also wants to explore a new and more modern direction with his work. Goya made commentary on things that had rarely been reviewed by other artists.

  10. After some thought on what Goya’s meaning to his quote on the imagination, I came up with the idea that when we abandon critical thinking in ideas or beliefs, room is left in the imagination of the mind to create distorted thought and ‘monsters’ as he called them. For example, without logical thought in a situation, one’s interpretation of any given situation has a greater chance of becoming distorted thought and irrational reasoning. Many times when we are faced with reason on a situation, we use logic to interpret our belief or idea in order to question whether our perception is accurate or distorted. In other words, reason must govern the imagination, and without it, the mind of thought is left to create monsters of darkness such as what is depicted in his self portrait Sleep of Reason.

    “The “monsters” are bats and owls flying around Goya in his dream. Robert Hughes (2003) suggests the owls do not represent wisdom; but rather ‘the stereotype of mindless stupidity’, which apparently was how owls were seen in Spanish folklore in Goya’s time. Similarly, he suggests the bats are ‘creatures of night, and thus of ignorance-and possibly of bloodsucking evil as well, in their association with the devil’. These animals are balanced by the watchful lynx, a creature, it was believed, that ‘could see through the thickest darkness and immediately tell truth from error’ (Hughes cited in Uglow 2003, p.1). The dozing intellectual is seen as Goya himself with the owl offering him an artist’s chalk.”

    Hughes, R., 2003. “Goya’s sleep of reason.” Accessed 03 August 2010. http://www.Wiki.Answers.com

  11. Nightmares are creations made through the imagination and they are truly frightening, but once we wake we can rationalize ourselves through it. The horror still remains with us, but we are able to control it. Tell ourselves that it’s not true. I feel like this is what Goya is trying to express. The monsters that appear still exist inside Goya but because he can still think he can control it and put it onto a canvas to release it. Putting it into visible form might actually be a way to see it physically and realize that it is merely a product of his imagination.
    This drawing is also a great example of it, the omission of the details let’s our imagination take control and see the worst of what could possibly be there. Our own monsters are probably greater than what Goya could portray with all the ‘lines and details’ in the world and he uses this to his advantage.

  12. Goya was somewhat of a different kind of artists his expression in that quote was something, “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters.” impossible reason I do not even know how to understand that except clearly by understanding that his imagination is taken out of what reality is giving birth to monsters or something similar in form but different in depiction. Goya to me was very confusing but his pieces are something spectacular, almost seem frightening in many aspects, by his usage of figures and the transformation of his works.

  13. Goya suggests that the origin of the wonder of art is the limitless imagination, unconstrained by reason or rules. This is evident in the posted illustration, as it is created from the mind’s imagination instead of from life. In the latter part of the quote, he states that he sees objects as planes and shades, and not from a basis of line. I think this is interesting because most people learn to draw with lines before anything else. It is clear from this quote that Goya had a very unique perspective and was a very interesting artist.

  14. When he makes the statement “Imagination abandoned by reason…” I believe it is safe to say he means dreams. In our dreams the rules that exist are the ones we fathom. Laws of man, god and physics cannot hinder the possibilities of the outcome.
    Emily Dickenson wrote a poem “The Brain is wider than the sky”, I believe that what both she and Goya are trying to convey is that the imagination is boundless and in our dreams our imagination can run freely and one of the results can be art.

  15. It is apparent that when Goya observes art in general, he looks beyond any lines or details in artwork and instead, views it as one piece. Although lines and shapes help create an art piece, they are not essential to it overall. When examining art, many people have a tendency to focus on the details in which the artwork was made, such as lines and shapes. However, by observing the art only partially, the viewer could miss the entire meaning of the piece. Likewise, Goya begins his quote by saying: “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters.” I believe Goya is referring to imagination as sleep, and that sleep of reason produces the monsters, as shown in the painting by Goya.

  16. Imagination is a powerful force, our ability to create and express ideas; a force that, without the guidance of reason, creates the monsters that Goya spoke of, unrealized creatures, imagined foes, and terrible nightmares. Guided by reason, channeling the power of imagination down a specific path, this is what Goya meant. He admires the ones who he calls his masters, for he believed they could see something that he could not – the “lines” in the world around him, structured reason creating form. Instead, it seems Goya felt he could only see blurred shapes, glimpses of this structure; without reason, these became the monsters of imagination. Perhaps in his painting he was seeking this reason, or simply trying to exorcise his own imagined demons, a personal quest to find the truth that he believed his mentors could see.

  17. Projection is the state of mind in which the subconscious projects to the conscious mind the concealed secrets of the subconscious. If this is true, Goya’s subconscious was consumed with “impossible monsters” thus blocking him from seeing the fine lines and details of nature.

    If this theory is to be held accountable, his “imagination abandoned by reason” was Goya’s way of setting his subconscious genius free in the form of “impossible monsters”

    If I were living in the time of Goya, and was able to give him advise I would encourage him to keep exploring those impossible monsters without fear, yet inform him that they have a way of blocking the conscious mind and making it impossible to see the details and fine lines of nature.

    My advise to any devoted artist is to do as Goya did: Set the imagination free, by abandoning reason and not be afraid of the impossible monsters it produces. I would also encourage the artist to take the time and see what the subconscious is projecting to the conscious, thus blocking certain aspects of creativity.

    If only for a moment, Goya’s statement rings clear as day. For it is not what we see that quenches our desire, it is what we wish to see that ignites an unending quest for revelation.

  18. Goya was a powerful, intellectual artist with an unprecedented eye that allowed him to capture details beyond that of other artists. His imagination traveled so far from reality that sometimes he felt like he was dreaming. Although he admired the works of Velazquez and Rembrandt, he could not understand why their vision and perspective on art was so different than his. He was once quoted as saying “The eye is the pulse of the soul, as physician judge the heart by the pulse so we by the eye.” Unlike other artists, Goya could sense what was truthfully going on in people’s lives and was therefore able to paint their internal beauty which made the painting more real. His ideas in creating art does not deal with natural elements or specific details, instead he paints by capturing the broader environment and people’s souls which is demonstrated through out his paintings.

  19. Goya has been my favorite artist that we have studied in this class. His views on creating art and his way of painting I am particularly fond of. I especially like his black paintings. These expression more emotion and evoke more thought and interest than any of the other artworks that we have viewed. Instead of seeing outlines and details as many other painters of the times did he saw masses of shape, light, and shadow. By seeing the world the way he did produces a much more effective painting. He let his mind wander outside of the everyday norm and into an alternate reality in a sense. Imagination is a large part in producing a successful work of art but it seems as if Goya was afraid of the things that his could produce. By painting them he tried to find reason behind it.

  20. Goya’s quote reminds me of dreams. have you ever had a dream where you know someone is there with you but you dont actually see them or maybe you cant see thier face cleary but for some inexplicable reson you know its them. Art can be like this.
    you dont always have to see the whole, clear, sharp edged picture to understand what somthing is about. Our imagination usually makes up for what we cant or wont see.

  21. This seems to be the process of ideas and dreams, that with out reasons to maintain the validity of a idea. It can become an uncontrollable monster that that can consume the mind that seems to linger in a past memory. In the second part of this quote he seems to talk about that monster that seems to stick with him. Where he can not define the lines with in nature. Yet he seems to think that his other 2 masters Velazquez and Rembrandt seem to know where these lines are. so Goya is saying that he has lost the reason to the dream. So that all he can see is the monster and the monster becomes the reason. To give him an original source for art making.

  22. I think Goya was a talented master in himself why he thinks he cant see the detail the fine line between broad and finite is obscure . These monsters e speaks of .. dreams unreal in our mortal world only imagined in our brains the tiny particles of imagination and creativity … I always wondered where do we dream up such monsters if they have never existed , our brain creates only what it has seen before or something similar … where do these dreams and things come from ? i think Goya tapped into his dreams and found a muse within them .

  23. Goya was a very talented artist, he had the skills to do traditional paintings but the intellectual curiosity and capacity to see beyond the lines and color into the imaginative world. He lived in a harsh time, and he brought those harsh times into his paintings. He chose to paint his nightmares, his feelings, instead of fitting the mold.

  24. – I can’t say I really understand all that he is trying to explain in his quote… However, I think his quote almost seems to be explaining where his inspiration comes from. Goya’s talents and creativity are unmatched in his time. His dark visions and creations come from his interpretations of his imagination. Perhaps he is explaining where his creations come from. Saying that imagination with our reason creates monsters is like saying his creations are unreasonable. I think that his references to Nature, Velazquez and Rembrandt is showing his respect for them as well as his admiration in their ability to create such works of art. He can’t see the lines or details, and they can. His eyes seeing only the masses, luminous, planes and backgrounds could be saying that his creations are not as well planned as Nature, Velazquez or Rembrandt. They execute the details and forms precisely where his forms are well executed but in a different style.

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