Old Friends: The Surrealists at the National Galleries of Scotland

When Roland Penrose began buying artwork after returning to England in 1935, he focused on purchasing the works of the Parisian Surrealists—the circle of artists that had embraced him as one of their own. Old friends such as Dali, Magritte, Miro, Picasso, De Chirico, and others graced Penrose’s walls. Penrose left most of his collection to the National Galleries of Scotland, who bring the old gang together in Another World: Dali, Magritte, Miro and the Surrealists, an exhibition running through January 9, 2011. Scotland doesn’t seem like the obvious place for Surrealism, but isn’t that the point of Surrealism?

When Penrose first became interested in Surrealism in the 1920s, the word didn’t even exist in English—“super realism” or “sur-realism” were the common attempts. As the catalogue to the exhibition wonderfully explains, the story of British Surrealism centers on Penrose. “If the continental Surrealists had rallied to a common cause and consciously formed a group, in Britain it was a different story,” Patrick Elliott writes in the catalogue. “Instead, the artists selected for the [first London Surrealist] exhibition often discovered that they were Surrealists only when Penrose and [Herbert] Read came knocking at their doors, and informed them of the fact.” In many ways, this grand showing of the Scottish Surrealist treasure trove knocks on the door of the international art world and announces the strength in width and depth of their collection.

The National Galleries of Scotland began collecting Surrealist works in earnest in 1970, with the purchase of Alberto Giacometti’s controversially violent sculpture Woman With Her Throat Cut (shown above). Penrose’s collection exploded their holdings in the 1990s. The other major figure in the building of the Scottish Surrealist collection is Gabrielle Keiller, art collector and former woman golf champion. (It’s a Scottish story, so you knew there had to be some golf in there, didn’t you?) In 1960, Keiller met Peggy Guggenheim and quickly grew envious of Guggenheim’s collection. She soon began to buy Surrealists works, including some from Penrose. Years of working with the National Galleries of Scotland inspired Keiller to bequeath her collection to them, thus reuniting many of the works with Penrose’s collection.

The Scottish collection stretches from the proto-Surrealists such as Henri Rousseau all the way to the last surviving Surrealist, Desmond Morris, whose War-Woman captures the unreal existence of life for women during the Second World War in England. In between, all of the stars of Surrealism appear. Duchamp’s Fountain represents the early Dada roots of Surrealism. Important works from the 1920s by Joan Miro anchor the collection as a full tracing of the evolution of the movement. Figures such as George Grosz and Hannah Hoch appear to demonstrate that Surrealism spread across Europe beyond French borders. Keiller’s taste for Surrealist literature assured that the collection would have a full representation of the manifestos and periodicals that put Surrealism into words. The collage novels of Max Ernst, which influenced a whole generation of artists, appear in all their weird wonderfulness. Perhaps the most educational aspect of the collection is the inclusion of the overlooked British Surrealists, including Penrose himself. Seeing works by someone such as Cecil Collins, who “sympathies were more with William Blake than with Andre Breton,” you get a sense of how Surrealism slipped out of the hands of the Parisians and found a home in England through Penrose and through the local tradition itself of visionaries such as Blake the Romantic poet-painter.

Another World: Dali, Magritte, Miro and the Surrealists adds another chapter to the still-puzzling and still-intriguing story of the Surrealists, who allegedly “died” right after World War II but continue to live on in one shape or another. The National Galleries of Scotland collection gives them another life through Another World.

[Many thanks to the National Galleries of Scotland for providing me with a review copy of the catalogue to Another World: Dali, Magritte, Miro and the Surrealists, which runs through January 9, 2011.]

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.

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Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Mind & Brain
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A new AI-produced commercial from Lexus shows how AI might be particularly suited for the advertising industry.

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