I was blown away by my recent visit to The Art Institute of Chicago, but was particularly touched by the surrealist paintings on exhibit. This took me by complete surprise, because before this visit, I always fancied myself a lover first and foremost of the French Post Impressionists. While the Post Impressionists sure paint a pretty picture that you would willingly step into, these modern artists sure do give you something to think about.

When I first saw René Magritte’s Time Transfixed in person, I was jolted back to a time in my teenage years when I had the most lucid dream of my life thus far. I was inside a grand old mansion with a mahogany staircase and red velvet stairs. I somehow found myself in the basement, which turned into a train station. There were no trains down there, though. Sadly, all I could see were a few twisting tracks and tunnels to other places. (At this point, I am about halfway beginning to wonder if trains have some unconscious meaning in my life. That would be ridiculous, though, so I quickly dismiss the thought). So why is the train coming through the fireplace, and in busting through, is it effectively stopping time or stepping out of time? I don’t know, but this feels like a Twin Peaks experience. Some critics might suggest that Magritte was subconsciously influenced by Einstein’s theories of relativity (especially because of the images of the clock and the train).

This piece is such a perfect example of surrealism to me, because it reminds me so much of a very real dream I once had. In the painting, the steaming train is stepping outside of time into an empty room in a safe house. This is a place outside of reality. A border area, where you can go when you need to breathe for a moment. You know, for when the steam runs too hot. The train is me.

René Magritte's Time Transfixed
René Magritte’s Time Transfixed

Another painting that begs for a discussion is Salvador Dali’s Visions of Eternity. No doubt about it, this is doom and gloom at its finest. This painting is all about The Great Emptiness. We have a wanderer in the background, and a dark shadow figure who is quite literally coming apart at the seams. We are all on the verge of collapse at any given moment, are we not? To me, this represents the world and its inhabitants as all floating aimlessly, and all damned to continue doing so for eternity. Over and over again, generation begets new generation. Rinse and repeat.

Salvador Dali's Visions of Eternity
Salvador Dali’s Visions of Eternity

This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Not the ones you think of when you are stuck in traffic or waiting in line somewhere. These are the pictures your mind comes up with when you are sound and out. The “I take no responsibility for this, I can’t help what I dreamed” type pictures. Not always pretty, but definitely conversation pieces.