Goya's Engraving's : Anatomy of A Subversive Aesthetic
TO WHAT EXTENT does an artist's creativeness consist in a major revolution in form or technique ? Can technical innovation by itself mean anything in isolation from important developments in the artist's relationship with the meaning of life itself ?
The searing intensities of Goya's aesthetic vision derive from a passionate Spanish temperament; but they stem no less from the vehemence of his social and moral responses. Critics have often traced the distinctive features of Goya's works to his personal suffering and isolation, imposed by deafness, and to a private world of macabre fantasies and nightmares. But this approach misses the essential point that it is precisely Goya's moral fervour—his loathing and horror of what man has made of man—that contributes to the power, depth and stature of his artistic output.
We find in Goya's works a curious interplay between the roles of fantasy and imagination on the one hand, and reason on the other. Goya's moral and intellectual assumptions and concerns belong—despite significant differences—broadly to the age of reason; but his stylistic attributes reveal an affinity with the approaching Romantic dawn, with its emphasis on the formal articulation of intense experiential states and on the free flight of imagination conjuring up forms from inner visions and fantasies, in defiance of classically endorsed contours.
Indeed Goya's artistic traits not only relate to late-eighteenth—and early-nineteenth-century post-classicism but also make him a forerunner of such twentieth-century tendencies as expressionism, surrealism and avant-garde tragi-comedy. There is, however, an important difference. Though shades of absurdism colour his manner and method, the ideological premises and moral instincts of Goya are the very obverse of much modernist doctrine. Whereas the absurdist insists that man, in a very basic, metaphysical sense, is an alien, a being isolated from outer reality which makes no sense to him, Goya—so his art suggests—considers the absurdities of the human predicament to be firmly rooted in a historically specific socio-cultural matrix.
Goya^s achievement is all the more remarkable for it is without precedents in the artistic scenario of eighteenth-century Spain. The engravings
English Department, Sri Venketeshwara College, Delhi University, Delhi.