By Virginia Girard
El sueño de la razon produce monstruos (The sleep of reason produces monsters),
Plate 43 of “Los Caprichos”
Francisco José de Goya
ca. 1797; 18th century
Francisco José de Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is one print in a series that embodies several interpretations of the exhibition theme, offering the viewer psychological, political, and grotesque forms of revolt. “Los Caprichos” is a set of 80 prints created in 1797 ad 1798 as both an experiment and a rebellious act against Spanish society. The unusually large number of prints in the series can be attributed to Goya’s vast criticisms of Spain, which ranged from condemning the ignorance of the ruling class to decrying the predominance of superstition in popular culture. Goya included brief explanations of each image in a manuscript to shed light on his somewhat cryptic intentions.
This unique combination of text and illustration is a form of artistic revolt, in which the artist has found both literature and art too weak to communicate singularly. Goya’s fantastical illustrations depart from reality, making use of supernatural creatures to suggest the world he depicts is surreal, defying the laws of order in their perversity. This departure from the laws of nature is, in effect, the “Sleep of reason” Goya refers to in this print. In accordance with the ambiguous caption “The Sleep of reason produces monsters” the sleeping figure embodies Goya’s opinion of the state of humanity itself. Spain, he asserts, has lost its sense of self-awareness, having degenerated into a numbness that is blind to all faults in society. The creatures that rise behind the sleeping figure symbolize the mind’s revolt, in which the immoralities of man have overtaken the virtues and won control. The bats and birds loom over the figure, emerging from unseen depths to emphasize the mysterious nature of human evil.
Goya’s series introduces the disturbing idea that perhaps the most revolting qualities of humanity are the unseen, intangible beliefs and thoughts that reside in our subconscious. His print warns viewers that the mind has a monumental capacity for imagination; when reason is abandoned, this imagination can revolt against its beholder, and effectively become an internal form of imprisonment.