Worlds in Miniature: Max Ernst and His Books
The fact that Max Ernst was a philosophy major at the University of Bonn is a strong indication of how he saw his own future. Future—a word by the way that he couldn't bring himself to use, believing it to be not only fatuous but regimental and therefore inapplicable to himself. One could almost believe that added to his other talents he also possessed the one of clairvoyance, seeing in his private crystal the path that his own future turned out to be. Philosophy majors may be, then, people who, young and examining the world in relation to themselves, or vice versa, know they are going to need the discoveries of previous thinkers to help them deal with their already complicated existence and even to point the way to conclusions of their own. That this philosophy major was an artist can provoke no surprise, for a true artist’s every picture is a search, a question, and if he is good, it may even hold an answer. An artist who titled his pictures Blind Swimmer, Euclid, Design in Nature, The Horde—to name a few of his always surprising titles—leaves no doubt about his fundamental preoccupations. In the incredible scope of his imagery—it was as if he raced to an impossible goal: to translate all thought into pictures—one encounters myriad ways of thinking, propositions for an attitude to the seductive, ferocious, elusive prism of life itself. It is this very scope, the vastness of his pictorial terrain that is most daunting for one who would understand the work of Max Ernst. A serious scholar can soon read most artists’ work with a little effort. But a Max Ernst picture is often an uncomfortable riddle—a question as fraught with naked unreasonableness as an electrical storm. What the question implies, indeed demands!, is a search, the kind of search Max Ernst conducted all his long life, in the pages of books as well as in his own psyche and the world around him.
To try to enumerate these hooks, to separate for our consideration the ones he read avidly from those he merely skimmed is as impossible for me as finding a thousand needles in as many haystacks. Principally because before making off with the needles he was likely to examine rather attentively a few haystacks just to be sure….
–excerpt, pp. 1-2.