Basharat Bashir

The Paranoiac-Critical Method

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"The only difference between myself and a madman, is that I am not mad!" Dali.

The paranoiac-critical method is a surrealist technique and creative process emerging from psychological methods. In art it was developed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí in the 1930s, for the exploration of the creative potential of dream imagery and subconscious thoughts.Paranoia in general sense is a mental condition which creates a sense of betrayal, distrust, and fear of being manipulated or controlled by others. Dali regulated this condition to explore realms of human subconscious. He successfully employed it in the production of paintings and other artworks, by deconstructing  psychological concept of identity, in a way that subjectivity becomes the primary aspect of the artwork.

Paranoid Critical Method is experienced and practised to some extent by all of us, when looking at the clouds and trying to figure out shapes and forms or, getting out some descriptive forms from the scribbling of children on walls or sometimes mentally giving formto puddle on the floor. Dali however seriously adopted this practice and further explored its depths in his art practice. He explored the ability of the brain to perceive links between things which rationally are not linked. Dalí described the paranoiac-critical method as a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena. It was further adopted by many artists around the world and this practice is still alive in various art forms around the globe.

The surrealists related theories of psychology to the idea of creativity and the production of art. In the mid-1930s André Breton wrote about a “fundamental crisis of the object”. The object began being thought of not as a fixed external object but also as an extension of our subjective self. One of the types of objects theorized in surrealism was the phantom object.According to Dalí, these objects have a minimum of mechanical meaning, but, when viewed, the mind evokes phantom images which are the result of unconscious acts.

Paranoiac-critical method can be described as a process that allows an artist to perceive and illustrate new and unique forms and subjects diverse from regular world thought. Dali himself though not a true paranoid was able to simulate a paranoid state, without the use of drugs, moreover he was able to reproduce and visually represent them on canvas.  In his paranoid condition, Dali was able to physically manifest the hallucinations and pictures what he dubbed “hand painted dream photos.” He was able to in some way, control his delusions and paranoid hallucinations and was able to translate them into paint.In his own words  he described his practice in these words, “My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize the images of my With the utmost imperialist fury of precise, tangible irrationality”

Other surrealist psychological experiments like Max Ernst’s frottage and Oscar Dominguez’s decalcomania, which involved rubbing chalk or pencil on paper over a textured surface and interpreting the phantom images that appeared in the texture on the paper, served as the foundation for the paranoiac-critical method. When adopting the method, the person actively uses their imagination to see the images in the work and incorporate it into the final product. An example of the end product is a double image or multiple images in which an ambiguous image can be interpreted in several ways.

Dali’s paranoiac-critical technique was praised by André Breton, who called it a “major important tool.” and that it “has immediately shown itself capable of being applied equally to painting, poetry, the cinema, the construction of typical Surrealist objects, fashion, sculpture, the history of art, and even, if necessary, all manner of exegesis”.

The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis by Jacques Lacan, published in 1994, and introduced by David Macey, noted that “Salvador Dali’s idea of ‘paranoic knowledge’ is undoubtedly of considerable value to the young Lacan.”

“Paranoiac-critical activity organizes and objectivizes in an exclusivist manner the limitless and unknown possibilities of the systematic association of subjective and objective ‘significance’ in the irrational.”


Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas is an American graphic artist born in 1943. He was a member of the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the Party disbanded in the 1980s. He is known for his boldrevolutionary iconography that represent black-American oppression. Douglas is a talented artist who studied commercial illustration and graphic design at the City College of San Francisco, in his early twenties he was named Minister of Culture and Revolutionary Artist of the Black Panther Party.

Commenting on joining Black Panther Party Douglas had said, “I was drawn to it (the Black Panther Party) because of its dedication to self-defense. The Civil Rights Movement headed by Dr. King turned me off at that time, for in those days non-violent protest had no appeal to me. And although the rebellions in Watts, Detroit, and Newark were not well organized they did appeal to my nature. I could identify with them.”

The Party, founded in 1966 in nearby Oakland, advocated for civil rights and Black self-determination, immediately positioning itself as a crusader against the oppression of minority communities across the country and around the world. Douglas acquired his position within the Party by attending local political and cultural events organized by the Black community, and by showing a willingness to use his considerable graphic talents to serve the Party’s goals, as laid out clearly in their platform and published in every issue of the newspaper: “We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.”

After being named as the Minister of Culture for the Black Panthers Party  in 1967 Douglas redesigned The Black Panther and switched it to web press, which allowed for colored printing and graphics. During that period, he developed iconic images that served as a catalyst to promote the cause of his party. He used very bold approach depicting policemen as bloodied or hanged pigs, to protest police brutality of African Americans. He further extended BPP by aligning it with the  “Third World liberation struggles” and anti-capitalist movements in the edition of January 3, 1970, which shows an impaled pig dressed in an American flag with guns pointed at it, saying things like “Get out of the ghetto” and “Get out of Africa”.

Douglas also designed postcards, event flyers, and posters that were meant as recruitment tactics as well as a method of spreading the BPP ideology and creating the impression that there was mass support of the cause. Douglas used art as the primary method to spread his mission. His graphics served to promote the Party’s ideologies, which were inspired by the rhetoric of revolutionary figures such as Malcolm X and Che Guevara. His images were often very graphic, meant to promote and empower black resistance with the hope of starting a revolution to end institutionalized mistreatment of African Americans.

Douglas used very bold and clear-cut illustrations to promote his mission and describing that he had said, “After a while it flashed on me that you have to draw in a way that even a child can understand to reach your broadest audience without losing the substance or insight of what is represented.” In response to the expansion of the movement the crack downs on Black Panther intensified and in 1982 it was finally brought to an end. However, their ideology is still alive today.

After the closure of The Black Panther newspaper Douglas worked atthe black community-oriented San Francisco Sun Reporter newspaper for over 30 years.Greg Morozumi, artistic director of EastSide Arts Alliance in Oakland, California, said of him and his work that it continued to be relevant and that he continued to produce activist art: “Instead of reinforcing the cultural dead end of ‘post-modern’ nostalgia, the inspiration of his art raises the possibility of rebellion and the creation of new revolutionary culture.”

Black Panther: a monolog on The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas was published by artist and curator Sam Durant in 2006, including contributions from Danny Glover, Kathleen Cleaver, St. Clair Bourne, Colette Gaiter, Greg Morozumi, and Sonia Sanchez.

Douglas held retrospective shows after the monograph’s release at the New Museum in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007–2008). He has continued to create new work, show it, and engage with audiences in formal and informal settings all around the world ever since his early work was reintroduced to new audiences. His overseas exhibits and travels have taken him to places like Urbis in Manchester in 2008, Auckland in Brisbane in 2011, and alsoa joint project with Richard Bell in Chiapas, and Lisbon in the same year.

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