Dream work: the art and science of Fin de Siècle fantasy imagery

PhD thesis

Atzmon, L. 2006. Dream work: the art and science of Fin de Siècle fantasy imagery. PhD thesis Middlesex University School of Art and Design
TypePhD thesis
TitleDream work: the art and science of Fin de Siècle fantasy imagery
AuthorsAtzmon, L.

In this dissertation, I argue that the fantasy imagery of tum-of-the-century British illustrators Arthur Rackham, Aubrey Beardsley, and Sidney Sime, and French filmmakers Georges Méliès and Emile Cohl functions as visual rhetorical "texts" that explicate contemporaneous ideas about the self. At the fin de siecle, models of the self were shaped, in part, by scientific thought that interrogated themes of materiality and immateriality, visibility and invisibility, univalence and multivalence, permanence and
impermanence. Dream Work grapples with these oppositions, the questions they brought up, and the provisional answers they elicited. I argue that both the science and the design considered in this study dealt with these oppositions, and the models of the self they elaborated, through a shared visual rhetoric of literal representation or hazy abstraction.
I reveal this shared visual rhetoric through analysis of the form of the design considered in this study and its relationship to visual aspects of contemporaneous scientific discourse. I first show how Rackham's imagery, which echoes the visual
vocabulary of physiognomical diagrams, deals with material aspects of self and mind. But Rackham's work likewise positions the mind as part of a grand continuum with
the natural world. I describe the ways that Beardsley's imagery fluctuates between expression of material and ethereal elaborations of the self manifested in
contemporaneous dream theory. And I show how Sime's imagery - which mirrors late nineteenth-century notions of the realms of other dimensions - probes abstract
qualities of the self in strangely material forms. Finally, I discuss the ways that the mystifying abstraction that characterizes tum-of-the-century ideas about time, space,
and motion marks the mutable selves expressed in Méliès and Cohl's work.
In this dissertation, I likewise challenge the hegemony of the written word and of verbal analytical methods for interpreting visual entities. My goal, however, is not to dispense with the verbal analysis of visual artifacts. Rather, my intention is to
foreground visual rhetorical analysis as a powerful method for understanding the visuality of both visual and verbal entities.

Department nameSchool of Art and Design
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print13 Jan 2015
Publication process dates
Deposited13 Jan 2015
CompletedFeb 2006
Output statusPublished
Permalink -


Download files

  • 32
    total views
  • 162
    total downloads
  • 5
    views this month
  • 7
    downloads this month

Export as