When a poem barks

Does the dog look like a dog? Does the moon look like a moon? Well, no, not exactly. The white dog has a bright yellow muzzle and his front leg is light blue. Yellow, brown, and dark blue markings make his face and body colorful. He looks like he is wearing a dark blue cap. He doesn't even look like he is barking. The white moon is an odd shape for a moon. There is a red ball on the hook at the upper left and lower down is a transparent-looking glob of yellow and pale blue. It floats in a softly dark, slaty blue sky.

The dog is standing on a bare reddish-brown hill. The artist Joan Mir'o was born and raised in a big city in Spain - Barcelona. But the happiest times of his youth were spent at a small farm in the country. He loved the plowed fields and the wonder of growing things.

After he became famous, he said, ``I consider my studio as a kitchen garden. Here, there are artichokes. There, potatoes. Leaves must be cut so that the fruit can grow. At the right moment, I must prune.'' Of course, he was really talking about his paintings, drawings, and sculptures.

His father had been a jeweler and watchmaker. He had a telescope through which he would study the stars and the moon with his son. Many of Mir'o's paintings have celestial objects in them, even paintings that are much less real looking than this one. But his father thought painting was not a useful occupation and insisted that Joan become a clerk. After two very unhappy years, the young man determinedly went to art school, where he was taught to draw in a traditional manner.

He thought that type of painting was old-fashioned. In Paris after World War I, artists were doing very different things. So off to Paris he went. There he was satisfied to be among those who felt that with all the new inventions like cars, airplanes, radios, and movies, art should also find new ways to express itself. Mir'o made friends with a group of artists and writers known as the Surrealists. They felt that including the fantastic images we sometimes see in our sleep or imagination added to the reality of their pictures.

So this painting doesn't have to have an ordinary-looking dog and moon.

And what about the white ladder? Where does it go as it gets higher and higher up into the sky? It looks like other ladders except that it is more colorful with red rungs and one yellow leg. The strangest thing is that its top has nothing to rest upon.

Some of Mir'o's friends were called Symbolists because the things they wrote or painted stood for other things. Numbers are symbols that we all recognize. But Mir'o's painted symbols have to be more or less guessed at. Some of his paintings are like games with people guessing what each mark stands for. Some of his marks, such as crossed lines for stars, are easy.

The ladder in this picture is a symbol. Haven't we all looked up into the sky and wished we could be up there away from the heaviness of earth and in the beauty of the night? The ladder is a symbol of this desire. Perhaps Mir'o felt that the dog barked at the moon because it, too, wanted to climb up into the sky.

Among Mir'o's friends were poets. It is said that he wanted his work to be like a poem put to music. ``Dog Barking at the Moon'' is a painted poem about the artist's happy memories of childhood visits to a farm, the warm loveliness of a summer moon, and mankind's need to always want to go up higher.

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