According to the first Surrealist manifesto of 1924, "the real functioning of the mind" could be expressed by a "pure psychic automatism," "the absence of any control exercised by reason." Miró was influenced by Surrealist ideas, and said, "Rather than setting out to paint something, I begin painting and as I paint, the picture begins to assert itself. . . . The first stage is free, unconscious." But, he added, "The second stage is carefully calculated."
The Birth of the World reflects just this combination of chance and plan. Miró primed the canvas unevenly, so that paint would here sit on the surface, there soak into it. His methods of applying paint allowed varying degrees of control—pouring, brushing, flinging, spreading with a rag. The biomorphic and geometric elements, meanwhile, he drew deliberately, working them out in a preparatory drawing.
Miró's works in this vein suggest something both familiar and unidentifiable, yet even at his most ethereal, Miró never loses touch with the real world: we see a bird, or a kite; a shooting star, a balloon on a string, or a spermatozoa; a character with a white head. The Birth of the World is the first of many Surrealist works that deal metaphorically with artistic creation through an image of the creation of a universe. In Miró's words, it describes "a sort of genesis."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999