The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" is a 1799 print by Goya from the Caprichos series. It is the image the sleeping artist surrounded by the winged ghoulies and beasties unleashed by unreason. The full caption reads: "La fantasia abandonada de la razon, produce monstruos imposibles: unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas," or, in English "Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels."
It consists of a self-portrait of the artist with his head on a table, as owls and bats surround him, assailing him as he buries his head into his arms. Seemingly poised to attack the artist are owls (symbols of folly) and bats (symbols of ignorance).
The viewer might read this as a portrayal of what emerges when reason is suppressed and, therefore, as an espousal of Enlightenment ideals. However, it also can be interpreted as Goya's commitment to the creative process and the Romantic spirit—the unleashing of imagination, emotions, and even nightmares. Arguably the most famous plate of the series, it has gone on to become an iconic image, with its title often being quoted from Goya.