Surrealism was an intellectual movement primarily centered in Paris, France beginning in 1917 and lasting until the end of WWII.  Its members sought to solve the problems of thought and expression in multiple forms.  Surrealism originated as a literary movement who sought inspiration from the popular Spiritualist movements, psychoanalytical techniques of Sigmund Freud, and Marxist political theories.[1]   One of the founders of Surrealist writing, Andre Breton created what is known as automatic writing through borrowing techniques used by spiritualist mediums to connect with the souls of the dead and transcend their minds into another world.  Surrealists felt that this improved literature and artwork because it not only drew from a creator’s conscious world, but their subconscious as well.  These authors would continue to develop these techniques throughout the time period that Surrealism was popular, and they contributed very much to the overall philosophy of the movement.

Surrealist artwork emerged out of the collapsing of the Dada movement.  These ex Dadaists, such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Joan Miro, helped to establish the sense of dream imagery that was begun by Giorgio de Chirico.  Max Ernst developed a technique known as frottage which was done by creating and enhancing rubbings of different objects.   Miro began to experiment with adding organic materials such as sand to create various textures in his artwork.  At the same time, Man Ray began to experiment with solarization which created unpredictable auras in portraits.  These artists helped to create the different forms of early Surrealist art and popularize the movement.

In the 1930s, many artists started to flock towards the Surrealist movement.  One of these artists was Salvador Dali.  He focused on the concept of paranoia and the ability of objects to become disturbing in the dreamlike state.  Dali and other artists such as Meret Oppenheim and Marcel Duchamp transformed domestic objects such as cups and irons into objects with a menacing quality.  This was due to the artists’ fear of women and their frustrations with the opposite sex.  Many Surrealists were also obsessed with the female body as a trap and the concepts of life and death.  These beliefs stemmed from Freudian concepts that linked conscious problems with those of a sexual, subconscious origin.  These artists furthered the concepts conceived by early Surrealists and helped to bring the movement to a new level.

Surrealism originated as a somewhat peaceful transition from Dada once it collapsed in the early 1920s.  It combined many of the popular theological, political, and psychological theories in the world at the time to pursue a state of heightened and true reality.  Early artists such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Andre Masson developed unique and exciting techniques that began the transition towards a depiction of the subconciousness.   Later artists created sculptures which sought to capture the underlying fears of people in Freudian theory.  Surrealists created work that sought to display the pure creative skills of the artist by combining both the conscious and subconscious minds as one.As an example of the style of works produced, imagine taking multiple dreams and mixing them on a canvas to create a composition.  This was a main subject style for surrealists that allowed the brain to produce the work rather than the rational conscious mind.  These autonomous techniques helped to create the abstract dream images that played a prominent role in Surrealism.  Their mission was to bring about the blurring of the conscious and subconscious mind into one that coexisted together in the perceivable world.



Ades, Dawes and Matthew Gale. The Grove Dictionary of Art: From Expressionism to Post-Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[1] Dawn Ades and Matthew Gale, The Grove Dictionary of Art: From Expressionism to Post-Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), s.v. “Surrealism.”

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