From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search

Surrealism is a cultural, artistic, and intellectual movement oriented toward the liberation of the mind by emphasizing the critical and imaginative faculties of the "unconscious mind" and the attainment of a state different from, "more than", and ultimately truer than everyday reality: the "sur-real", i.e. more than real. For many Surrealists, this orientation toward transcending everyday reality toward one that incorporates the imaginative and the unconscious has manifested itself in the intent to bring about personal, cultural, political and social revolution, sometimes conceived or described as a complete transformation of life by freedom, poetry, love, and sexuality. In the words of André Breton, generally regarded as the founder of surrealism: "beauty will be convulsive or not at all." At various times individual surrealists aligned themselves with communism and anarchism to advance radical political and social change, arguing that only transformed institutions of work, the family, and education could make possible a general participation in the surreal. More recently some surrealists have participated in feminist and radical environmentalist activities for similar reasons.

The word "surreal" is sometimes used to describe unexpected juxtapositions or use of non-sequiturs in art or dialog, particularly where such juxtapositions are presented as self-consistent. It is also used in everyday language to describe experiences that are highly unusual, that breach the conventions of everday life, that are dreamlike, or that manifest the logic of the unconscious. These usages are often independent of any direct connection to Surrealism the movement and are used in both formal and informal contexts. This usage has frequently been criticised, often strongly, by Surrealists.



Surrealist philosophy emerged around 1920, partly as an outgrowth of Dada, with French writer Breton as its initial principal theorist.

In Breton's Surrealist Manifesto of 1924 he defines Surrealism as:

Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, or in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.
Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life."

Breton would later qualify the first of these definitions by saying in the absence of conscious moral or aesthetic self-censorship, and by his admission, however, as well as by the subsequent developments, these definitions were capable of considerable expansion.

Like those involved in Dada, Surrealism adherents thought the horrors of World War I were the culmination of the Industrial Revolution and the result of the rational mind. Consequently, irrational thought, or dream-states were seen as the natural antidote to those social problems.

While Dada rejected categories and labels and was rooted in negative response to the First World War, Surrealism advocates the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination according to the Hegelian Dialectic. Marxist dialectic and other theories, such as Freudian theory, also played a significant role in some of the development of surrealist theory and, as in the work of such theorists as Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse, surrealism contributed to the development of Marxian theory itself.

Surrealists diagnosis of the "problem" of the realism and capitalist civilisation is a restrictive overlay of false rationality, including social and academic convention, on the free functioning of the instinctual urges of the human mind.

Surrealist philosophy connects with the theories of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. Freud asserted that unconscious thoughts (the thoughts one is not aware of) motivate human behavior, and he advocated free association (uncensored expression) and dream analysis to reveal unconscious thoughts.

It is through the practice of automatism, dream interpretation and numerous other surrealist methods, that Surrealists believe the wellspring of imagination and creativity can be accessed.

Surrealism also embraces idiosyncrasy, while rejecting the idea of an underlying madness or darkness of the mind. Salvador Dalí, who is considered to have been quite idiosyncratic, explained it as, "The only difference between myself and a madman is I am not MAD!"

Surrealists look to so-called "primitive art" as an example of expression that is not self-censored.

The radical aim of Surrealism is to revolutionize human experience, including its personal, cultural, social, and political aspects, by freeing people from what is seen as false rationality, and restrictive customs and structures. As Breton proclaimed, the true aim of Surrealism is "long live the social revolution, and it alone!"

To this goal, at at various times Surrealists have aligned with communism and anarchism.

Not all Surrealists subscribe to all facets of the philosophy. Historically many were not interested in political matters, and this lack of interest manifested rifts in the Surrealism movement.

By the turn of the 21st century, Surrealist philosophy varied amongst Surrealist groups around the globe. Some surrealist theorists have stated that surrealism has somehow "gone beyond" or "superseded" philosophy, or that philosophy has been "outclassed" by surrealism.

History of Surrealism

Cover of the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste, December 1924.
Cover of the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste, December 1924.

In 1917, Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term "surrealism" in the program notes describing the ballet Parade which was a collaborative work by Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso and Léonide Massine:

From this new alliance, for until now stage sets and costumes on one side and choreography on the other had only a sham bond between them, there has come about, in 'Parade', a kind of super-realism ('sur-réalisme'), in which I see the starting point of a series of manifestations of this new spirit ('esprit nouveau').'

The Surrealism movement originated in post-World War I European avant-garde literary and art circles, and many early Surrealists were associated with the earlier Dada movement. Movement participants seek to revolutionize life with actions intended to bring about change in accordance with the philosophy of surrealism, though there have been some claims in surrealist theoretical writing that surrealism is not a philosophy. While the movement's most important center was Paris, it spread throughout Europe and to North America, Japan and the Carribean during the course of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, by the 1960s to Africa, South America and much of Asia and by the 1980s to Australia and there have even been some manifestations of surrealism in Russia and China. Some historians mark the end of the movement at World War II, some with the death of André Breton, some with the death of Salvador Dali, while others believe that Surrealism continues as an identifiable movement.

Breton's Surrealist Manifesto of 1924 and the publication of the magazine La Révolution surréaliste (The Surrealist Revolution) marked the beginning of the Surrealism as a public agitation.

Five years earlier, Breton and Philippe Soupault wrote the first "automatic book" (spontaneously written), Les Champs Magnétiques.

By December of 1924, the publication La Révolution surréaliste edited by Pierre Naville and Benjamin Perét and later by Breton, was started. Also, a Bureau of Surrealist Research began in Paris and was at one time, under the direction of Antonin Artaud.

In 1926, Louis Aragon wrote Le Paysan de Paris, following the appearance of many Surrealist books, poems, pamphlets, automatic texts and theoretical works published by the Surrealists, including those by René Crevel.

Many of the popular artists in Paris throughout the 1920s and 1930s were Surrealists, including René Magritte, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, Valentine Hugo, Méret Oppenheim, Man Ray, Toyen and Yves Tanguy. Though Breton adored Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, and courted them to join the movement, they did not join.

The Surrealists developed techniques such as automatic drawing (developed by André Masson), automatic painting, decalcomania, frottage, fumage, grattage and parsemage that became significant parts of Surrealist practice. (Automatism was later adapted to the computer.)

Games such as the exquisite corpse also assumed a great importance in Surrealism.

Although sometimes considered exclusively French, Surrealism was international from the beginning, with both the Belgian and Czech groups developing early; the Czech group continues uninterrupted to this day. Some of what have been described as the most significant Surrealist theorists such as Karel Teige from Czechoslovakia, Shuzo Takiguchi from Japan, Octavio Paz from Mexico, also Aime Cesaire and Rene Menil from Martinique, who both started the Surrealist journal Tropiques in 1940, have hailed from other countries. The most radical of Surrealist methods have also hailed from countries other than France, for example, the technique of cubomania was invented by Romanian Surrealist Gherasim Luca.

Interwar Surrealism: Centrality of Breton

Paul Éluard and André Breton. (Man Ray. Private collection.)
Paul Éluard and André Breton. (Man Ray. Private collection.)

Breton, as the leader of the Surrealist movement, not only published its most thorough explanations of its techniques, aims and ideas, but was the individual who drew in, and expelled, writers, artists and thinkers. Through the interwar period he formed the focus of Surrealist activity in Paris, and his writings were enormously influential in spreading Surrealism as a body of thought, in such works Nadja (1928), the Second Surrealist Manifesto (1930), Communicating Vessels (1932), and Mad Love (1937).

To further the revolutionary aim of Surrealism, in 1927 Breton and others joined the Communist Party. (Breton was ousted in 1933.)

The late 1920s were turbulent for the group as several individuals closely associated with Breton left, and several prominent artists entered.

Surrealism continued to expand in public visibility, in Breton's own estimation the high water mark was the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition.

In 1937, Breton and Leon Trotsky co-authored a Manifesto for an independent revolutionary art[1] on the need for a permanent revolution, and attacked Stalinism and Socialist realism, as the "negation of freedom".

Surrealism also attracted writers from the United Kingdom to Paris including David Gascoyne, who became friends with Paul Éluard and Max Ernst, and translated Breton and Dalí into English. In 1935 he authored A Short Study of Surrealism, and then returned to England during the World War II, where he roomed with Lucian Freud, and continued to write in the Surrealist style for the remainder of his life.

Acéphale was one splinter group that formed (mid-1930s). The group was comprised of some of those disaffected by Breton's increasing rigidity, and structured as a "secret society". Led by Bataille, they published Da Costa Encyclopedia meant to coincide with the 1947 Surrealist exhibition in Paris.

Surrealism during World War II

The rise of Adolf Hitler and the events of 1939 through 1945 in Europe, for a time, overshadowed almost all else. However, after the war, Breton continued to write and espouse the importance of liberating of the human mind. For example in The Tower of Light in (1952).

In 1941, Breton went to the United States, where he founded the short lived magazine VVV, which boasted high production values and a great deal of content, however, its content was increasingly in French, not English. It was American poet Charles Henri Ford and his magazine View which offered Breton a channel for promoting Surrealism in the United States. Ford and Breton had an on again, off again relationship, Breton felt that Ford should work more specifically for Surrealism, and Ford, for his part, resented what he felt to be Breton's attempts to make him "toe the line". Nevertheless, View published an interview between Breton and Nicolas Calas, as well as special issues on Tanguy and Ernst, and in 1945, on Marcel Duchamp.

The special issue on Duchamp was crucial for the public understanding of Surrealism in America, it stressed his connections to Surrealist methods, offered interpretations of his work by Breton, as well as Breton's view that Duchamp represented the bridge between early modern movements such as Futurism and Cubism with Surrealism.

Breton's return to France after the Second World War, began a new phase of surrealist activity in Paris, one which attracted considerable attention. Membership in the Paris Surrealist Group, and interest in it, climbed to above pre-war levels.

Breton's critiques of rationalism and dualism, found a new audience after the Second World War, as his argument that returning to old patterns of behavior would ensure a repeated cycle of conflict seemed increasingly prophetic to French intellectuals while the Cold War mounted. Breton's insistence that Surrealism was not an aesthetic movement, nor a series of techniques and tools, but instead the means to an ongoing revolt against the reduction of humanity to market relationships, religious gestures and misery, meant that his ideas and stances were taken up by many, even those who had never heard of Breton, or read any of his work. The importance of living Surrealism was repeated by Breton and by those writing about him.

The "end" of Surrealism as an organized movement

There is no clear consensus about the end of the Surrealist movement: some historians suggest that the movement was effectively disbanded by WWII, others treat the movement as extending through the 1950s; art historian Sarane Alexandrian (1970) states that "the death of André Breton in 1966 marked the end of Surrealism as an organized movement." However, some who knew Breton, and were part of groups he founded or approved have continued to be active well after his death. For example, Czech Surrealism Group in Prague, though driven underground in 1968, re-emerged in the 1990s; and in 1976 the largest-ever exhibition of international surrealism, the World Surrealist Exhibition, went up in Chicago. Still other groups and artists, not directly connected to Breton, have claimed the Surrealist label. Observations tying the fate of the movement to Breton's life, however, fly in the face of his statement that the movement would continue after him.

In addition, Surrealism, as a prominent critique of rationalism and capitalism, and a theory of integrated aesthetics and ethics had influence on later movements, including many aspects of postmodernism. However, by any definition, postmodernism is the opposite of and enemy to Surrealism, which - at its very core - actively proposes that there are indeed answers to many of the world's struggles with "truth," while postmodernism goes to great lengths to devalue and empty out any idea of a path toward illumination, either individual or collaborative. In essence, postmodernism represents a surrender to nihilism even more profound (and less creative) than Dadaism, while International Surrealism (still a living orgamism with many global tentacles) always presupposes that such passivity in the face of philosophical difficulties is never acceptable.

People involved in the (first) Paris Surrealist Group

Surrealism in the arts

In general usage, the term Surrealism is more often considered a movement in visual arts than the original cultural and philosophical movement. As with some other movements that had both philosophical and artistic dimensions, such as romanticism and minimalism, the relationship between the two usages is complex and a matter of some debate outside the movement. Many Surrealist artists regarded their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, and Breton was explicit in his belief that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement. In addition, many surrealists and surrealist documents have declared that surrealism is not an artistic movement for a number of additional reasons, among which is the conception of the "artistic" manifestations of surrealism as just one form of manifestation among many, various conceptions of visual work being created which somehow "goes beyond" traditional conceptions of art or aesthetics, or even the complete cessation of creative visual production. In addition, the art object/product - while an important part of the Surrealist process - is viewed as merely a "souvenir" of a vastly more critical journey, interesting only insofar as it is revelatory of that adventure.

Surrealism in visual arts

René Magritte's "The Betrayal of Images" (1928-9)
René Magritte's "The Betrayal of Images" (1928-9)

Early visual arts Surrealism

Since so many of the artists involved in Surrealism came from the Dada movement, the demarcation between Surrealist and Dadaist art, as with the demarcation between Surrealism and Dada in general, is a drawn differently by different scholars.

The roots of Surrealism in the visual arts run to both Dada and Cubism, as well as the abstraction of Wassily Kandinsky and Expressionism, as well as Post-Impressionism. However, it was not the particulars of technique which marked the Surrealist movement in the visual arts, but an the creation of objects from the imagination, from automatism, or from a number of Surrealist techniques.

Masson's automatic drawings of 1923, are often used as a convenient point of difference, since these reflect the influence of the idea of the unconscious mind.

Another example is Alberto Giacometti's 1925 Torso, which marked his movement to simplified forms and inspiration from pre-classical sculpture. However, a striking example of the line used to divide Dada and Surrealism among art experts is the pairing of 1925's Von minimax dadamax selbst konstruiertes maschinchen with Le Baiser from 1927 by Max Ernst. The first is generally held to have a distance, and erotic subtext, where as the second presents an erotic act openly and directly. In the second the influence of Miró and Picasso's drawing style is visible with the use of fluid curving and intersecting lines and colour, where as the first takes a directness that would later be influential in movements such as Pop art.

Giorgio de Chirico was one of the important joining figures between the philosophical and visual aspects of Surrealism. Between 1911 and 1917, he adopted a very primary colour palette, and unornamented epictional style whose surface would be adopted by others later. La tour rouge from 1913 shows the stark colour contrasts and illustrative style later adopted by Surrealist painters. His 1914 La Nostalgie du poete has the figure turned away from the viewer, and the juxtaposition of a bust with glasses and a fish as a relief which defies conventional realistic explanation. He was also a writer. His novel Hebdomeros presents a series of dreamscapes, with an unusual use of punctuation, syntax and grammar, designed to create a particular atmosphere and frame around its images. His images, including set designs for the Ballet Russe, would create a decorative form of visual Surrealism, and he would be an influence on the two that would be even more closely associated with Surrealism in the public mind: Dalí and Magritte.

In 1924, Miro and Masson applied Surrealism theory to painting explicitly leading to the La Peinture Surrealiste Exposition at Gallerie Pierre in 1925, which included work by Man Ray, Masson, Klee and Miró among others. It confirmed that Surrealism had a component in the visual arts (though it had been initially debated whether this was possible), techniques from Dada, such as photomontage were used.

Galerie Surréaliste opened on March 26, 1926 with an exhibition by Man Ray.

Breton published Surrealism and Painting in 1928 which summarized the movement to that point, though he continued to update the work until the 1960s.


Dalí and Magritte created the most widely recognized images of the movement. Dalí joined the group in 1929, and participated in the rapid establishment of the visual style between 1930 and 1935.

Surrealism as a visual movement had found a method: to expose psychological truth by stripping ordinary objects of their normal significance, in order to create a compelling image that was beyond ordinary formal organization, in order to evoke empathy from the viewer.

1931 marked a year when several Surrealist painters produced works which marked turning points in their stylistic evolution: Magritte's La Voix des airs is an example of this process, where three large spheres representing bells hanging above a landscape. Another Surrealist landscape from this same year is Tanguy's Palais promontoire, with its molten forms and liquid shapes. Liquid shapes became the trademark of Dalí, particularly in his The Persistence of Memory, which features the image of clocks that sag as if they are made out of cloth.

The characteristics of this style: a combination of the depictive, the abstract, and the psychological, came to stand for the alienation which many people felt in the modern period, combined with the sense of reaching more deeply into the psyche, to be "made whole with ones individuality".

Long after personal, political and professional tensions broke up the Surrealist group, Magritte and Dalí continued to define a visual program in the arts. This program reached beyond painting, to encompass photography as well, as can be seen from this Man Ray self portrait whose use of assemblage influenced Robert Rauschenberg's collage boxes.

During the 1930s Peggy Guggenheim, an important art collector married Max Ernst and began promoting work by other Surrealists such as Yves Tanguy and the British artist John Tunnard. However, by the outbreak of the Second World War, the taste of the avant-garde swung decisively towards Abstract Expressionism with the support of key taste makers, including Guggenheim. However, it should not be easily forgotten that Abstract Expressionism itself grew directly out of the meeting of American (particularly New York) artists with European Surrealists self-exiled during WWII. In particular, Arshile Gorky influenced the development of this American art form, which - as Surrealism did - celebrated the instantaneous human act as the well-spring of creativity. The early work of many Abstract Expressionists reveals a tight bond between the more superficial aspects of both movements, and the emergence (at a later date) of aspects of Dadaistic humor in such artists as Rauschenberg sheds an even starker light upon the connection. Up until the emergence of Pop Art, Surrealism can be seen to have been the single most important influence on the sudden growth in American arts, and even in Pop, some of the humor manifested in Surrealism can be found, often turned to a cultural criticism.

World War II and beyond

As with many artistic movements in Europe, the coming of the Second World War proved disruptive: both because of the rift between Breton and Dalí over Dalí's support for Francisco Franco, and because of a diaspora of the members of the Surrealist movement itself. Dalí said to remain a Surrealist forever was like "painting only eyes and noses", and declared he had embarked on a "classic" period; Max Ernst in 1962 said "I feel more affinity for some German Romantics". Magritte began painting what he called his "solar" or "Renoir" style.

The works continued. Many Surrealist artists continued to explore their vocabularies, including Magritte. Many members of the Surrealist movement continued to correspond and meet. (In 1960, Magritte, Duchamp, Ernst, and Man Ray met in Paris.) While Dalí may have been excommunicated by Breton, he neither abandoned the themes from the 1930s, including references to the "persistence of time" in a later painting, nor did he become a depictive "pompier". His classic period did not represent so sharp a break with the past as some descriptions of his work might portray.

During the 1940s Surrealism's influence was also felt in England and America. Mark Rothko took an interest in bimorphic figures, and in England Henry Moore, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Paul Nash used or experimented with Surrealist techniques. However, Conroy Maddox, one of the first British Surrealists, beginning in 1935, remained within the movement, organizing an exhibition of current Surrealist work in 1978, in response to an exhibition which infuriated him because it did not properly represent Surrealism. The exhibition, titled Surrealism Unlimited was in Paris, and attracted international attention. He held his his last one man show in 2002, just before his death in 2005.

Magritte's work became more realistic in its depiction of actual objects, while maintaining the element of juxtaposition, such as in 1951's Personal Values and 1954's Empire of Light. Magritte continued to produce works which have entered artistic vocabulary, such as Castle in the Pyrenees which refers back to Voix from 1931, in its suspension over a landscape.

Other figures from the Surrealist movement were expelled, Roberto Matta for example, but by their own description "remained close to Surrealism."

Many new artists explicitly took up the Surrealist banner for themselves, some following what they saw as the path of Dalí, others holding to views they derived from Breton. Duchamp continued to produce sculpture and, at his death, was working on an installation with the realistic depiction of a woman viewable only through a peephole. Dorothea Tanning and Louise Bourgeois continued to work, for example with Tanning's Rainy Day Canape from 1970.

The 1960s saw an expansion of Surrealism with the founding of The West Coast Surrealist Group as recognized by Breton's personal assistant Jose Pierre and also Surrealist Movement in the United States.

That Surrealism has remained commercially successful and popularly recognized has lead many people associated with the Breton's Surrealist group to criticise more general uses of the term. They argue that many self-identified Surrealists are not grounded in Breton's work and the techniques of the movement.

Surrealistic art remains enormously popular with museum patrons. In 2001 Tate Modern held an exhibition of Surrealist art that attracted over 170,000 visitors in its run. Having been one of the most important of movements in the Modern period, Surrealism proceeded to inspire a new generation seeking to expand the vocabulary of art.

Surrealism in literature

The first surrealist work, according to Breton, was Les Champs Magnétiques (1921 “Magnetic Fields”), which was actually a collaboration with the French poet and novelist Philippe Soupault. But even before that, in 1919, Breton, Soupault and Aragon had already published the magazine Littérature, which contained automatist works and accounts of dreams. The magazine and the portfolio both showed their disdain for literal meanings given to objects and focused rather on the undertones, the poetic undercurrents present. Not only did they give emphasis to the poetic undercurrents, but also to the connotations and the overtones which “exist in ambiguous relationships to the visual images.”

Because surrealist writers seldom (if not totally) appear to organize their thoughts and the images they present, some people find much of their work difficult to "parse." This notion however is a superficial comprehension, prompted no doubt by Breton's initial emphasis on automatic writing as the main route toward a higher reality. But - as in Breton's case itself - much of what is presented as purely automatic is actually edited and very "thought out." Breton himself later admitted that automatic writing's centrality had been overstated, and other elements were introduced, especially as the growing involvement of visual artists in the movement forced the issue, since "automatic painting" required a rather more strenuous set of approaches. Thus such elements as collage were introduced, arising partly from an ideal of startling juxtapositions as revealed in Pierre Reverdy's poetry. And - as in Magritte's case (where there is no obvious recourse to either automatic techniques or collage) the very notion of convulsive joining became a tool for revelation in and of itself. Surrealism was meant to be always in flux - to be more modern than modern - and so it was natural there should be a rapid shuffling of the philosophy as new challenges arose. Today - in living Surrealist circles - one can find lively debates over such subjects as the role of "the machine" (specifically the computer) in the Surrealist Revolution, and over continuing hierarchal struggles.

Surrealists revived interest in Isidore Ducasse, known by his pseudonym “Le Comte de Lautréamont” and for the line “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”, and Arthur Rimbaud, two late 19th century writers believed to be the precursors of Surrealism.

Examples of surrealist literature are Rene Crevel's, Mr. Knife Miss Fork, Louis Aragon's, Irene's Cunt, Andre Breton's, Sur la route de San Romano, Benjamin Peret's, Death to the Pigs, Antonin Artaud's, Le Pese-Nerfs.

Surrealism in music

Main article: Surrealism (music).

In the 1920s several composers were influenced by Surrealism, or by individuals in the Surrealist movement. Among these were Bohuslav Martin, Andre Souris, and Edgar Varese, who stated that his work Arcana was drawn from a dream sequence. Souris in particular was associated with the movement: he had a long, if sometimes spotty, relationship with Magritte, and worked on Paul Nouge's publication Adieu Marie.

French composer Pierre Boulez wrote a piece called explosante-fixe (1972), inspired by Breton's mad love.

Even though Breton by 1946 responded rather negatively to the subject of music with his essay Silence is Golden, later Surrealists have been interested in, and found parallels to Surrealism in, the improvisation of jazz (as alluded to above), and the blues (Surrealists such as Paul Garon have written articles and full-length books on the subject). Jazz and blues musicians have occasionally reciprocated this interest; for example, the 1976 World Surrealist Exhibition included such performances by Honeyboy Edwards.

Surrealists have also analysed reggae and, later, rap, and some rock bands such as The Psychedelic Furs. In addition to musicians who have been influenced by Surrealism (including some influence in rock — the title of the 1967 psychedelic Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow was obviously inspired by the movement), such as the experimental group Nurse With Wound (whose album title Chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and umbrella is taken from a line in Lautreamont's Maldoror), Surrealist music has included such explorations as those of Hal Rammel. More importantly, the ideas of chance have been used by such modern musical artists as David Bowie and Brian Eno, who - in turn - have sometimes mentioned either Dadaists or Surrealists in their work.

Surrealism in film

Surrealist films include Un chien andalou and L'Âge d'Or by Luis Buñuel and Dalí. Jean Cocteau made history in the film world with what is considered to be his surrealist masterpiece, the Orphic Trilogy. These films included The Blood of a Poet (his directoral debut), Orpheus, and Testament of Orpheus (his last film). There is also a strong surrealist influence present in Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad

Surrealist and film theorist Robert Benayoun has written books on Tex Avery, Woody Allen, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers.

Some have described David Lynch as a Surrealist filmmaker. He has never participated in the Surrealist movement or in any Surrealist activity, but there are arguably some aspects of many of his films that are of Surrealist interest, although - despite his work's superficial resemblance to many of the Surrealist images - his overall vision tends to be socially conservative, which is not an ideal promoted by Surrealism at large. Much the same problem can be seen in the work of David Cronenberg, whose films - seemingly surreal in their visual components - are often conservative in their content, usually admonishing and punishing those who would go in search of "more reality."

The truest aspects of Surrealism in film are often found in passing frames of a larger film; the sudden emergence of the uncanny into the "normal" which may or may not be further explored in the rest of the film. The original group spent hours going from film to film, often not finishing one before seeking another, partly in hopes of catching just such ephemeral moments, and partly with the idea of "stitching together" a film in their own minds out of the disparate parts. Suc an "aesthetic" is actually very commonplace today, with countless television stations and the advent of ther remote control: people will often skip through the channels looking for that one image which transcends the ordinary.

Surreal Films

Surrealism in television

Some have found the television series The Prisoner to be of Surrealist interest.

Impact of Surrealism

While Surrealism is typically associated with the arts, it has been said to transcend them; Surrealism has had an impact in many other fields. In this sense, Surrealism does not specifically refer only to self-identified "Surrealists", or those sanctioned by Breton, rather, it refers to a range of creative acts of revolt and efforts to liberate imagination.

In addition to Surrealist ideas that are grounded in the ideas of Hegel, Marx and Freud, surrealism is seen by its advocates as being inherently dynamic and as dialectic in its thought. Surrealists have also drawn on sources as seemingly diverse as Clark Ashton Smith, Montague Summers, Fantomas, Bugs Bunny, comic strips, the obscure poet Samuel Greenberg and the hobo writer and humourist T-Bone Slim. One might say that Surrealist strands may be found in movements such as Free Jazz (Don Cherry, Sun Ra, etc.) and even in the daily lives of people in confrontation with limiting social conditions. Thought of as the effort of humanity to liberate imagination as an act of insurrection against society, surrealism finds precedents in the alchemists, possibly Dante, Hieronymus Bosch, Marquis de Sade, Charles Fourier, Comte de Lautreamont and Arthur Rimbaud. Surrealists believe that non-Western cultures also provide a continued source of inspiration for Surrealist activity because some may strike up a better balance between instrumental reason and the imagination in flight than Western culture. Surrealism has had an identifiable impact on radical and revolutionary politics, both directly -- as in some surrealists joining or allying themselves with radical political groups, movements and parties -- and indirectly -- through the way in which surrealists' emphasis on the intimate link between freeing the imagination and the mind and liberation from repressive and archaic social structures. This was especially visible in the New Left of the 1960's and 1970's and the French revolt of May 1968, whose slogan "All power to the imagination" arose directly from French surrealist thought and practice.

Some artists, such as H.R. Giger in Europe, who won an Academy Award for his stage set, and who also designed the "creature," in the movie Alien, have been popularly called "Surrealists," though Giger is a visionary artist and he does not claim to be surrealist.

The Society for the Art of Imagination has come in for particularly bitter criticism from a self-labeled surrealist movement (although this criticism has been characterized by at least one anonymous individual as coming from "the Marxists [sic] Surrealist groups, who maintain small contingents worldwide;" he has also pointed out what he considers the hypocrisy of any Surrealist criticism of the Society for the Art of Imagination given that Kathleen Fox designed the cover of issue 4 of the bulletin of the Groupe de Paris du Mouvement Surrealiste and also participated in the 2003 Brave Destiny[2] show at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center. Though some presented Brave Destiny as the largest-ever exhibit of Surrealist artists, the show was officially billed as exhibiting "Surrealism, Surreal/Conceptual, Visionary, Fantastic, Symbolism, Magic Realism, the Vienna School, Neuve Invention, Outsider, Na?ve, the Macabre, Grotesque and Singulier Art.)"

Critiques of Surrealism

Surrealism has been critiqued from several perspectives:

Freud initiated the psychoanalytic critique of surrealism with his remark that what interested him most about the surrealists was not their unconscious but their conscious. His meaning was that the manifestations of and experiments with psychic automatism highlighted by surrealists as the liberation of the unconscious were highly structured by ego activity, similar to the activities of the dream censorship in dreams, and that therefore it was in principle a mistake to regard surrealist poems and other art works as direct manifestations of the unconscious, when they were indeed highly shaped and processed by the ego. In this view, the surrealists may have been producing great works, but they were products of the conscious, not the unconscious mind, and they deceived themselves with regard to what they were doing with the unconscious. In psychoanalysis proper, the unconscious does not just express itself automatically but can only be uncovered through the analysis of resistance and transference in the psychoanalytic process.

Feminists have critiqued the surrealist movement for being, despite the occasional few celebrated woman surrealist painters and poets, fundamentally a male movement and a male fellowship, adopting typical male attitudes toward women, i.e. worshipping them symbolically in stereotypical Romantic but sexist ways as representing higher values and truths, putting them on a pedestal, making them into objects of desire and of mystery, but nevertheless seeing them fundamentally in a characteristically sexist manner and keeping them in a subordinate role in the surrealist movement and in the personal lives of the surrealists themselves.

Marxists have critique the surrealists for being revolutionaries merely in their own minds, while living the lifes of self-indulgent bourgeois intellectuals who were not serious collaborators of actual social and political revolutionary movements and actions, although a number of them did so collaborate as individuals.

Art Critics have pointed out that much surealist art work has not really held its own in the development of modern and post-modern art and not lived up to the pretension of surrealism to be an important stream of modern art.

See also

Techniques, games and humor

Related art movements and genres


André Breton

  • André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism containing the 1st, 2nd and introduction to a possible 3rd Manifesto, and in addition the novel The Soluble Fish and political aspects of the Surrealist movement. ISBN 0472179004.
  • What is Surrealism?: Selected Writings of André Breton. ISBN 0873488229.
  • André Breton, Conversations: The Autobiography of Surrealism (Gallimard 1952) (Paragon House English rev. ed. 1993). ISBN 1569249709.
  • André Breton. The Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism, reprinted in:
    • Marguerite Bonnet, ed. (1988). Oeuvres complètes, 1:328. Paris: Éditions Gallimard.

Other sources

  • Guillaume Appollinaire (1917, 1991). Program note for Parade, printed in Oeuvres en prose complètes, 2:865-866, Pierre Caizergues and Michel Décaudin, eds. Paris: Éditions Gallimard.
  • Gerard Durozoi, History of the Surrealist Movement (translated by Alison Anderson, University of Chicago Press). 2004. ISBN 0226174115.
  • Rosemont, Franklin, Surrealism and Its Popular Accomplices San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books (1980). ISBN 087286121X.
  • Brotchie, Alastair and Gooding, Mel, eds. A Book of Surrealist Games Berkeley, CA: Shambhala (1995). ISBN 1570620849.
  • Moebius, Stephan. Die Zauberlehrlinge. Soziologiegeschichte des Collège de Sociologie. Konstanz: UVK 2006. (About the College of Sociology, its members and sociological impacts).
  • Maurice Nadeau, History of Surrealism (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1989). ISBN 0674403452.
  • Alexandrian, Sarane. Surrealist Art London: Thames & Hudson, 1970.
  • Melly, George Paris and the Surrealists Thames & Hudson. 1991.
  • Lewis, Helena The Politics Of Surrealism 1988
  • Caws, Mary Ann Surrealist Painters and Poets: An Anthology 2001 MIT Press

External links

Academic resources/'Classical' Surrealism:

Current Surrealist Groups & Collectives:

Surrealist Artists:

20th century - Modernity - Existentialism
Modernism (music): 20th century classical music - Atonality - Jazz
Modernist literature - Modernist poetry
Modern art - Symbolism (arts) - Impressionism - Expressionism - Cubism - Surrealism
Modern dance - Expressionist dance
Modern architecture
...Preceded by Romanticism Followed by Post-modernism...

Personal tools