Surrealism is an avant-garde artistic and literary movement founded in 1924 by Andre Breton, which consisted of the expression of the subconscious through literature, painting, sculpture, photography and cinema.
The word surrealism comes from the French surrealisme , a shortening of superrealisme or surrealism. The word was taken from Guillaume Apollinaire, who had used it in 1917 to subtitle a work. It means ‘what is above realism’.
Surrealist literature and art became closely linked to psychoanalysis and the ideas of Sigmund Freud. Therefore, surrealism was characterized by the investigation of the subconscious, the uninhibited expression of thought, the use of psychic automatism as a method, and the collaboration between different artistic disciplines.
Thanks to this, the surrealist movement surpassed the limits imposed on the imagination by rationalism, transformed the concept of “reality” in art and introduced new techniques and creative dynamics.
Surrealism became known on October 15, 1924, when the poet Andre Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto. Some of its members came from Dadaism. This movement was based on the “absurd” and was going through a phase of aesthetic exhaustion. Surrealism took advantage of this exploration of “the absurd” and valued it as a manifestation of the unconscious.
The surrealist movement also represented an upheaval in artistic morality after the First World War, which ended in 1919. Therefore, it was permeable to the political ideas of the historical moment, mainly left-wing doctrines. However, it was affected by the outbreak of World War II, which scattered its members around the world.
Characteristics of surrealism
Salvador Dali: Dali at the age of six, when he thought he was a girl, lifting his skin from the water to see a sleeping dog in the shadow of the sea . 1950. Oil on canvas. Both the image and the title express the idea of the subconscious according to psychoanalysis.
Surrealism reacted against bourgeois rationalism and the traditional artistic canon, making use of psychoanalytic theories. From this purpose, its main characteristics arise.
Pure psychic automatism: it consists of making the images of the subconscious emerge automatically, through resources such as trance states, hypnosis and techniques such as the exquisite corpse game.
Expression of the subconscious: Surrealism approaches the unconscious by exploring the subconscious. For this, he represented absurd, dreamlike and fantastic realities, in which myths, fables, dreams and fantasies were projected.
Spontaneous and uninhibited expression of thought: for the surrealists, freeing thought was the only way to reach the unconscious, which is expressed through dreams, phobias and imagination.
Interdisciplinary character: Surrealism was expressed in literature, painting, sculpture, photography and film. Likewise, it favored collaboration between disciplines and the incursion of artists into areas other than their specialty. For example, poets dabbled in plastic arts and painters dabbled in poetry, photography, and cinema.
Creation of the exquisite corpse: collective technique in which each participant wrote a line or drew a drawing without seeing what the previous one had done. At the same time, it made it possible to stimulate psychic automatism and favor collaboration between artists.
Surrealism in painting
Joan Miro: Catalan Landscape or The Hunter . 1924. On the canvas, Miro has represented a Catalan landscape reduced to its minimum elements, after the induction of delirium due to starvation.
Surrealist art was characterized by offering unusual and highly suggestive images. He exalted the imagination, dreams, irony, eroticism and the absurd.
To achieve “pure psychic automatism”, surrealist painting resorted to techniques such as the exquisite corpse and decalcomania. He also created his own, such as frottage and the paranoid-critical method. All these techniques were intended to obtain random textures or lines that stimulate the subconscious, like when we play to see known shapes in the clouds.
In decalcomania, these images are obtained by folding a piece of paper with fresh ink in the center, which, when opened, reveals an imprint. In frottage , the imprint results from rubbing a piece of paper or canvas with pencils over a rough surface.
The paranoid-critical method, created by Dali, consisted of contemplating real images until awakening phobias, fantasies and obsessions in the imagination.
The artists also took advantage of the Dadaist technique of the ready-made , object trouve or found object. It consisted of taking everyday objects out of their context and intervening in them looking for unexpected associations.
1. Exquisite corpse. 2. Decalcomania. 3. Ready-made . 4. Frottage .
Among the most famous painters of surrealism we can name:
- Rene Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1967). Best Known Paintings: The Son of Man, This Is Not a Pipe, The Lovers .
- Salvador Dali (Spain, 1904-1989): Best-known paintings: The Persistence of Memory, The Temptations of Saint Anthony, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus .
- Joan Miro (Spain, 1893-1983). Best Known Paintings: Harlequin’s Carnival, Catalan Landscape, Dutch Interiors .
- Max Ernst (German, 1891-1976). Best-known paintings: Celebes, The Blessed Virgin punishing the Child Jesus in front of three witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and the Painter .
Andre Breton: Poem-object.
Surrealism was originally a literary movement that sought to free itself from the domain of reason and the realistic canon, reigning in the literature of the time.
Surrealist literature opted for a radical renewal of literary language and provided new composition techniques based on pure psychic automatism, such as the exquisite corpse.
In the literature, psychic automatism implies the association of apparently unconnected words and ideas. By relating them, the subconscious is activated through imagination and the flow of spontaneous thought until it finds meaning, whether conscious or unconscious.
As an example of a surrealist poem, we can cite Give me drowned jewels , by Andre Breton. Let’s notice how the poetic voice walks us through a set of images and ideas, based on apparently incongruous associations.
Give me drowned jewels Two mangers A ponytail and a dressmaker’s mania Then forgive me I don’t have time to breathe I am a destiny The solar construction has held me back until now And now I just have to let myself die Ask for the scale Trotting with a clenched fist over my head that sounds A lantern where a yellow gaze opens Feeling also opens But princesses cling to pure air I need pride And a few common drops To heat the pot of moldy flowers At the foot of the stairs Divine thought in the starry glass of the blue sky The expression of the bathers is the death of the wolf Have me as a friend The friend of the bonfires and the ferrets She looks at you twice Read your sorrows My rosewood oar makes your hair sing…
Likewise, the surrealist poets used visual resources to enhance the expressive capacity of language and challenge the limits between word and image. For example, the poets created object-poems , a composition that combines the written word with intervened objects.
Poets such as the Count of Lautreamont or Arthur Rimbaud are recognized as precursors of surrealism, in whose work some of its characteristic elements are anticipated.
Some of the most prominent surrealist writers were:
- Andre Breton (French, 1896-1966). Poet, theoretician and essayist. Featured Works: Manifesto of Surrealism, Nadja, Anthology of Black Humor, and The Magical Art .
- Louis Aragon (French, 1897-1982). Poet and novelist. Outstanding works: Le Paysan de Paris; Treaty of style; Aurelyen.
- Philippe Souplault (French, 1897-1990). Writer and politician. Featured Works: Last Nights in Paris; The automatic message.
- Paul Eluard (France, 1895-1952). Poet. Outstanding works: Dying of not dying; Freedom or love; The capital of pain; Abbreviated dictionary of surrealism.
- Benjamin Peret (French, 1899-1959). Poet. Outstanding works: Death to the Bastards and the Fields of Honor; The big game; The dishonor of the poets.