surrealism background

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Surrealism I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, a surreality, if one may so speak. Andre breton- First Surrealist Manifesto.

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Surrealism“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, a surreality, if one may so speak.” –Andre breton- First Surrealist Manifesto.

What is Surrealism?

• The word surrealism comes from the French word super realism. The Surrealists wanted to create art that included their unconscious thoughts and dreams. Instead of thinking too much about what they are painting, they preferred to set their imaginations free.

Giorgio di Chirico The Child’s Brain1914

Surrealist Manifesto

• The Surrealism movement began in 1924 with Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto.

• “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” –Andre Breton

Historical Context

• The Surrealism movement was influenced by the ideas of Freud.

• It grew out of the Dadaism movement in many respects.

• Many artists were influenced by major events such as World War I and the Great Depression.


• General Characteristics include: • the element of surprise • free association • uncensored thought • dream-like subject matter• spontaneous techniques

– Examples: automatic drawing, frottage, and decalcomania.

However, Surrealism was a very individualistic movement and each artist added their own style and meaning.

Automatic Surrealism

• In the beginning of the Surrealism movement, one technique of Surrealism, Automatic Surrealism, was prominent.

• It was used as a means to illustrate the subconscious. In this art, the hand can move freely and randomly across the canvas.

• Max Ernst coined the term frottage, which is also used in this automatic style of Surrealism.

Automatic Drawing

Andre Automatic Drawing 1924

•Automatic drawing- moving a pencil or brush randomly across the canvas.


Isaac Bingham

Palm Tree Frottage

•Frottage- A pencil rubbing made by putting paper over a textured surface.


Oscar Dominguez


•Decalcomania- pressing textured material or objects into a wet, painted canvas.

Andre Messon Meditation on an Oak Leaf

Andre Masson Battle of the Fishes 1927

Joan Miro, Carnival of Harlequin, 1924

Joan Miro The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) 1923-1924

• Max Ernst After The Rain

Max Ernst Gray Forest 1927

Illustionistic Dream Imagery

The automatism used by Masson and Miro, and Ernst’s “frottage” technique dominated the first year of the Surrealism movement. However, artists like Rene Magritte, Yves Tanguy, and Salvador Dali emerged with a new style in Surrealism. Quite different from previous artists, these artists focused on hallucinatory and fantastic subject matter in meticulously and realistically portrayed images.

Salvador Dali The Persistence of Memory

Salvador Dali Temptation of Anthony

Salvador Dali Sleep 1937

Salvador DaliAutumnal


Rene Magritte The Lovers 1928

Rene Magritte Le Faux Mirior 1928

Rene MagritteThe Son of Man1964

Rene Magritte The Treachery of Images 1929

Yves Tanguy Mama, Papa is Wounded! 1927

Yves TanguyIndefinite Divisibility1942

Yves TanguyExtinction of Useless Lights1927

Feminist Criticisms of SurrealismFeminists claim that the Surrealist movement was fundamentally a male movement despite the occasional few celebrated female Surrealist painters and poets.

They believe that it adopts typical male attitudes towards women. For example, many artists portrayed women in a stereotypical way, following sexist norms.

A pioneer of the feminist critique of surrealism was Xaviere Gauthier. Her book, Surrealisme et Sexualite inspired the importance of scholarship related to marginalization of women in relation to the avant-garde. The criticisms were of women having much more subordinate roles in comparison with the men.