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Art Movement in Focus: Surrealism – An Introduction

Welcome to Art Movement in Focus! In this section, we explore significant art movements in history through a series of articles dedicated to each movement. Here’s looking at Surrealism.

Surrealism – An Introduction

Surrealism was a movement that developed between World War I and World War II in Europe, growing out of the Dadaist movement. The Dadaists were primarily interested in anti-art, a movement away from what was understood as art; they attempted to break away from what was traditionally understood as art.  The term ‘Surrealism’ was coined by French writer and critic, Guillaume Apollinaire in a play that was performed in 1917. The term suggested ‘beyond reality’

However, the movement owes its popularity to André Breton, who defined Surrealism in his Surrealist Manifesto (1924) as “pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, 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.”

According to him, the gap between the worlds of realist and unreality could be minimised, and there could be a fusing of the conscious and the subconscious. The advancement of psychiatric studies and practices further fuelled the movement. For artists and poets, this tapping into the realms, that lie dormant was a huge source of inspiration. Breton’s contribution to the movement was pivotal. As a concept it was eclectic. The movement spilled over from art into literature.

Conceptually, one of the unwritten objectives of the art form was to assert the value of the unconscious and dream, it was positive. The beauty and the lyricism of the strange and the uncanny were celebrated. It was meant to express deeply embedded angst and tensions. Eventually, Surrealism exerted a tremendous amount of impact on cultural life.

Even though it remains a relevant force today, the movement did slow down with the death of Andre Breton in 1966.

OUR TOP 6 Surrealists:

The Surrealist movement grew from the Dadaist movement and it can be understood that it was developing over a period before it came to its recognisable form. Our top 6 surreal artists are –

  1. André Breton
  2. Joan Miró
  3. René Magritte
  4. Max Ernst
  5. Yves Tanguy
  6. Salvador Dali

6 Works that Define Surrealism

It is important to note that there is a difference between the words ‘surreal’  and ‘surrealist’.  Surreal -implies ‘strange’ or ‘dreamlike’, while ‘surrealist’ stands to describe the connection with philosophy and the manifestations of the surrealist movement.

André Breton
Poeme Object
1935

Poeme Object 1935, Andre Breton (1896-1966)
Image courtesy : https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/28925/po%C3%A8me-objet-poem-object

Joan Miró
The Tilled Field
1924

The Tilled Field, Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Image courtesy: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/2934

René Magritte
This is not a Pipe
1929

This is not a Pipe 1929, Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
Image courtesy: https://www.masterworksfineart.com/artists/rene-magritte/lithograph/this-is-not-a-pipe/id/W-5560

Max Ernst
Celebes
1921

Celebes 1921, Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Image courtesy: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/ernst-celebes-t0198

Yves Tanguy
Reply To Red
1943

Reply to Red 1943, Yves Tanguy (1900-1955)
Image courtesy: https://collections.artsmia.org/art/1514/reply-to-red-yves-tanguy

Salvador Dali
Metamorphosis of Narcissus Frito
1937

Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937, Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989)
Image courtesy: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dali-metamorphosis-of-narcissus-t0234

For more such quick introductions and lists regarding Art History, visit Art Movement in Focus.

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