Surrealism, from the French "surréalisme" is an artistic and cultural movement founded in France in 1924 by the poet and theorist André Breton. Surrealism is part of avant-garde, a set of artistic and literary movements of a renovating and disruptive character with an academic discourse of Modernism.
Surrealist theory is heavily influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis. It particularly affects the territory of the subconscious and the world of dreams, devoid of the restrictions of reason.
Origins of surrealism
The origins of surrealism, an avant-garde that emerged in the interwar period, are closely related to Dadaism, another famous avant-garde. In fact, surrealism emerges as a division of Dadaism.
To cite some substantial differences between the two vanguards, we can say that Dadaism has a large nihilist and anarchist component, and is vehemently opposed to bourgeois morality. Dadaism is dedicated to exalting, through art and literature, the "cult of nothingness and the absurd" as a way of claiming the futility of modern and bourgeois cultural discourse.
Rather, surrealism is an independent vanguard of formalism and theoretical formulation. It is not overtly anarchist, but neither is it pro-bourgeois morality, since it is systematically opposed to its values and aesthetics. Surrealism is an avant-garde with a large left-wing ideological component, reaching many communist militants among its followers.
Many of the surrealist artists, such as Jean Arp, Max Ernst or Man Ray, were part of Dadaism, where the fundamental creative process was automatism, that is, the absence of conscious decision when making a work of art.
In the First Surrealist Manifesto, André Breton defines surrealism as a "pure psychic automatism, through which one tries to express the true functioning of thought, without the regulatory intervention of reason, alien to any aesthetic and moral concern".
In both this and other theoretical essays on surrealism, André Breton extols the importance of the subconscious and the validity of Freud's dream interpretation to launch a message that he would later covet internationally: art is truly free when it is not under the yoke of reason. Only through the free association of ideas and dreams can the ultimate goal of art be achieved.
It should be noted that André Breton was in contact with the theory of psychoanalysis when he volunteered in front of the Second World War. For this reason, they claimed that the unconscious was the guarantee of reviving the post-war culture and establishing a new artistic discourse with surrealism.
Furthermore, Breton also acknowledges his debt to the Count de Lautréamont, a nineteenth-century French poet, who wrote in his life what became the motto of surrealism: "Beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing machine and a guard -rain on a dissecting table".
The theory of surrealism would influence art in the following decades, leaving behind a very original figurative language. Maybe that's why it survived to this day.
Reasons for surrealism
The favorite motifs of surrealism always follow a trail of the fantastic, from medieval representations of hell to the mystical painting of Giorgio de Chirico.
The aesthetics of surrealism is based on eccentric and disturbing images, often morbid, reaching unpleasant aesthetic and even eschatological dimensions. As a paradigm of the aforementioned characteristics, we can recall the welcome of the public to the Surrealist Exhibition of 1936, which was received under the hysterical laughter of asylum inmates or the overtly sexual and vulgar themes in Dalí's art.
Previously repressed memories and desires are now unleashed through art, specifically surrealism. The images of surrealism take sinister forms, such as masks, mannequins, masturbations, defecations, hallucinations, that is, it is an apology to the disconcerting. A cult of the shadow power of the human unconscious. And yet, surrealism does not abandon poetic quality and pretension.
Although surrealism has certain internal tendencies, it is easy to highlight some of the main authors of the movement, namely Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, André Masson and Joan Miró, among others.
Max Ernst, along with Italian Giorgio de Chirico and Belgian René Magritte, opted for repressed memories and desires. They painted surreal works where the boundary between fantasy and reality was quite blurred, even touching mysticism, as Chirico did.
René Magritte, on the other hand, painted expressly disturbing works, fusing objects, inverting images and playing with proportions.
Other surrealist artists such as Joan Miró and Yves Tanguy experimented with the technique of psychic automatism to let the subconscious flow, conceiving biomorphic and problematic fantasies.
An end to surrealism is given by Salvador Dalí, who was expelled from within the movement itself for his lack of ideological commitment. Dalí produced what he called "hand-painted dream photographs" juxtaposing various symbols and extravagant visions of dreams like no one else.
The extraordinary works of surrealism can be counted by dozens, but in addition to a work of synthesis, we can cite the following as true icons:
Salvador Dalí's "O Grande Masturbador" (1929), a painting that investigates the Catalan's anxiety about his repressed sexual world. El, as the central figure, appears with his head in profile looking down, while his wife and patron, Gala, emerges from his head.
"Snail, woman, flower and star" (1934), by Joan Miró, currently at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, bets on the fantastic shapes and free lines that give light to living organisms that intertwine with her own autobiographical sketch.
"The Betrayal of Images or This Isn't a Tube" (1928) by René Magritte. Magritte brings an interesting view to surrealism, as he proposes, through a philosophical-aesthetic discourse, the false reality of apparent objects. This is called the betrayal of images, which represent objects of reality, but under no circumstances are these same objects.
Because of her fame and popularity, it would be almost a sin for contemporary audiences not to quote Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist who gave rise to autobiographical images such as "Hospital Henry Ford" (1932) or "No Hope" (1945), where she reveals her own innermost misfortunes and pain. A classic of surrealism.
Finally, the surrealist phase of Pablo Picasso . Although he is not one of its greatest exponents, we must mention his name for being a great painter.
Pablo Picasso, despite being known as a great cubist and denying his adherence to surrealism at all times, was introduced to the surrealism movement between 1928 and 1932.
Picasso has clear elements of this movement, for example, in "The Dream" where the importance of the dream world gives its name to the title of the work or "The Crucifixion" (1930) where he plays with the deformation of images and the introduction of elements monstrous. We even find some reminiscences of surrealism in the well-known "El Guernica" (1937), his masterpiece, since the struggle between the human and the bestial, between reason and the unconscious is, par excellence, a great theme of surrealism.
Surrealism on P55
On P55 we have several works by artists belonging to the surrealism movement. Discover them on the links below: