Table of Contents
Surrealism is a movement that redefined art in the 1920s and it brought together numerous elements of Dada movement from which it sprang. Though it was initial rejected, its unusual concepts and radically distinctive techniques became the stepping stone for a new art form. This paper is a discussion on the topic surrealism in art history and it is organized as follows: discussion on the concept of surrealist movement and why it is considered as one of the great art movement; the impact which surrealism made on future art pieces; establishing if the surrealist movement necessary for the art movement to thrive and prosper; discussion on the following pieces of art – The Human Condition, The Lovers II, The Son of Man, and The Treachery of Images – and establishing the statement which the artist was trying to make; discussing some works of Dali and other surrealist artist; and the conclusion.
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The concepts of surrealism and why it is viewed as one of the great art movement
Surrealism refers to the artistic and literary movement which sprang up in France during the 1920s. It is a development that was born out of Dadaism by a French poet, writer and anti-fascist, Andre Breton, with the aim of creating reality from dreams. This is based on the belief that man has a long established tendency of dreaming which results in everyday dissatisfaction with the future. The discontent emerges from the difficulty which man experiences in evaluating the objects of his dream as it is seemingly far from reality (Breton 03). It is therefore imperative for the unconscious state of mind to be used as the channel for unraveling the power of imagination and this is what the proposition of the surrealists all about.
Originally born in poetry before it spread to painting and sculpture, surrealism is defined as a supernatural involuntary performance of actions in an unconscious state. This allows for the expression – which could be verbally, either by written means or in any other way – of how the actual thoughts function. The surrealist movement is greatly influenced by psychoanalysis and so it disregards rationalism and literary realism. Accordingly, the surrealists hold the opinion that the power of imagination has subdued the rational mind, weighting it down and leaving the unconscious mind untapped (Breton 04).
Moreover, the proponents of surrealism seek for the liberation of thoughts and language so that the human experience can be free from the oppressive siege of rationalism. Breton states that the slightest of the term ‘freedom’ is what will bring him excitement (Breton 05). In essence, the movement proposes to artists to overlook reason and rationality while trying to gain access into the unconscious mind. This is because by putting into practice their images of fantasy and dreams, artists are able to formulate creative works in various media (Breton 05). The generated creative works are a reflection of the inner thoughts in unique and symbolic ways to uncover anxieties and subject them to analytical treatment by visual means.
Therefore, the concepts of surrealist movement are automatism, creativity and psychoanalysis.
Automatism – this is the technique through which the creative works in the unconscious mind are expressed i.e. it enhances the release of ideas that are trapped in the unconscious mind. Through automatism, artists bypass the conscious thought to allow for the flow of ideas while working on their artworks. Surrealism is dependent on the imaginations or fantasy and imagery dreams to express an idea, either verbally or in any other way.
Creativity – as indicated from above, surrealism overlooks reasoning and rationalism when accessing the unconscious mind so as to create an art out of what lies in the unconscious thought. This calls for high level of creativity to come up with a reality out of a dream.
Psychoanalysis – according to the surrealists, the rational mind is suppressed by the strong imagination power thereby weighting it down leaving the unconscious mind untapped. It is worth noting that psychoanalysis is an ideology brought about by Freud as a strategy of traveling though the unconscious mind and dream imagery so as to extract the human longing and disintegrate the taboos which border the human sexuality (Breton 04). This concept therefore, enables the elements in the unconscious mind to be freed and interpreted into reality.
Moreover, surrealism was a revolutionary model hence was considered as one of the great art movement. This is because it majored on the liberation of thoughts and language to set the human experience free from the oppressive powers of rationalism. And this was in line with the aim of Breton which was to alter the thinking pattern of individuals and release them from the rational order that had been imposed on them. Thus it is worth noting the movement was viewed as a great movement due to the fact that it overtook the dominance of logic and reasoning which had not been of any help to the humanity. As a result, it eased the release of the untapped ideologies in the unconscious mind.
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The impact of surrealism on the future pieces of art
The major impact which surrealism made on the future art pieces is shaping the pattern of visualization of art works. They mostly feature surprising elements coupled with haphazard objects and unforeseeable juxtapositions. The visualization of surrealist objects is also what forms the basis of the modern graphic and web design (Taminiaux). And it is believed that the present day movement in culture and art is embedded on the initial surrealism of 1924. This is due to the fact that it entails all manner of forms ranging from sculpture, literature, art, film, music and even philosophy.
The development of surrealism made great impacts on subsequent art pieces thus it is worth to agree that it was necessary for the art movement to thrive and prosper as it has. This is because it gave a leeway for a new style of art that had never been witnessed in the world before. Instead of relying on knowledge and logics, surrealism made it possible to use odd techniques in painting and interpreting images that are extracted from the unconscious mind and the world of fantasy (Matthew). This aligns with the fact that any surrealist artwork symbolizes the picture hidden in the untapped unconscious mind and when it becomes, it is easier to interpret.
Some of the pieces of art in the surrealist movement
The pieces of art that have been chosen for the analysis are; the human condition, the lovers II, the son of man and the treachery of images.
The Human Condition
This is a display of easel positioned within a room and before a window. The easel clutches a painting with no frame, depicting a landscape which is seemingly contiguous with the scenery beyond the window. One may first presume the painting to be a depiction of the outside scenery but is hidden from the window. But a closer look reveals, one comes to the realization that the initial assumption is false as the imagery in the painting is real and that the painting on the easel actually represents that reality and that there is no particular distinction between the two (Magritte). Thus it can be deduced from the artist depiction that he is communicating a message that there is no difference between reality and its representation in a painting.
The Lovers II
This is an oil fabric showing two people in deep embrace of each other as is evidenced from their kissing through the veils. They are in a room with a back and side wall as well as ceiling and all have different colors and decorations. Also, they are clad in distinct attires and colors, with the man seeming to be the dominant figure and the woman moves at the guidance of the man. The features that gain prominence from this painting is the room and the two lovers and it is eye-catching at how the room is made to arouse the feeling of love with man taking the lead in the entire process. What the artist is making out in this painting is that artworks should be provocative, inspirational and draw some controversies to attract the attention of man (Magritte).
The Son of Man
This portrait shows a man putting on a coat and bowler hat as he stands before a small wall, some distance far from a sea and cloudy sky. There is a green apple covering the face of the man but his eyes are visibly peeking over the apple edge. Also, his left hand is bending at the elbow behind him. From the picture, the artist reveals that whatever is visible is actually hiding something and there is a great desire to know that which cannot be seen. The desire can involve heightened feeling and some kind of conflict to know more past the visible (Magritte). Out of this painting, the artist is trying to show that there was more than just meet the eye in the events leading to the two world wars. Also, the implication here is that the hidden truth calls for an in-depth enquiry so as to learn more and establish the exact truth.
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The Treachery of Images
This depicts a painted picture of a pipe with some French inscription below it which is sending the message that the painting is not a pipe but rather an image of a pipe. As per the surrealism masterpiece, there emerges a three-way enigma that objects match up with the words and images (Magritte). The Treachery of Images is part of a sequential word-image painting portraying the early works of Magritte. Out of this painting, the artist seems to communicate that any drawing, picture, image or any other artwork should be accompanied with some words as a way giving more descriptions to what is depicted.
Some of the works by Dali and other surrealist artists who made great impacts in surrealism
Surrealism was born out of the desire of artists and intellectuals to break free from the harsh reality that came after the First World War. The artists wanted to reform their world view and so they applied the Freudian influence of gaining access to the unconscious part of the brain (psychoanalysis) to develop a real picture of it. The desire led to the formation of the surrealist group in 1924, comprising of Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Andre Masson. Together with Andre Breton, the group had interest in dreams, trances and hallucinations (use of the unconscious mind or symbolic language) to produce real art objects with no dependence on education or intelligence (Matthew). Some of the works by Dali and other surrealist artists with great impacts in surrealism are majorly evidenced in paintings, photography and objects and sculptures (Bohn).
These paintings were made using two styles so as to ensure there are distinctions between the art pieces. For instance artists like Dalí, Tanguy, and Magritte preferred the hyper-realistic style of painting (Bohn). This is where depiction of objects was in crisp detail with an impression of three-dimensionality as a way of emphasizing the nature and quality of dream. Then there were two color choices to convey the state of the dreams portrayed in the artworks and these were either saturated (in the perspective of Dali) or monochromatic (in the view of Tanguy) (Durozoi 42).
Also, through automatism and automatic, artists have gained knowledge from the unconscious mind for the creation of artworks for example the works of Miro and Ernst. The two developed unbelievable and unusual imagery such as doodling, collage, decalcomania, frottage, and grattage. Automatism is also evidenced in the works of Arp i.e. the collages created as stand-alone works. Moreover, Miro incorporated hyper-realism and automatism methods in a single work; however the outcome was often bizarre i.e. baffling and disturbing (Durozoi 67).
Surrealist Objects and Sculptures
It should be noted that surreal emerged as a result of the feeling of Breton that the object had been trapped in a crisis state for long yet there was a way of breaking it to reveal the hidden strangeness. And there was no intention of appalling the middle class (a la Dada) with the surreal objects but rather to uncover the objects through what was referred to as depayesment or estrangement. The objective was to expose the object (defamilarizing) to make it known minus its contextual cultural mask (Bohn). It was also believed that the incompatible mixture unraveled the distressing sexual and psychological forces that were under the cover of the surface of reality.
However, there are few known surrealists in the three-dimensional work for instance, Arp initially started as part of the Dada movement and is remembered for the biomorphic objects he made. The pieces of Oppenheim were outlandish grouping which extracted well-known objects out of their daily settings. Giacometti on his part came up with a lot of old-style sculptural forms which mostly took the hybrid figures of human-insect. Though not very popular for his three-dimensional works, Dali came up with fascinating installations, more so Rainy Taxi (1938). This was an automobile with dummies and sequential pipes forming ‘rain’ in the interior of the car (Bohn).
Photography played the central role in surrealism since it made it easier for the artists to create mysterious images. Man Ray and Maurice Tabard for example, applied the medium to look into automatic writing with the help of strategies like double exposure, mixture of printing, montage, and solarization, which completely disdained the camera (Bohn). But for other photographers, rotation or distortion was the preferred method of producing peculiar images. In addition, the surrealist cherished the simple photographs taken from its mundane setting and viewed via the Surrealist sensibility lens.
La Révolution surréaliste and Minotaure are surrealist journals containing the publications of movie stills, vernacular snapshots, and police and documentary photographs but they are argued to be unrelated to the initial purpose. A case in point is the enthusiasm of the Surrealist concerning the Parisian photographs of Atget. Having been prompted by Man Ray to publish in the 1926 La Révolution surréaliste, the imagery of Atget portraying a fast waning Paris was interpreted as thoughtless visions (Taminiaux). But the images of blank highways and shop windows depicted the visualization of the Surrealist concerning Paris as a future capital.
This paper has discussed surrealism in art history and surrealism is determined to be the artistic and literary movement which sprang up in France during the 1920s. The movement is considered as one that was revolutionary in the art world and such has greatly impacted on the subsequent art pieces. Moreover, the discussion reveals that surrealist movement does not depend on rationalism nor on reasoning but rather it relies on the unconscious part of the brain so as to bring the concealed picture into reality. Despite the challenge of being disregard on the grounds that art cannot succeed in the absence of rational and logical reasoning, the movement has a good proposition of tapping into the unconscious mind which in most cases lie idle.
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- Bohn, Willard. “From surrealism to surrealism: Apollinaire and Breton.” JSTOR, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 197 – 210.
- Breton, Andre. Manifestoes of surrealism. New York: University of Michigan Press, 1924. Print.
- Durozoi, Gerard. History of the Surrealist movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.
- Magritte, Rene. Biography, paintings, and quotes. 2009, http://www.renemagritte.org/. Accessed 28 April 2017.
- Matthew, J.H.. “Fifty years later: the manifesto of surrealism.” JSTOR, vol.21, no. 1, pp. 1 – 9.
- Taminiaux, Pierre. “Breton and Trotsky: the revolutionary memory of surrealism.” JSTOR, no. 19, pp. 52 – 56.