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What is Surrealism?
Surrealism's Roots
Prominent Writers and Moviemakers
The Prominent Artists
Recognizing Surrealism
The End of Surrealism

What is Surrealism?

Surrealism is an art movement that lasted from 1919 to 1939. The Surrealists thought that their art would directly speak to a large audience and would override cultural and aesthetic prejudice. Basically, surrealism was the irrational combination of objects with the "determination to make the most familiar objects scream aloud". Much of surrealism was based on Freudian concepts and abnormal physical and psychological states like claustrophobia, anxiety, and panic. Most Surrealists were interested in man made objects and often contemplated their metaphysical reality versus their actual appearance. One method that was commonly used was "trompe-l'oeil" which literally means "to fool the eye". However, drugs and hypnosis were often used to release the stream of consciousness which interferred with Surrealist painting. Many Surrealists were obsessed with the erotic and death (The Secret Player and Titanic Days both by Magritte are good examples). Also, chance, automatism, black humor, displacement, ambiguity, and fear played prominant roles in Surrealist art. Sometimes these features were portrayed by "benevolent forces" like ghosts.

Surrealism's Roots

The Surrealist movement came about after Dadaism began to subside. Pre-war Surrealism began, but was soon rejected by many Surrealists who decided to begin a new Surrealism. Belgium and France both had important Surrealists. In Belgium, there was Mosens, Magritte, and the poet Paul Nouge. In France, Surrealists like Dali, Miro, Delvaux, and Masson met to discuss Surrealism. The major spokesperson for the group was Andre Breton, who ran the magazine "Litterature". He created the "Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924 which included all of the major ideas of Surrealism.

Prominent Writers and Moviemakers

However, Surrealism was not limited to art alone. Many writers and moviemakers took part in the movement. Paul Nouge, one of the Belgian Surrealists, was actually a poet. Other writers include Andre Gide, Paul Valery, T.S. Eliot, Rilke, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Arthur Rimbaud. They mainly expressed the "paradox of all form and the absurdity of all human existence". Two other noted Surrealist writers were Kafka and Joyce. However, besides the normal prose that was written, a whole new writing style came about. This style was known as automatic writing. Originally created by Andre Breton and Louis Aragon, it involves writing anything that comes to mind. You simply let your hand write in a flowing connected cursive. Breton wrote one of the first automatic writing works, "The Magnetic Fields". As for film makers, many of the painters themselves created films. Salvador Dali created Un Chien Andalou in 1928. Another Surrealist film was actually made quite recently, but I cannot remember its name or its maker.

The Prominent Artists

The Surrealist movement predominantly involved art. It mainly stemmed from the artists. The most prominent Surrealists include Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Rene Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali, Pierre Roy, Paul Delvaux, Man Ray, and Joan Miro. These artists primarily followed Andre Breton's "Surrealist Manifesto", but, as we will see later, Breton turned right around and rejected important Surrealists like Dali and Magritte from the group in the 1940's.

Rene Magritte

Magritte was unlike any of the other Surrealists, although I could say that for all of them. Magritte painted real objects in "an objective representation of objects". His paintings did not contain symbols of the unconscious. Instead, his paintings reflected a poetic sense of Surrealism. However, Magritte portrayed the obsessions with death and eroticism just like the other Surrealists. Magritte was primarily inspired by de Chirico, especially The Song of Love. He was also inspired by Bosch and Bruegul, two 1500's painters. Bruegul's The Bee Keepers definitely exhibits the kind of metamorphic figures that Magritte became so fascinated with. He was particularily interested in "living" statues, biomorphism, and the usage of the most ordinary objects, like his tuba, to portray the chaos and displacement that surrrounded Surrealism. Finally, despite all of the work Magritte had put into the Surrealist movement, he was rejected from Breton's elite group.

Salvador Dali

Dali began his life as a Surrealist in 1929. He systemized confusion and used the irrational to add mysticism. Dali became interested in Surrealism in 1928 when he went to Paris with Miro to meet the Surrealists. He too used real objects, but Dali studied Freud's psychoanalysis in order to release himself from the stream of consciousness. He then proceeded to develop the paranoiac-critical method of painting. He defines the method as "a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on critical and systematic objectivity of the assertion and interpretation of the delirious phenomena". A good example of this method would be The Endless Enigma. Dali had unity in his objects, but not in his backgrounds. If you look in the background, there are usually large spaces and gaps that are void. Despite Dali's advances in Surrealism, he was rejected from the group by Breton in 1934.

Jean Arp

Jean Arp joined the Surrealists in 1926. He later joined Cercle et Carre (Circle and Square) and the Abstraction - creation group, both of which had Surrealist aspects to them. In 1930 Arp invented a new form of collage. This version involved torn pieces of colored paper which he dropped onto a sheet of paper. He then arranged them according to where they dropped on the paper. These became know as "organic concretions". He later showed this organicism through wooden sculpture.

Yves Tanguy

Tanguy'a first Surrealist paintings were inspired by Giorgio de Chirico and the writer Jacques Prevert. He joined Breton's group in 1925, shortly before Jean Arp joined. Tanguy was most recognized for his airless landscapes which allowed his biomorphic objects to "hover."

Man Ray

Man Ray was one of the few photographers who took part in the Surrealist movement. He created the rayograph which was a form of developing his photographs. The rayograph was created by placing objects on a light sensitive piece of paper and then subjecting the paper to light. However, Man Ray did more than just photographs. He made several films including The Star of the Sea (L'Etoile de mer) and the Anemic Cinema.

Andre Masson

Masson became a member of the Surrealist group in 1924. His painting were very philosophical. He also utilized automatic writing in his work.

Max Ernst

Max Ernst was one of the founders of Surrealism. He met Breton in 1922 and began to work on "Litterature". His work involved "frottage" which is basically the rubbing of different objects against the paint in order to produce new textures. His work was often hallucinatory, bizarre, full of spontaneous thoughts, disturbing, and erotic.

Click here to see one of Ernst's paintings.

Joan Miro

Miro's work turned Surrealist in the early '20's. However, it was not until 1924 that he became a full fledged member of the group. Miro was known for his collages and often humorous fantasized paintings.

Recognizing Surrealism

Surrealism is fairly easy to identify. You can always check the dates -- the painting might be Surrealist if it was made between 1919 and 1939. Also, if the artist is one of the ones I have mentioned during the Surrealist time period, then it will most likely be of Surrealist style. However, what if you were just looking at a painting with no name or date, how would you recognize the Surrealist qualities? Surrealist paintings were never painted in sharp colors, so they had sort of a soft look to them. This was obviously to make them look "surreal." If the painting is a landscape, then often times there will be objects at the front and vast spaces behind the objects. Sometimes the objects look liquidy, like Dali's The Persistence of Memories . However, as you get to know each one of the artists, it will become very easy to say, "Oh, that one is a Surrealist painting by _______!" Believe me, if you look at as many Surrealist paintings as I have, you can tell right off the bat.

The End of Surrealism

Sadly to say, Surrealism ended in 1939. It led the way to nongeometrical abstract art (a definite mouthful). Andre Breton really began kicking artists out of his elite group in the late 1930's and early 1940's. As I have said before, Dali and Magritte were both kicked out. Soon afterwards, Breton rejected postwar Surrealism and headed on to new and more glorious things (yeah, right). Don't fret, though, because there are so many Surrealist pieces of art that I could spend several lifetimes telling you all about them. I barely did justice to the Surrealist writers. However, I do not spend my entire life devoted to my webpages. I am not a webpage slave yet. Thanks for looking over my information, and I hope this has been helpful and informative.

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