Surrealism – what was it?

Surrealism - featured image
Surrealism – featured image

Surrealism was one of the most important and subversive movements of the 20th century flourished, especially in the 1920s and 1930s and provided a radical alternative to cubism’s rational and formal qualities. Unlike Dada, from which it emerged in many ways, it emphasised the positive rather than the nihilistic. Surrealism sought access to the subconscious and to translate this flow of thought into art and design.

First, a literary movement

Originally a literary movement, the poet André Breton famously defined it in the First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). Thought dictated in the absence of any control by reason and outside of any aesthetic or moral preoccupation. In the visual manifestation of Surrealism, several distinct strands can be discerned.

Artistic Movement

Artists such as Max Ernst and André Masson favoured automatism in which conscious control is suppressed, and the subconscious is allowed to take over. Conversely, Salvador Dali and René Magritte pursued a hallucinatory sense of super-reality. The scenes depicted had no real meaning. The third variation was the juxtaposition of unrelated objects, creating a startling unreality outside the bounds of normal reality. Common to all Surrealist enterprises was the post-Freudian desire to set free and explore the mind’s imaginative and creative powers.

The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dalí
The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dalí

Spread of Surrealism

Surrealism was originally based in Paris. Its influence spread through several journals and international exhibitions, the most important of which being the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London, and the Fantastic Art Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, both held in 1936.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the centre of Surrealist activity had moved to New York, and the movement had lost its coherence by the end of the war. However, it retains a powerful influence that is clearly evident in abstract expressionism and the various other artistic manifestations of the second half of the 20th century.


Surrealism | Art UK.

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