Surrealism was one of the most influential and disruptive trends of the twentieth century, flourishing especially in the 1920s and 1930s and offering a radical contrast to Cubism’s rational and formal features. It emphasised the positive rather than the nihilistic, unlike Dada, from which it derived in many aspects. Surrealism aimed to gain access to the subconscious mind and convert this stream of thought into art.
First Manifesto of Surrealism
Originally a literary movement, the poet André Breton notably described it in the First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924): ‘SURREALISM, noun, masc. Pure psychic automatism in which the true function of the mind is intended to be expressed orally or in writing. Thought is dictated in the absence of all rational control and independent of all aesthetic or moral concerns.
Surrealism’s visual manifestation can be divided into several separate strands. Automatism was favoured by artists such as Max Ernst and André Masson, in which conscious control is inhibited, and the subconscious is permitted to take charge. On the other hand, Salvador Dali and René Magritte aimed for a hallucinogenic sense of super-reality in which the scenes presented make no sense. The juxtaposition of unconnected elements constituted the third type, creating a striking unreality outside the confines of conventional reality. A post-Freudian yearning to set free and explore the imaginative and creative capacities of the mind ran through all Surrealistic endeavours.
Paris was the birthplace of surrealism. The International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in London and the Fantastic Art Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, staged in 1936, disseminated its influence through several publications and international exhibitions.
Surrealist activity shifted to New York with the onset of World War II. By the end of the conflict, the movement had lost its cohesiveness. It has, nonetheless, remained a powerful influence, as seen by aspects of Abstract Expressionism and other artistic forms from the second half of the twentieth century.
Clarke, M. (2010). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms. United Kingdom: OUP Oxford.