Surrealist Art: Objects and Meanings

International Surrealism

Surrealism was an international intellectual movement whose aim was to create a new reality which was free from the restrictions of civilised society and bourgeois culture. It developed in Paris during the 1920ís around key figures such as Andre Breton, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico. Surrealism grew out of the demise of the anti-art movement known as Dada. Surrealists were responding to what they felt were fundamental problems with Western culture. They were particularly influenced by the ideas of Freud and Marxism. In his manifesto of 1924, Andre Breton defined Surrealism as:

SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

Artists aimed to free themselves from normal conventions of pictorial representation so that they might create records of imagery and ideas surfacing directly from their unconscious. In order to tap their unconscious minds, artists also relied on many chance elements. Automatism was a key technique many surrealists used. Doodling and dripping paint to suggest forms were manifestations of an automatist approach to drawing and painting. Using words cut from magazines and selected randomly was a surrealist approach to poetry. These aims and activities resulted in bizarre imagery, seemingly nonsensical or hilarious arrangements of objects. Paintings juxtaposed objects in unlikely ways and used a photographic style of painting thus making the nightmarish imagery that much more surreal. Artists developed many new techniques; of which Max Ernstís Frottage, or rubbing, is well known.

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