Ingres, Bather of
Valpincon, 1808
Man Ray, Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’ violin), silver nitrate print with drawing in indian ink,
1924, 31 x 24cm
Surrealism started as a literary movement, founded by the poet Andre
Breton in 1924 in Paris. Many artists from the Dada movement went
on to become Surrealists. Surrealism is not united by a common style,
but rather describes a certain philosophy which the group agreed to,
more or less. Some artists (e.g Picasso) exhibited with the Surrealists
on occasion, but never officially joined the group. Others were
identified by the Surrealist group as ‘Surrealist’ even though they had
had nothing to do with the group as such… the Surrealists ‘adopted’
them because they found their work inspirational.
The disquieting muses, oil on canvas 107 x 76cm, originally 1914,
self forgery 1947 >>>
Giorgio de Chirico, (Italian 1888-1978) The Red Tower, oil on canvas, 73 x 100cm, 1913.
Sigmund Freud (Austrian, 1856-1939) & psychoanalysis
Breton had studied psychiatry himself, and had dealt with traumatised soldiers during
WW1. They were effectively insane. However they created amazing artworks.
His First Surrealism Manifesto (1924) defined Surrealism as “…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. Dictation of
thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any
aesthetic or moral concern.” (Breton, 1924.)
Neurologist Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking ideas about the unconscious arrived
at the turn of the 20th century. He taught
that dreams held the key to our unconscious
desires and feelings, which normally we
‘repress’ and are unaware of, as we find them
unacceptable. Dreams are some kind of
gateway to our deepest and truest selves.
Freud believed sex was the driving force
behind much of our lives, even if we are
totally unaware of it.
Rene Magritte, (Belgian,1898-1967) The
False Mirror, oil on canvas, 1928, 54 x
Art that looked inward instead of outward to the world of
everyday life was part of the Romantic tradition – ( a while
ago we talked about Symbolism in this tradition.) Other
movements involved in an emphasis on the subjective, the
emotional and the spiritual include Expressionism (1900-1920
or so, especially in Germany.)
Max Beckmann, The Night, 1919
Oscar Kokoschka, Pieta, poster for a play, 1909
Victor Brauner, (Romania, 1903-1966) Loup-table
(Wolf-table), table and fox parts, 1939-47
Surrealism followed in this Romantic tradition. Unlike Dada, which
said: ‘the world’s gone mad and we’re going to reflect that’, the
Surrealists said: ‘the supposedly rational, reasonable world is mad
because it’s lost touch with its unconscious self. This self holds a
hidden reality which seems mad, but is actually more real.’ They
were interested in connecting with this apparently mad but actually
more real place. They used various techniques to access this inner
Techniques to harness the ‘inner reality’…
Automatism is a technique we saw in Dada, and it was used extensively in
Surrealism. The idea is that our conscious, rational, thinking self – which
censors what we think and say - is put on hold, and words are written or
spoken, or lines drawn or painted, without allowing yourself to stop to think.
A trance-like or hypnotic state may be involved. (Editing of some sort may be
done later.)This is a very different approach from say, Impressionism which
was a more scientific observation of light and life; or Cubism, which again
referenced the real world in a studied and careful manner. The aim was to get
in touch with the unconscious which was a rich source of creativity and
Automatic drawing: Andre Masson, (French, 1896-1987),
Battle of the fishes, chalk, charcoal, crayon and oil on
paper, 1927, 48 x 60cm
Games of chance (as in Dada) were also used extensively,
e.g. Exquisite Corpse. Surrealists cultivated the
‘unexpected encounter’, which would shock the viewer –
not in a moral sense necessarily, but in the sense of not
expecting the association of, or treatment of, certain
objects. This ‘disordering’of the senses may lead to new
ways of thinking and being.
Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara, & Greta
Landscape: exquisite corpse, c. 1933,
coloured pencil on paper, 24 x 31cm
Art making techniques
Frottage: drawing on a support ( a canvas
or piece of paper), which is itself laying over
a textured surface. Rubbing or drawing over
the support brings the contours of the
underneath surface through onto the canvas
or paper.
The idea behind this technique is that the
artist cannot rationally control the outcome.
There is a transformation; an entry into new
Max Ernst, Conjugal diamonds, frottage, 1926, 49cm x 32cm
The Cubists used collage to smash the ‘window on the world’ illusion and
draw attention to the surface of an artwork. They used text in a new way,
using it as a formal element, as well as a visual joke. The Dadaists used
collage to make political statements as well as nonsensical ones. Surrealism
was interested in challenging the rational, usual way of looking at things;
using accidental arrangements of objects, or images that may have been
dreamt or perhaps come up through automatism; or deliberately odd
Max Ernst, A Week of Kindness... or
The Seven Capital Elements, collage
novel, 1922.
Found objects…
This assemblage of objects was a new genre
of artmaking: called ‘the Surrealist
Object”,not quite sculpture, but a gathering
or 3D collage of ‘unreconcilable’ objects
(Leslie, 1997,p. 80.) They were not put together
for aesthetic, or formal values but for some
other, less tangible value…something
symbolic perhaps. These objects that were
brought together already existed in the world,
and this was significant. It was a different
approach from the traditional idea of artist
as the creator of images through
‘manipulation of materials’ (Leslie, p. 82.)
Joan Miro, (Spanish 1893-1983), Object, assemblage,
81 x 30 x 26, 1936
Man Ray, Rayograph,(photogram) 1922, 23x 17cm
Man Ray,
Rayograph,(photogram) 1923-8,
19 x 15cm
Another art-making technique which deliberately forgoes total control of the
outcome. Unlike a normal photo, a photogram (which Ray called ‘Rayographs’) is
unique. Objects are placed onto photographic (that is, light sensitive) paper. Light is
more or less blocked to the paper, depending upon the density and thickness of the
object and where the light is coming from. There are therefore unknown quantities
involved, as well as deliberate juxtaposing of odd or mysterious objects on the
Art the Surrealists liked…
• Art of the insane;
• Children’s art;
• ‘Primitive’ art,
especially that of
Oceania (Pacific islands)
(but in a different way
from Picasso…)
Why would the Surrealists be
Likely to be attracted to art
created by these groups?
New Guinea war hook, mid 20th
Century, wood and pigments,
66 x 32 x 9cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art Timeline Essay:
Guggenheim Museum online: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collectiononline/show-full/piece/?search=Surrealism&page=1&f=Movement&cr=7
Centre Pompidou: http://www.centrepompidou.fr/education/ressources/ens-surrealistarten/ens-surrealistart-en.htm#origins
Miami Cade College:
First Surrealist Manifesto, by Andre Breton 1924: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Surrealist_Manifesto
Automatism: http://www.moma.org/collection/theme.php?theme_id=10947
Examining the exam…
Q: The artworks in plates 4 and 5 were exhibited together at an exhibition called
Encounters: New art from old at the National Gallery, London in 2000.
Using the subjective frame, compare Cy Twombly’s series of three paintings
with Turner’s work.
Plate 4: Cy Twombly, (b. 1928, USA.) Three studies from the Temeraire, 1998–1999.
Three panels, oil on canvas, Left panel, 253.5 cm × 202.5 cm; Centre panel, 261.3 cm ×
202.5 cm; Right panel, 260.3 cm × 195.5 cm
Plate 5: Joseph Mallard William Turner, (1775-1851, Britain), The fighting Temeraire
tugged to her last berth to be broken up 1838, 1839. Oil on canvas, 90.7 cm × 121.6
cm, National Gallery, London.