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What the hell is surrealism?

Melted clocks, floating apples and visuals that can only be simply described as "trippy" are some of the first contacts an individual has with the art movement of surrealism.

Michael Cheval's “Lullaby of Lullaby of Uncle Magritte”

While several key surrealistic pieces exist that can show the general nature of a normal art movement such as Romanticism and Cubism, defining surrealism is a pretty difficult task. So let's try and take things from the beginning.

The early steps:

The first contact we had with the term of surrealism came in around 1917 where the French poet Guilliame Apollinaire used it to describe the choreographed ballet of Parade. The first definition of surrealism was revolved around perceiving "the hidden side of things within the realm of another reality".

Guilliame Apollinaire

The term resurfaced several years later in 1924 from French writer André Breton in his "Manifesto of Surrealism" which explored the theories of the unconscious mind by none other than Sigmund Freud himself.

Yes, surrealism is connected to the psychiatrist that claims that you are in love with your mom.

Breton also studied Carl Jung and the anti-art movement of the 20th century, Dadaism.

It is important to note that Breton was also a Marxist and thought that surrealism's ideals would aid the masses to free their mind from "from the rational order of society."

Moreover, the main theory behind surrealism states that the unconscious mind is the origin point of artistic creativity.

Moreover, while surrealism began as a literary movement, it eventually transcended into visual arts, where it has provided a lot of recognition to a number of artists.

Surrealism in visual arts:

Many popular names have been associated with the surrealistic movement such as the eccentric Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and of course Pablo Picasso.

Early surrealists aimed to challenge the restrictions of the conscious mind and unleash the creative flow of what exists in our mind,feelings, memories and urges that exist unawarely inside of us.

In painting, the artists have attempted to extract the dream-like state that hides in the subconscious of our minds and then visualise the results. This access in the hidden psychological tensions and the asserting of the power of the unconscious is done through the liberation of the mind.

Furthermore, all of these in combination with the wide form of creative freedom provided by surrealism, allows the artists to create images that go beyond the barriers of logic and the laws of physics.

The Persistence of Memory

One of the many motions of surrealism include "Automatism" where the artists often try to simulate the unconscious bodily movements such as breathing and sleepwalking. Several examples of these include letting your hand draw freely on paper, randomly stiching togethers many pieces of textures and many other activities in the road to end up with something aesthetic. This motion is often associated with artists such as Joan Miro, Andre Masson as well as Max Ernst.

However, due to its vast creative freedom, a number of techniques are used in surrealism which include Frottage (rubbing a soft pencil or crayon over a textured surface, leaving remnants of the texture on the paper or canvas) and grattage (scraping the painted surface of canvas to generate a more visual texture) which lets painters explore their imagination by filling the missing details.

Bonus: Salvador Dalí's crazy methods (no, not Drugs)

It is hard to speak about Surrealism and to not mention the face of it. Salvador Dalí was an individual with some unconventional methods. These included:

  • The Spoon and the Plate

Just like many genius of today's art world (James Cameron, Christopher Nolan), Dali used lucid dreaming as a way to tap into his unconscious and unleash his creativeness. Dalí would sit in a chair holding a spoon above a tin plate and doze off. As he fell asleep, the spoon would drop onto the plate, making a noise loud enough to wake him up. He would then jot down the surreal images he saw in his dreams.

  • Standing on his head. Does this one require further explanation? Dalí would stand on his head until he almost passed out, allowing him to become semi-lucid.

  • The “Paranoiac-Critical Method.” This involved trying to create a self-induced paranoid state, allowing him to draw irrational relationships between unconnected objects and to depict the landscape of his own subconscious mind.

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