Written by Marie-Christine Bourque 



The Emergence of the Movement

After the end of World War I, Tristan Tzara, leader of the Dada movement, wanted to attack society through scandal. He was against war and he decided to create an anti-art movement where the focus was on ugliness (Sanchez, 2006).  By doing this, he wanted to insult bourgeoisie who finally embraced this rebellious new art.  This literary and artistic movement flourished in Europe between World War I and II.

Two Distinct Groups Emergence

There are different trends of surrealism: Automatism and Veristic Surrealism. 

The Automatists:  The artists interpreted Automatism as referring to a suppression of consciousness in favour of the subconscious.  They focused more on feelings and were less analytical than the Veristic Surrealist group. They did not believe the images from the subconscious were an good inspiration because they considered they were noet real and had no meaning.

The Veristic Surrealists:  This group interpreted Automatism by allowing the images from the subconscious to surface and to be analysed for their meanings.  The artists wanted to represent the images as linked to abstract spiritual realities and real forms of the material world.

The Movement

Surrealism is a ‘‘cultural, artistic, and intellectual movement that is oriented toward the liberation of the mind by emphasizing the critical and imaginative faculties of the unconscious mind and the attainment of a state different from, ‘‘more than’’, and ultimately ‘‘truer’’ than everyday reality […].’’ (Pioch, 2002).  This movement was a means of reuniting consciousness and unconsciousness, so that the world of dream and fantasy are joined to the everyday rational world. 

The Influence of the Movement

The Surrealist movement was influenced by the psychological theories and dream studies of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and the political ideas of Karl Marx (1818–1883). It was funded in Paris in 1924 by the poet and critic Andre Breton, a French doctor, with his publication of ‘‘Manifeste Surréaliste’’in 1924 (Durozoi, 2004).  The ancestry of Surrealism is traced to the French poets: Beaudelaire, Rimbaud, and Appolinaire; and the Italian painter: Giorgio de Chirico.

The Surrealist Literary Movement

At the beginning, in the late 1910s and early ‘20s, Surrealism was a literary movement that experimented with a new mode of expression called automatic writing, or automatism, which sought to release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious (Caws, 2001).  Surrealist poets were at first reluctant to align themselves with visual artists because they believed that the laborious processes of painting, drawing, and sculpting were not respecting the spontaneity of uninhibited expression. Here are some surrealist authors:

Michel Leiris (1901-1990)

A member of the surrealist group from 1924 to 1929, he wrote one of the first surreal novels, Aurora (1927-8); also an ethnologist and anthropologist, co-editor with Bataille of Documents and with Sartre of Les Temps Modernes.

Benjamin Peret (1899 - 1959)

                                            "This wine which is only white to make the sun come up
Peret                    because the sun runs its hands through its hair."

One of the first Parisian Dadaists and one of the founders of Surrealism, Peret has been called "the best of the Surrealist poets" and was the most admired writer within the group. He also wrote a novel, Death to the Pigs and to the Field of Glory (1923), short fiction and critical essays. In addition to his surrealist work, Peret was a dedicated Communist for most of his life and was deported from Brazil for revolutionary activity.

The Surrealist Artistic Movement  

Shortly after the introduction of the literary movement, Surrealism found its greatest expression through the visual arts.  The artists were influenced by the psychological research of Sigmud Freud, who explained the mind though analysis of the symbols of dreams. ‘‘ A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not opened’’ is a famous quote from Freud (Grolier, 1996).  Here are some surrealist artists:

Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

   Salvador Dali is considered as the greatest artist of the surrealist art movement and one of the greatest masters of art of the twentieth century. During his lifetime the public got a picture of an excentric paranoid. His personality caused a lot of controversy.  By 1929 Dali had found his personal style that should make him famous - the world of the unconscious that is recalled during our dreams.


Pablo Ruiz  Picasso (1881-1973)  

 Picture of Pablo Picasso (photograph)

Spanish painter, who is widely acknowledged to be the most     important artist of the 20th century. A long-lived and highly prolific artist, he experimented with a wide range of styles and themes throughout his career. Among Picasso’s many contributions to the history of art, his most important include pioneering the modern art movement called cubism, inventing collage as an artistic technique, and developing assemblage (constructions of various materials) in sculpture.




Interesting Websites

·         Surrealism: http://www.madsci.org/~lynn/juju/surr/


·         Authors:   http://www.zeroland.co.nz/surrealist_art.html

Works Cited

·         Caws, Mary Ann Surrealist Painters and Poets: An Anthology. MIT Press, 2001.

·         Durozoi, Gerard.  History of the Surrealist Movement. University Press of Chicago, 2004.

·         Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Grolier Interactive, 1996.


·         Pioch, Nicolas.  ‘‘Surrealism’’. WebMuseum, Paris. 2002.


·         Sanchez, Monica.  ‘‘History of Surrealism’’. Online.  Internet. 20 March.  2006.